‘Three’s Company’ living arrangement offers seniors affordable alternative

LONDON: Assisted living and residential care providers are under significant occupancy attacks. COVID-19 deaths, walk outs and growing alternatives have significantly weakened their financial viability.

The high cost of housing in Colorado Springs helped to bring roommates Kimberly Bolding, Ardene Hagadorn and Louis John Vastine together in what they like to think of as a modern, more mature version of “Three’s Company,” the late 1970s to early ’80s television sitcom about two women and a man who share — platonically — a Santa Monica, Calif., apartment.

The shared housing is a creative alternative to formal senior housing that they believe could work for others.

The seniors faced serious medical and financial challenges before finding each other and hope to establish a new family of sorts to support one another, rather than turning to assisted living, where they fear they would be socially and physically isolated.

Hagadorn, 68, a former resident of a senior living community, Regency Tower Apartments, found her roommates because she was looking for different senior housing after losing her husband two years ago. His death left her lonely and financially strapped. She could have stayed in the Tower Apartments and paid her bills, but she wouldn’t have had anything left over and she sought out something new.

“I am just reinventing myself,” she said.

She found Bolding, the homeowner, through Sunshine Home Share, a nonprofit that expanded into Colorado Springs this year, that matches seniors with extra space in their homes with residents in need of affordable rent. Some renters also agree to provide services, such as cooking, cleaning, and yard work, as part of their housing contract, which can lower their bill, said Alison Joucovsky, executive director of the nonprofit. Last year in Denver, Sunshine Home Share’s average rent was $400 with four to five hours a week of services, she said.

Sunshine Home Share, launched in 2016 in Denver, is based on a model that’s been replicated numerous times across the country to help creatively solve the crunch for affordable housing that is squeezing the budgets of millions. In Colorado Springs, about 82,000 are spending more than a third of their income on housing costs and about 34,000 are spending more than half of their income, according to the city’s recently released affordable and attainable housing plan.

The city’s housing plan sets an overarching goal of creating or preserving 1,000 new affordable housing units per year until 2023 to meet the needs in town.

The city also backed the Sunshine Home Share program by allocating $30,000 in federal funds this year to get started in Colorado Springs.

“It’s just really forward thinking and very welcome change to typical housing supportive services,” said Catherine Duarte, senior analyst with the city’s Community Development Department.

Sunshine Home Share closed early in the spring because of the coronavirus. Since it reopened in May, it has seen strong interest from homeowners who are facing even more isolation and economic need for rental income than before because of the virus, Joucovsky said. About 84% of the agency’s homeowners live at or below 60% of the federal poverty level and about a third are in their 90s, she said.

The Home Share program tends to serve a fairly small number of people each year because it takes time to make matches between renters and homeowners. The nonprofit is serving 18 sets of seniors in Denver and Colorado Springs. The nonprofit’s goal is to serve at least three sets of seniors and renters this year and scale up over time, Joucovsky said.

“Living with people is complicated — to really have the service exchange and the nice relationship between people,” she said.

The three Colorado Springs roommates are confident they can stay together, even though they have only been living together for two months because they have already established their roles within the group.

“I am the responsible one,” said Bolding.

Hagadorn is the family cook for Bolding and Vastine and they all gather for dinner where they exchange stories and record their podcast: “Three’s Company Baby Boomers Bodacious.” They expect the episodes will educate other baby boomers about Home Share as an alternative to living in a facility and demonstrate the needed communication skills. They also expect to discuss important topics such as whether the toilet paper should be hung over or under, they joked.

“Humor is the best medicine,” said Bolding.

A former professional counselor, Bolding, was diagnosed six years ago with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that saps her energy levels and can leave her gasping for breath during a conversation. The treatments she receives have become less effective since she contracted COVID-19 in the spring. Her adult son has been living with her, but now feels he can safely move out because she has found roommates.

Bolding, 59, receives palliative care in her home and she is investigating a clinical trial and other treatments.

“I’ve got the mindset to live,” she said.

She keeps herself going by planning projects with Vastine, her former neighbor, who does the physical labor.

The two designed and built a living area downstairs that’s turned into Vastine’s man cave, he said. Now he is refurbishing a boat, he said.

“I picked it up for $50. … I am getting ready to see if it floats,” he said.

Vastine, 61, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2013 and has had 12 surgeries in seven years. Some of those surgeries including two hip replacements and back surgery were needed because of the damage the radiation caused. He is now facing possible kidney failure.

The three have bonded over shared challenges, like hefty medical bills, they say. Vastine lost his house over his medical bills and he lived in a camper for two years, he said. Hagadorn sold her five bedroom house in Briargate, in part, because of her husband’s medical bills.

All three have also felt somewhat pushed by society and in some cases family members to move into assisted living facilities, Hagadorn said, and that doesn’t appeal to any of them.

“We’re going to go out fighting,” she said.