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Vashon agency to begin providing roommate service to ease affordable housing crunch

Vashon HouseHold is about to launch a new program that aims to match those in need of housing with those who have room to spare.

The project, called Homeshare Partners, is modeled after similar ones in Tacoma, on Bainbridge Island and across the country, said Chris Szala, director of Vashon HouseHold. He and other housing advocates believe the project will help to address the Island’s long-standing shortage of affordable housing by taking advantage of what Szala called “a very old notion.”

The nonprofit organization will maintain lists of those in need of housing and those who have extra room, helping to provide a match that will give the renter an affordable place to live and the homeowner a bit more cash.

“If we could pair up a few people a year, both sides win, and that’s good all around,” Szala said.

The agency will thoroughly vet those who want to participate in the program, said Jenn Coe, a housing specialist at Vashon HouseHold who is coordinating the project. Both the homeowner and home seeker will have to consent to criminal background checks and provide four references. (That criminal check will not disqualify an applicant, should a past conviction surface, but provide information to the other party.)

Coe will also interview both parties and visit the home where housing is being offered, confirming, for instance, that there is an additional bedroom, she said.

She’ll then maintain lists of both home-owners and home seekers, releasing those lists — with names redacted — to those in search of a home or a roommate. If someone sees someone who seems a good match, Coe will then arrange a get-together, encouraging both parties to meet at a neutral place.

The only charge will be a fee of $10 to $25, the cost of the criminal background check.

“We’re really hoping to make the process simple and accessible,” Coe said.

Emma Amiad, one of the directors of the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, said she’s wanted to see such a program on Vashon for some time. In fact, her organization considered attempting it, but because the Interfaith Council is volunteer-run, “we decided we didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it off,” she said.

The need for such a service is great, she added. Just last week, three elderly women came into her real estate office hoping to find roommates — one because she felt it would make her safer and another because she needs help paying off her mortgage.

“I’m thrilled,” she said of Homeshare Partners. “I think it’ll work great.”

Coe said she believes there will be plenty of home seekers; the push, she said, will be to find providers.

Neither she nor Szala believe the program will be large. Szala expects maybe 15 to 20 matches a year. But at a time when water shortages have made development in Vashon town nearly impossible, Szala said, Homeshare Partners will help.

“If we’re consistent over the years (in the number of matches), the program could have a pretty important impact,” Szala said.

 

Vashon HouseHold will hold two informational meetings about the project at the Vashon Library: 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2. For more information, email Jenn Coe at homeshare@vashonhousehold.org or call her at 463-6455.

 

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