Howard Cole is in search of a housemate. A 70-year-old retiree, Cole has his reasons, but they’re not rooted in finances. Above all else, he’s looking for company.
Cole had successfully found housemates in the past, but this time didn’t go as planned. He tried an online renting site, but his efforts resulted in the brief stay of an untrustworthy housemate.
“I live alone, and I never really want to live alone,” Cole said. “I started thinking I really need somebody in the middle to screen.”
And that’s when he stumbled upon Open Up, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the affordable housing crisis in Colorado with the homeshare model.
“In Denver, as of 2018, there was a need for 90,000 affordable units,” Open Up’s Executive Director Andy Lyde said. “Interestingly, an independent study done by John Burns Real Estate Consulting found that there are at least 442,000 unused and available empty bedrooms in people’s homes in Denver alone.”
Open Up capitalizes on this information by matching employed people in need of housing within career development programs with homeowners willing to share their extra space. Beyond vetting all participants, Open Up also offers conflict resolution services and supports the renters in their housing and economic stability goals.
The nonprofit does not accept anyone with violent or sex offenses on their record, but they strive to give people struggling within the housing market a fighting chance.
“Maybe somebody has an eviction on their record, maybe somebody has a misdemeanor on their record from a previous time in life, and that’s preventing them from getting housing in a tight market,” Lyde said. “And so the organization case manager will reach out to us, give us a referral, and if they meet our basic requirements there, then we send them the full application and kind of take over.”
The nonprofit currently operates within the Metro Denver area, so all of the referral partners serve this area as well. These organizations include Mile High Youth Corps, Activate Workforce Solutions, Cross Purpose and Hope House Colorado, among others. These programs give participants the best chance for success with Open Up, according to Lyde, because the affordable housing crisis is “twofold.”
“It’s not just the cost of living, but it’s the income that you can earn,” Lyde said. “So people who are addressing both sides of that at the same time are more likely to be successful in our program.”
Both home providers and home seekers must fill out applications. The questions detail housing history and preferences including price, location, smoking, pets, alcohol, children, etc. They also try to match people with similar conflict resolution styles. Once a good potential match is found, Open Up initiates a meeting.
If both parties choose to match from there, Open Up will support the drafting of a lease. Rent usually falls around $600 a month.
“Somebody who earns between 30 and 50 percent area-median income can afford between $560 and $930, give or take, in their rent and their household costs,” Lyde said. “So we try to keep that range between $600 and $800.”
Homeowners can opt for a month-to-month or longer term lease, but Open Up considers a six-month stay a successful exit from the program. Lyde estimates that 77 percent of housemates leave at the six-month mark.
“One of our first matches is going on three plus years now, so it’s a great situation for everybody involved,” Lyde said. “Other matches… they need an affordable and stable space for an amount of time to help them get to that next level in their self-sufficiency.”
Cole is only just beginning the process, but already has a potential match to meet with.
“Most people that age probably aren’t looking for anybody, but I’m more personable and so I like having people around,” Cole said. “It saves you some time and doesn’t cost you any money, and then, in the end, you’re also helping somebody else.”
For more information about Open Up, go to https://letsopenup.org/