Oct. 30, 2008
By Tim Simard
A troubled economy, high fuel costs and the possibility of a hard winter have Vermonters looking at different ways to make a potentially painful season much less difficult.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
HomeShare Vermont participants Al Kupiec (left), Mark Mueller (second from left) and Morgan MacKenzie (right) listen as Gov. Jim Douglas speaks about the program, which pairs homeowners with people seeking affordable housing options. An Oct. 15 press conference at Kupiec’s home in Williston highlighted the program as a way for Vermonters to deal with rising food and fuel costs this winter.
Williston homeowner Al Kupiec has been taking a unique approach for more than 10 years. Kupiec has been involved with HomeShare Vermont, an organization that matches homeowners with people seeking affordable housing options.
Kupiec, a semi-retired real estate broker, has lived in his Hickory Hill neighborhood home for 42 years. After his wife died in the mid-1990s, Kupiec wanted to stay in his house. He joined HomeShare Vermont in 1996, and his first match lived with him for several years.
Now Kupiec shares his home with Mark Mueller, an employee at AirTran in South Burlington. Both say it’s a good situation.
“I’d just hate to leave here,” Kupiec said. “It’s good to talk to someone after I’ve been alone for a while.”
Mueller transferred for work from his home in St. Louis. The idea of home sharing worked for Mueller because he was looking for affordable housing and “companionship,” since his wife and family remain in Missouri. He pays Kupiec $350 a month for expenses.
“It’s so much better than living in a motel,” Mueller said.
Morgan MacKenzie home shares in Hardwick with her 88-year-old housemate, Peggy Dutton. Admitting she was “picky” in her selection of houses and roommates to move in with, she’s happy Dutton has become a trusted friend and a new member of the family.
“It makes so much sense, I don’t know why more people aren’t doing this,” MacKenzie said.
Mueller, Kupiec and MacKenzie talked about their living situations at Kupiec’s home during a visit from Gov. Jim Douglas, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, state Sen. Diane Snelling and members of the HomeShare Vermont organization. Douglas spoke at length about the necessities of programs such as HomeShare for Vermonters, especially in light of what he said would be a “challenging winter.”
“It’s a concept that can make a difference in the lives of many people,” Douglas said.
Kirby Dunn, executive director for HomeShare Vermont, said the interest in home sharing has risen dramatically over the past year. Dubie also highlighted the increase.
“The calls for people exploring HomeShare are up 57 percent,” Dubie said. “It shows there’s a need out there.”
Dunn, whose organization serves the Champlain Valley, said it is aimed at Vermonters who need financial help to stay in their homes, as well as people interested in saving money on housing and perhaps making a difference in someone’s life.
“Our job is to find that right person, right fit,” Dunn said, adding she’s worked for more than 25 years matching interested parties.
Dunn said the matching process is an involved one, but is necessary to protect individuals. Home share partners must meet each other well ahead of time and both parties have to agree to the situation. The housemates spend a two-week trial together before deciding whether the match will work.
Dunn said the organization also does five different background checks on everyone involved, and makes regular check-ins at homes.
Betsy Reid, director of HomeShare of Central Vermont, said the involved process shouldn’t turn people away from the idea. She said, as a whole, there are more home seekers than home providers available.
“The more home providers and more home seekers we have, the better matches we get,” Reid said.
Dunn added there is no age or income restrictions, and the organization has helped people ranging from teens to residents in their 90s. Collectively, both HomeShare Vermont organizations have made nearly 100 pairings this year.
Kupiec and Mueller said home sharing has created an easy living situation. Kupiec joked that while he and Mueller’s differing political views can create lively discussions, he’s been able to get Mueller to start rooting for the Red Sox. Mueller said he still roots for his native Cardinals when they’re on television, but has newfound appreciation for the Boston team thanks to his housemate.
“It’s all in good fun,” Mueller said with a laugh.