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In Boston, Web App Matches Budget Renters With Senior Homeowners


Cities across the country are struggling with a shortage of housing, but there are millions of spare bedrooms. Now, as Stephanie Leydon from member station WGBH tells us, Boston has become a launching pad for a tech platform that connects people looking for affordable rent with homeowners who have a room to spare.

STEPHANIE LEYDON, BYLINE: Before she started a graduate program in public health, Abby Herbst got a crash course in math. There are too few apartments for too many people in Boston.

ABBY HERBST: I called, actually, a real estate agent, and they, like, wouldn't take me as a client basically because I didn't have the budget for a regular place. And then I was looking farther and farther outside of the city.

LEYDON: But she found a place just a 20-minute walk from campus in a brownstone, complete with a furnished bedroom, fully equipped kitchen - and the homeowner.

HERBST: You want to do a salad?


LEYDON: Sixty-seven-year-old Brenda Atchison.

ATCHISON: We fell in together very well, very smoothly.

LEYDON: They met online through a home-sharing website called Nesterly, designed to connect two generations with compatible needs - older people who want to stay in their homes but struggle to keep up with the cost and maintenance...

ATCHISON: Twelve-foot ceilings - it's a little hard to heat in the wintertime. So little extra doesn't hurt.

LEYDON: ...And younger people who need affordable rent. Herbst pays $650 a month, less than half the cost of a studio. And she does some basic chores.

HERBST: Like, I take out the trash, the snow shoveling.

LEYDON: Noelle Marcus launched Nesterly a few years ago when she was in graduate school at MIT, paying Boston rents. She's now based in New York City, where we met.

NOELLE MARCUS: I think the average one bedroom in New York is over $3,000.

LEYDON: Maybe worse than Boston.

MARCUS: Worse than Boston.

LEYDON: And it's not just Boston and New York. Marcus says cities across the country and the world are facing an affordability crisis, fueled by the same trends - a limited housing supply and aging homeowners who aren't ready to move.

MARCUS: We have had over 6,000 people reach out to us from 280 different cities around the world and tell us that they want us to expand to their city.

LEYDON: She wants Nesterly to go global, like Uber and Airbnb. But for now, it's available only in Boston and nearby communities, where so far, dozens of people have connected for home shares. Of course people have always rented out extra rooms, so why a service like this one?

MARCUS: So according to AARP, 40% of over-45-year-olds say they're interested in renting out a room in their home, but today, only 2% are doing it. And we think that's because the right product and the right service did not exist.

LEYDON: Nesterly offers background checks, a payment system and ongoing support. A one-time housing aide to two New York mayors, she sees the platform as a way to ease the housing shortage and a problem that, as Abby Herbst discovered, plagues young and old alike - loneliness.

HERBST: Like, I had never eaten meals alone in high school before. If I feel, like, a little bit lonely or like I want to talk to somebody, I just come downstairs and sit in the kitchen.

LEYDON: Where both she and Brenda Atchison find perspective they couldn't get from a peer.

ATCHISON: You just never know. You just never know what you're going to talk about.

LEYDON: That older and younger people enrich one another's lives isn't a surprise to Noelle Marcus. She moved from Boston to New York mainly to be close to her grandmother. She calls her one of her best friends. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Leydon in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephanie Leydon