HomeShare Vermont Celebrates 35th Anniversary

By Amelia Pollard

Last year, Geoff, a 24-year-old graduate of St. Michael’s College with a degree in Philosophy, was looking for affordable housing in Vermont. Del, an 89-year-old retired G.E. and I.B.M. employee, was seeking a housemate willing to provide company. The two were united through HomeShare Vermont, a nonprofit organization that matches people who are looking for reasonable housing prices with a homeowner with a spare room. The two now switch off cooking meals and often watch “M-A-S-H” or go on hikes together.

HomeShare Vermont initially began as a program to match elderly people living alone with younger individuals willing to help out around the house, allowing senior citizens to stay at home longer. The program was founded on reciprocity, and acts as a traditional bartering service. HomeShare “guests” do pay a small rental fee, but last year this averaged only $230 a month, typically saving renters hundreds of dollars.

Formerly known as Project Home, HomeShare Vermont is now celebrating its 35th anniversary, founded in 1982 by a group of volunteers. The program was launched with the help of several University of Vermont professors and has continued to expand over the decades, eventually becoming an independent 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization under the leadership of Kirby Dunn, the executive director of the organization. Although it began in Chittenden County, HomeShare Vermont now serves Grand Isle, Addison and Franklin Counties.

In order to ensure that housemates are paired properly, the process involves a rigorous matching service in which applicants are required to provide three references and must also undergo five different background checks. After participants are deemed a “match,” there is a two-week trial period in which the two live together to see if they are compatible. The methodical process has resulted in a 90 percent success rate.

Established as a prominent nonprofit organization in the state, HomeShare Vermont has also received international attention for its services. At the first International HomeShare Congress in Paris in 2009, HomeShare Vermont served as the sole representative for the United States. HomeShare programs in other countries are more focused on providing affordable housing for students.

“That’s something that we want to explore in the future: to have a closer working relationship with the local colleges,” Kirby Dunn, executive director of HomeShare Vermont, said. “That’s one thing we’ve seen elsewhere that we’d love to incorporate.”

To celebrate its anniversary, HomeShare Vermont is hosting an event in South Burlington today, April 20. The event is inspired by Moth, a storytelling initiative that has a program at the College in which people recount powerful, humorous or emotional moments in their lives. Moth was first heard on Moth Radio Hour on public radio — creating a platform for real people to recount true events. Two award-winning Moth storytellers, Sue Schmidt and Kevin Gallagher, will headline the celebration. The stories of the evening will center on home life and the joy of living with others.

The event will ideally convey a sense of why organizations like HomeShare Vermont are integral for facilitating these close, home connections through shared experience. The anniversary event will also include live music, with performances by the band The Brevity Thing.

The success of HomeShare Vermont in the last 35 years has made the group’s leaders want to continue growing the program. The initiative is looking to offer a consulting service to help other organizations around the country establish programs based on the model. “There are a lot of opportunities here,” Dunn said. “The need is only going to increase because we have an aging population and affordable housing continues to be a growing problem; and we meet both of those needs. There’s a major role for us in the future.”