Council on Aging Middle Tennessee awarded $10K grant

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Council on Aging

Kent McNish, executive director of The Golden Cross Foundation, presenting Grace Sutherland Smith, executive director of Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee, with a grant award for the intergenerational home-sharing program.

The Golden Cross Foundation, a non-profit corporation and extension ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC), has awarded $10,000 to the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee (COA). 

Money from the grant is being used by the non-profit organization to help organize and launch an intergenerational home-sharing program in the greater Nashville area.

As the convener of the program, COA says home-sharing is one solution to the affordable housing crisis and it can also reduce the risks of social isolation felt by many older adults and empty nesters. The program matches older adults who want to stay in their homes with graduate students or other eligible adults who need affordable rent. COA is working in partnership with local universities, faith communities, nonprofits and government agencies to launch the program in fall 2020.

“Most of us, as we grow older, want to stay in our own homes,” COA Executive Director Grace Sutherland Smith said. “However, it can become challenging when living on a fixed budget and struggling with rising living costs. The intergenerational home-sharing program will match older homeowners who have a spare bedroom with a graduate student or other adult, offering both an economic benefit and social connection.” 

Founded in 1985, COA annually serves more than 20,000 older adults, caregivers and professionals through community outreach and education, resource navigation, advocacy and developing collaborative solutions to unmet needs.

As development and gentrification surge across the United States, a growing number of Americans are struggling to find affordable housing. The problem is especially acute in Nashville. While Nashville’s housing market ranked No. 1 in homebuilding prospects in 2019, affordable housing remains a concern. Currently, 28% of Nashville homeowners and 50% of renters are cost-burdened – paying 30% or more of their gross monthly income on housing.

Compounding this is the fact that the 65-and-over age group in Nashville-Davidson County is the fastest-growing age population. As more residents age, the struggle to sustain affordable housing will increase. 

“According to 2017 census data, there are 26,294 spare bedrooms in Baby Boomer homes in Nashville,” Smith said. “These rooms can be transformed into sources of income and social connection for older adults.”

COA is currently solidifying university and community partners for the program’s launch and convening a leadership/advisory team to develop program policies and procedures.

“A number of older adults are serving on the leadership/advisory team so that we plan with – not for – older homeowners,” Smith said. 

Program goals include older adults and graduate students reporting reduced housing expenses, satisfaction with intergenerational living, increased sense of security and social connectedness, and providing mutual assistance to one another, such as light housework or transportation in exchange for reduced rent/utility expenses.

Thanks in part to the Golden Cross Foundation grant, COA staff are researching best practices and model programs, listening to the interests and concerns of local stakeholders, securing community partners, clarifying all parties’ roles and responsibilities, selecting the right technology platform for matching homeowners/hosts and renters/guests, and reaching out to United Methodist churches and area nonprofits to garner interest among older adults. When launched, the program will facilitate matches and provide ongoing support and evaluation.

“While there are some vital projects in Nashville addressing the need for affordable housing by constructing new units dedicated to low rent, they are dwarfed by numerous larger, high-rent housing developments,” Smith said. “The new affordable housing construction does not provide for all low-to-moderate income residents’ needs and preferences. COA recognizes that alternative housing solutions such as home-sharing must be brought to bear as our city cannot ‘build’ its way out the affordable housing crisis.”

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