As older adults more frequently choose to remain in their homes and communities, new companies that help make aging in place possible are beginning to spring up. It’s important for home care agencies to familiarize themselves with such up-and-coming entities, experts say, as many offer home care-adjacent services that could spell stolen business.
Among these companies is Odd Couples Housing, a budding St. Louis-based startup that matches seniors who want to stay in their homes with compatible millennials seeking an expense-sharing living arrangement.
Technically, Odd Couples Housing does not provide caregiving services. But as part of the arrangement, millennial roommates, usually young professionals or graduate students, may often help their new senior roommate with daily living tasks such as yard work, grocery shopping and driving.
Additionally, millennials assist with bills, including utilities, phone, internet and cable services.
“In each of the matches, the deal is a little different,” Odd Couples Housing founder John Levis told Home Health Care News. “We have ‘to-do’ and ‘watch out’ checklists. For example, if international students are involved, we caution them about American customs. All of this is laid out in a form, including [other] suggestions such as, ‘Don’t go into financial arrangements other than expense-sharing.’”
Founded in 2017, Odd Couples Housing currently operates solely in St. Louis, though it has plans to expand to other college towns in the U.S.
Originally, Levis envisioned his company as one that matched seniors with other seniors. He went to Olin Business School at Washington University to turn that vision of a business into a reality — only to discover twists and turns along the way.
“You can buy what’s called a practicum, which assigns five second-year MBA students to a project,” Levis said. “In our case, what they did was test the viability of the business, find out whether there were competitors. Halfway through the semester, we had periodic meetings with them and they told us, ‘This is a good idea, but if you match two seniors and it doesn’t work out, you have a displaced person.’”
With a nudge from Olin Business School students, Levis decided to pivot Odd Couples Housing to its current model. The company is not unlike startups such as Miami-based Papa and Brooklyn-based Umbrella, both of which are beginning to blur the lines of senior services.
As the aging population continues to grow in the U.S. and housing options continue to shrink, Levis found a way to allow older adults to age in place while gaining assistance and companionship from younger adults. The Odd Couples Housing model also helps address housing availability and affordability for millennials — a growing concern nationally.
Overall, aging in place has accounted for about 1.6 million houses held back from the market through 2018, according to research from Freddie Mac. That figure is about equal to one year’s typical supply of new construction.
Freddie Mac is a McLean, Virginia-based government-owned corporation that provides mortgage capital to lenders.
The process for matching potential roommates begins at Odd Couples Housing’s website. Senior homeowners can go to the site and create a profile that includes where they live, a description of themselves and a personality profile that the company’s algorithm uses to find a compatible roommate.
“We ask simple questions,” Levis said. “What are your dealbreakers? It also gets into, if you are an extrovert, what your hobbies are. The [millennial] also fill out a profile describing themselves.”
Once a potential roommate match occurs, Odd Couples Housing facilities a meeting between the senior homeowner and the millennial. If the meeting goes well, both parties fill out a form finalizing the living agreement.
The living arrangement lasts as long as both parties are interested. This could mean anywhere from a semester for college students to a few years for others.
“This isn’t a rental agreement,” Levis said. “It’s a living agreement. There is no start and end date on it. If it doesn’t work out, the homeowner can find another roommate.”
While Odd Couples Housing addresses some of the same issues as home care, the company pushes back on the idea that the millennial roommates are caregivers.
“If deterioration of the homeowner occurs and they need home care, the [millennial] can move out,” Levis said. “They are not signing up to be caregivers. They can provide services like cooking or lawn care, but we are careful to not allow them to be viewed as home care providers.”
Despite this, Odd Couples Housing has been approached by in-home providers for potential marketing opportunities.
“When our traffic increases, they want to advertise on our website because they figure they are going to get [the seniors] eventually,” Levis said. “Also, we look for partnerships and other services that we can recommend to seniors.”