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Shared housing not just for young people

By Paul Titus

It is not unusual for young people to go flatting in order to stretch their limited incomes. Now three grandmothers are living proof that the strategy can be just as effective for older people.

The three women live together in what appears to be an unremarkable house in the Hamilton suburb of Melville. Like young people who share flats, each contributes money for the household budget, and they divide household tasks among themselves.

Housemates (from left) Margaret Bond, Anne Stephenson, and Mary Rose say living together is good economics and gives them a sense of community.

Not only does the arrangement ease their cost of living, it gives them a sense of community and spiritual fulfilment.

They trio includes former Methodist minister Rev Anne Stephenson. At 62 Anne is the youngest of the three. She is co-owner of the house with Mary Rose (69), and their flatmate is Margaret Bond (74).

Both Margaret and Mary Rose are retired, while Anne is employed as a co-ordinator for a health care agency.

Anne says the old pattern of one-person-to-one-house is becoming uneconomic in today’s world, especially for people on a fixed income.

"Our way of living is more affordable. It is also life enhancing whereas some retired people feel their lives are diminished.

"People in the older age group can have insecurities such as their health or an unexpected knock on the door. These are much less threatening if you are living in community."

Whereas young people are often in flats for a short amount of time, Anne, Margaret and Mary Rose see their arrangement as long-term.

Margaret’s rent covers the cost of rates, insurance and maintenance, and each contributes $70 a week to cover such basics as food, power, Internet, phone, newspaper and wheelie bin. Most weeks there is money left over.

Margaret sees to it the pantry is stocked. While she is cautious when she shops, they do not deny themselves pleasures. The house has fruit trees and a vegetable garden, and they intend to add to these.

The benefits of shared living extend well beyond economics, however. While each is grounded in a different denomination, their Christian faith is an important element in each woman’s life.

Like Anne, Margaret has Methodist connections. She grew up in a Methodist household, though in her adult life she has been actively engaged in the Anglican Church. Mary Rose is a Quaker and has a passion for community.

Margaret says she has always had an interest in living as a part of a Christian community and shared living is a chance to do so.

"Our spirituality brings us together. We are each touched with a contemplative bug. We have our arguments and disagreements but we have ways of facing them in creative ways," Margaret says.

"There is an art to living this way. We make decisions by consensus and we have a commitment to communicate.

"When a problem arises, we discuss it at a house meeting using a technique Mary Rose developed. We draw a big diagram and identify the delights, doubts, difficulties, and dreams of household. That helps us sort things out and come to a conclusion."

The three have a commitment to share evening meals whenever they can, which enhances their sense of community.

Anne says one of the benefits of sharing a house is that it has forced her to cull her personal belongings and simplify her life. This has meant selling many of her books.

"Giving up many of my possessions has freed me and allowed me to become more myself," she says.

"Our household is three women but there is no reason men could not live like this, or any adults who are respectful on other people. We have found a sustainable lifestyle that is precious to us. Maybe it will inspire others."

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