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In Tough Economic Times, More Homeowners Look to Roommates to Help Make Ends Meet

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By Kim Palmer

RISMEDIA, November 3, 2009—(MCT)—Last year, Lori Gordon lost half her nest egg but gained a new friend about half her age. That would be Brooke Thalacker, the teacher and aspiring school counselor who now rents part of Gordon’s home. 

“I just love her,” Gordon said. The two women—and their two dogs—bonded quickly after Thalacker moved in last December. Both have busy independent lives, but they still find time to share one or two meals a week, plus occasional bike rides, wine, ice cream and sometimes “American Idol.” 

Their living arrangement is short-term. “When she finishes her practicum she’ll look for a job. I don’t know where she’ll find one,” Gordon said. “But I might keep her forever,” she added with a laugh. 

Roommates as compatible as Gordon and Thalacker are rare, but their circumstances are increasingly common. Last year’s stock-market crash and recession, which wiped out jobs and slashed incomes, have prompted many to look for new sources of revenue. For homeowners, that can mean turning a spare bedroom into a cash cow. 

Roommate postings on Craigslist have increased 160% nationwide over the past 24 months, and 80% in the Minneapolis area over the same period, according to spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best. There’s no way to track how many of today’s new roommates were brought together by economic forces, said Marilyn Bruin, associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s housing studies program. “I haven’t seen any data, but I totally believe it’s an economic strategy. It makes sense.” 

The trend mirrors what happened during and after the last economic meltdown, the Great Depression. “Housing was scarce, and renting of homes was not all that uncommon,” said Clifford Clark, a professor of history and American studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “My grandmother took in boarders.” 

Gordon, who has lived in her Scandia, Minn., home for 28 years, never would have anticipated adding a roommate at this stage of her life. But fate threw her some curveballs. Several years ago, her husband, a physician, developed a serious illness, so Gordon left her job as a food stylist to care for him. Three years ago, he died. Then, “the economy tanked. I saw my savings disappear.” She had forged a new career as a newspaper columnist and cookbook author, but she wanted to boost her income. “I’m 55 now—it’s not so easy to get a job. I thought, ‘OK, what have I got that I can make work for me?’” One thing she had was a master suite she was no longer using. After her husband’s death, Gordon started sleeping in a loft bedroom “closer to the core of the house,” she said. So she sought a roommate via Craigslist. 

The first person who responded was a scam artist. The second had eight dogs. The third was Thalacker. “I was new to Minnesota, from a really small town,” said Thalacker. “People said, ‘What do you mean, you’re going to live with some lady you met on the Internet?’” When Thalacker came to meet Gordon and see the house, she felt at home immediately. “She was cooking, the dogs were going crazy, it was kind of chaotic, and I thought, ‘This is perfect.’” 

(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. 

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