Senior Home Sharing provides family life in an affordable setting

Senior Home Sharing provides family life in an affordable setting

"All the benefits of home without the responsibility," Bill Kelly says of the Senior Home Sharing house where he lives in Lombard with three other seniors and a resident manager.

But while he may not have formal responsibilities, that doesn't stop the active 68-year-old from doing his share. Kelly makes small repairs around the spacious ranch house, trims bushes, plants flowers and weeds the garden. He says he would like to do even more.

"This is a home you can be proud of," Kelly says. "There is a lot of personal ownership."

Chase Place, nestled in a residential neighborhood, is one of three houses owned by Wheaton-based Senior Home Sharing, a nonprofit group that has been providing an affordable housing option for seniors in DuPage County for the past 35 years.

When at full capacity, Chase Place can house six seniors, plus the live-in manager. Park Place in Downers Grove can house seven seniors, as can Eagle Place in Naperville. All the homes have openings.

"We do want to see those openings get filled," says Courtney Simek, executive director of Senior Home Sharing, who says many people may not know about the alternative housing option despite its longevity in the community.

Seniors in the homes have their own rooms and share common areas. With few scheduled activities outside of mealtimes, they come and go as they please. The manager, or a substitute when the manager's off, prepares three meals a day, does light housekeeping, gives medication reminders and oversees activities.

Residents are responsible for cleaning their own rooms and doing their laundry. Many pitch in with other household tasks as they are able.

"Everyone who's able does something," says Bea Fodor, the substitute cook for all three homes. "Each home has its own personality."

Affordable housing

The monthly fee for living in a Senior Home Sharing house now averages $1,600, including rent, meals, utilities, cable access, housekeeping and the support services of a social worker, Simek says.

At one time, Senior Home Sharing was able to obtain Section 8 housing vouchers for lower-income seniors, but that option is no longer available.

"We're 100 percent private pay," she says.

While $1,600 a month is still out of reach for the lowest-income seniors, Simek says it provides an affordable alternative in the Chicago area where assisted living averages $4,895 a month, according to the 2015 Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey.

The amount seniors pay covers about 80 percent of the cost of running the homes, with the rest made up by donations and grants, says Roger Daluga, Senior Home Sharing board vice president and treasurer.

Senior Home Sharing now can accommodate a total of 20 seniors in its three houses after the sale a few years ago of a three-flat in Lombard and home in Elmhurst. Daluga says the sale of the other properties put the organization on sound financial footing, allowing it to make improvements to existing homes and building its reserves.

Looking to the future, Senior Home Sharing is considering developing properties in West Chicago that would better meet the needs of today's market, Daluga says.

The new properties might house 10 seniors under one roof with private bedrooms and bathrooms for each resident and possibly a kitchenette in each unit. The dining room and other common areas still would be shared.

The new properties could serve lower-income seniors who do not qualify for subsidized housing, Daluga says.

"It becomes more economical as we put more under one roof," Daluga said. "We think there is a huge market for low-income seniors."

Simek says that during 2013 there were 67,069 senior households in DuPage County. Seventeen percent of those households were renters, and nearly 60 percent of them were in units with rents that cost 30 percent or more of their household income.

"We know these cost-burdened seniors will have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care," Simek says.

Group living

The benefits of Senior Home Sharing go well beyond economics, residents say.

Joe Pfendt says he lived in an apartment in Countryside for 10 years before moving two years ago to Chase Place in Lombard.

"I like the group feel," Pfendt says. "I was very isolated in the apartment. I didn't care to be isolated anymore."

Kelly says he was living with younger men in Elmhurst before moving to Chase Place more than three years ago. He had been having memory issues - at one point he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - and wasn't eating well.

Since moving to Chase Place, Kelly says his morale has improved along with his physical health and he may not have Alzheimer's after all. He enjoys working with wood and even has his own work space in the garage.

"There's a lot we can do to help each other, " Kelly says. "You need other people to give you perspective."

Peter Gilea, a decorated World War II hero who at 95 is the oldest person at Chase Place, is one of two residents who still own cars. Gilea said he had looked into other places before moving to Chase Place four years ago.

"It's not like some places where you can't even own a car. They wanted me to sell my car and control me," he says. "It (Chase Place) is convenient. It's friendly. The area is very nice."

Simek said seniors interested in moving into a Senior Home Sharing house go through an assessment process that includes a home tour, application, background check, and physician statement attesting to their mental and physical competence. The process takes two to three weeks, Simek says.

"It's a model that works for the right type of people," Simek says, "someone who is social, who is willing to engage with others, who is looking for a nice quality of life in a residential setting."

The homes are coed, with members ranging in age from their 60s to 90s. At Park Place in Downers Grove, one resident is still employed.

The seniors must be able to care for themselves, although some hire outside help to provide assistance with personal care. Friends and families are welcome to visit. Volunteers are welcome too, whether it's to provide assistance with landscaping or to play cards with a resident who would enjoy the company.

Claudia Taylor, the live-in manager of Chase Place for nearly 29 years, says most residents adjust within two to three months. A few do not get along in the group setting, but when residents leave, it's usually because they require more assistance than the home can provide.

"They do become like family. They care for each other and they help each other do various things," she says. "They have their little squabbles and tiffs, but that's normal for any family."

Issues that require outside help to resolve are brought to Julie Vincent, Senior Home Sharing's director of resident life. Vincent said she encourages residents to talk to one another before turning to her.

"It's mostly respect issues - someone making noise with their walker, someone being disrespectful to a staff member," she says. "They do get resolved fairly quickly."

The adjustments are worth it for many older residents who need a new place to live, Vincent says.

"I think it really is a unique opportunity for people who want to be independent but need a little more socialization," she says.

To learn about Senior Home Sharing, go to For inquiries about becoming a resident, volunteer or donor, call (630) 407-0440 or email

  Resident Peter Gilea, 95, weeds tomatoes and peppers in the backyard garden of the Senior Home Sharing house in Lombard. The spacious ranch is located in a residential neighborhood across from Montini Catholic High School. Daniel White/
  Peter Gilea, 95, is a resident of Chase Place in Lombard and a World War II veteran. Daniel White/
  Cindy Bennish, a part-time house manager for Chase Place in Lombard, talks with resident Bill Kelly after lunch. Daniel White/
  Bill Kelly trims bushes in the backyard of the Senior Home Sharing house in Lombard. The active 68-year-old takes pride in helping with household chores and is involved in the surrounding community. Daniel White/
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