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Shared housing: A look at real-life 'Golden Girls'

A screenshot from the NBC sitcom "Golden Girls"

In the '80s America fell in love with Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia -- characters from the NBC comedy "The Golden Girls." The sitcom about four older women living together in a Miami house ran for seven seasons. And their model of living -- elderly folks sharing a house -- is growing in popularity.

Alternatives living arrangements to the retirement home is something Marianne Kilkenny knows about. Kilkenny, 63, pays about $900 per month to live in a home that she shares with three other women in Asheville, N.C. Kilkenny left a 30-year career in human resources in Silicon Valley and ended up moving to Asheville, where she now works as champion for alternative housing. She says one of the first things people want to know when she presents this model of living is how to deal with privacy issues.

"They have a feeling, I think, that we're all globbed together like the 'Golden Girls' in the first part of that television program doing everything together. That's not the case," says Kilkenny. "We are all very, very busy people. And then they talk about what happens with your kitties, can I have a pet? And how noisy is it."


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One of Kilkenny's roommates is Linda Williams, 66. Williams retired after a 30-year career in education. After retiring, she sold her home in Philadelphia and eventually moved into a home in Sarasota, Fla., that she shared with a colleague. She now lives part of the year in Florida and North Carolina. She says cost wasn't the first factor on her mind as she considered shared housing.

"It was much more about the companionship and the shared living situation. However, when I look at it, the cost has been really great because it allows me -- by contributing my portion -- to live in a much better neighborhood and housing situation than I would on my own," says Williams. "And I get to go on some special vacations with the money that I save."

One of the drawbacks to the shared housing model of living is that it may not offer some of the services that, say, a retirement community might have, but Kilkenny is OK with that.

"Having experienced those kinds of things with my parents, I have to say that I'd rather have someone taking care of me that I've known for five years than someone who doesn't know me at all. So that's the part of mutual support and building these kinds of relationships and communities now in my 60s rather than waiting until my 80s, hoping that someone will take care of me."

Williams says retirees considering shared housing should look into themselves and think about what is important to them. "If it is thinking about the costs, the truth is that's not enough because it's really about the quality of the relationships with the people with whom you live," she says.

As for the future, both Kilkenny and Williams say they will continue to share a home -- just like Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.
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What was the song at the end of the segment? I couldn't figure it out from clips from the "songs from our shows" page.

There are some financial pitfalls to shared housing particularly with taxes. If a rental, according to my tax advisor it is much betterfor each shared household member to make rental payments directly to the landlord and not have a tenant with subtenants.

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