New York’s aging adult population is facing unprecedented challenges in light of COVID-19. According to a recent report from the Center for an Urban Future, older adults are having difficulties accessing food, medicine, and support services, as well as facing new levels of social isolation.
Now home to more than 1.7 million people aged 60 and over and the fastest growing segment of the population statewide, there is a crucial need to explore and support innovative solutions for complex challenges like housing. Homesharing presents a unique opportunity through existing successful programs like the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens Home Sharing Program.
The Capalino team sat down with Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest, to discuss homesharing as an affordable housing solution, starting and scaling the platform across cities, and the impact the technology has had on this important population.
What inspired you to build Silvernest and how has that mission evolved over time?
The idea for Silvernest materialized through personal experience, having aging loved ones in my family, as well as through our early co-founder’s experience in the aging industry. We recognized that the 50+ population really wants to redefine the way that they age, and that includes changing the physical space they age within. Many people have watched their family and other loved ones age move out of their homes, and boomers and empty nesters are realizing that they want an alternative, including the option to remain in their communities and age in place. Silvernest also continues to evolve to address the new challenges that our country is facing in affordable housing.
What impact have you had in providing the aging population demographic with an affordable housing option?
Even before COVID-19, many adults were financially challenged and unable to find affordable living options or, for homeowners, unable to cover their mortgage payments, living costs and avoid dipping into their nest eggs. A big contributing factor is that retirement periods are longer than ever with longevity at play, and people planned financially for 10-15 years, not 20 plus years, leaving them in a pinch. Homesharing can offer financial benefits by allowing those with extra space to leverage what’s often their largest asset—their homes—to generate an average of $10,000-$15,000 a year in extra income. For renters, it simultaneously creates immediate access to housing for less than they would pay in the market, and both benefit from splitting bills and expenses.
Roughly a third of American adults report feeling lonelier than usual since the start of quarantine. How have sentiments related to social isolation informed the work you do and how will it continue to do so in light of COVID-19?
Thank you for bringing this up, because long-term social isolation is a very serious and often under-addressed issue in our society. Beyond financial gain, homesharing can help individuals avoid social isolation, which is a key factor in healthy living. Research shows that prolonged social isolation can have the same detrimental health effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day—an alarming statistic to say the least. COVID-19 has meant we’ve all had to experience some form of isolation and been cut off from the people and activities that we love most. As it relates to the housing industry, I believe we will see a wave of changes in the places and ways people live, with more opting to cohabitate with proper precautions. We’ve also heard directly from our housemates that they tend to be spending more quality time together, particularly since more are un- or under-employed and have that extra time to connect.
Silvernest has successfully scaled to several cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and others. How has your technology provided cities with the opportunity to create savings in the long-term? How can this be leveraged for a place like NYC now?
A significant reason that our homesharing proposition is compelling to these large cities is that it provides an immediate inventory of affordable housing. We have the building blocks in place, so it’s fairly quick to stand up a tech-based initiative in collaboration with these partners. Consider the alternative—it would take several years and millions upon millions of dollars to create a similar inventory versus leveraging what exists. Another big benefit that extends to New York is that homesharing can solve housing issues for those who are in distress and on the brink of homelessness before they reach that state of affairs. There’s a significant cost involved in covering and subsidizing these individuals, and we’re presenting cities with an opportunity to proactively head off those situations. Repurposing available inventory can help circumvent situations where thousands of dollars are being spent to aid residents in distress, and provide a solution that operates at a fraction of those costs.
What is one unexpected learning you have from launching in other cities. How has that informed your overall strategy to date?
I’d say that, above all, we’ve learned that we are more successful when we can partner with local, agencies, non-profits and government entities that are striving to address these issues problems. These established partners are the experts in their markets and understand the immediate needs and unique considerations in their community. We, therefore, strive to form partnerships that can allow us to support the local initiatives by providing our support and resources to enhance their current efforts and programs.
How does the Silvernest platform work and what exciting updates have you all been able to make in light of the recent product launch?
At the most basic level, our platform matches homeowners and housemates based on behavioral profiles, personal preferences and geography, and allows them to conduct full background checks, communicate securely in-platform, create state-specific leases and process rent payments. Just recently, we debuted a new, modernized website with a fresh design, as well as a number of new platform enhancements, such as:
- New fee structure – it’s now free to sign up, match and message with compatible renters. A fee is only assessed after a match is made and the homeowner begins collecting rent
- Addition of insurance coverage – policy includes coverage for both the home and the housemate’s belongings and requires no application, enrollment, deductible or credit check
Silvernest is partnering with Stonewall CDC for its Innovation Hub Launch Party event. What insights do you hope attendees walk away with?
We hope the audience will benefit from a conversation surrounding key insights and new strategies that we’ve seen evolve over the past few months as we’ve operated in the midst of COVID-19. Our goal is to show the attendees new housing opportunities and potential solutions that are emerging in the sector and that are being hastened by the pandemic. We also plan to explore how we can create and strengthen solutions for the LGBTQ community, which often experiences discrimination that restricts their access to stable and affordable housing.
The pandemic has upended housing in the same way it’s done in many other sectors, and people might assume that long-term homesharing wouldn’t be an attractive option given the circumstances. Our conversations and data, however, have shown us the contrary. Homesharing continues to fulfill a vital function and the financial benefits are opening the doors to new opportunities.
What is your favorite landmark or place to visit in New York City and why?
New York is so wonderfully diverse, which makes it tough to call out just one, but I’d have to go with Rockefeller Center because it’s simply magical around the holidays. I also have to give a shout out to Rainbow Room as well. It’s one of my favorite places in the city and I was thrilled to see that it recently reopened. I’m looking forward to hopefully visiting it soon post pandemic!
Silvernest is a roommate finder and all-in-one homesharing platform matching homeowners and housemates with a unique compatability score. Additionally, the technology provides a lease creator, automated rent payments and homesharing insurance coverage in one streamlined package. If you are interested in learning more about this solution, join Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest for an innovation talk as part of Stonewall CDC Brain Trust’s Innovation Hub Launch Party on Wednesday, September 23rd. Following the talk, she will host partners and experts for an in depth discussion exploring how New York City can integrate homesharing solutions into future planning. Click here to register.