When first bought our home, we bought near the top of our limit allowed by our lender (my husband was in school on the GI bill and the bank didn’t consider his living stipend to be income, so we had to qualify on my income, which wasn’t very high at the time). Our mortgage came to 35% our gross income, which would make us considered to be “rent burdened” based on the national affordability calculation that your rent/mortgage shouldn’t be more than 30% your gross income. While we could have managed that ourselves, we decided instead to rent out two of the bedrooms in our three bedroom house, which dropped our portion of the mortgage payment to 30% of our income. We were 23 years old at the time, so finding friends to move in with us was easy and a lot of fun. While we occasionally had minor issues with roommates, it was overall a good experience and definitely saved us money over the years.
Our long term plan was to keep roommates until we would start trying for our first child. The normal expectation is that once you grow your family, there isn’t room in your house for anyone else. We bought a “starter” home with 3 bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms and 1350 square feet, so it seemed to make sense that we would want the room for our growing family once there was more than just the two of us. We were young though, and not ready to start our family, so our shared home continued for the first three years after we bought it. Over that time, we refinanced once (dropping our monthly payment by $160/month), paid off my student loans, my husband graduated and found a career job while I continued to receive raises as mine, and so our mortgage payment got more and more affordable over time. Concurrently, rental costs exploded in the Seattle area and are now growing faster than any other US city and home ownership looks the same. Because we fixed our interest rate, our mortgage keeps getting smaller and smaller compared to what we could buy now, and our home would now rent out for considerably more than we pay. Even so, we’ve kept our rental costs flat for our roommates because it’s been more important to us to have great roommates than make a ton of money on the deal.
Fast forward to spring of 2014, and one of our roommates moved out to live with her boyfriend, and we found ourselves with an empty bedroom for the first time since we bought our house three years before. Since we were thinking about trying for a baby in the near future, we decided to leave the room vacant, and by the end of May, I was pregnant. Our one remaining roommate had been living with us for almost two years at that point and was open to staying even under threat of living with a crying newborn. While we had previously expected to ask everyone to leave once I got pregnant, our roommate had become more like extended family than simply an income source – we’ve gone on vacations together, eaten many many meals together, and he occasionally joins us for holidays with our extended family. My mom and grandmother even buy him small Christmas presents every year. While I wouldn’t advocate for just anyone renting a room out while growing their family, because of the special situation we have, it has continued to work.
When we got home to spend our first few days with our newborn son, our roommate cooked us dinners so we had one less thing to worry about. While we may not have a true “village” like centuries past, we do have a little more than the typical nuclear family, and for that I am very grateful. Our roommate is perpetually single and had never been around babies or children before, but he is now someone I can lean on the odd days I have to work from home due to snow or sickness and our son loves hanging out with his “uncle.” This past winter, I had two weeks back to back of sickness and snow days, and our roommate was the only way I was able to get any work done from home with a needy toddler. Over all, continuing to have a roommate after having a child has been an improvement to our lives, not a detriment, something that I would not have foreseen before we ended up in the situation ourselves. A great roommate can turn a money making situation into a positive cohousing choice that we’ve made even though the money is quite small compared to our overall monthly income. Our mortgage is now 16% of our income and dropping his rent would only bump this up to 17%, so having him continue to live with us is really about all the only reasons beyond a simple rent check.
We’re now getting ready to go on a camping trip for the long holiday weekend, but since our dog was just diagnosed with heart disease and now needs medication every 12 hours, we would have had to cancel if it wasn’t for our roommate situation. Instead, our roommate with be holding down the fort and taking wonderful care of our old dog, and I won’t worry – too much. He takes wonderful care of all of our animals while we are gone, and since we have quite a few (we are now down to two dogs, a cat, a ferret, and a corn snake), we would have a hard time traveling as much as we do if we had to pay for a house sitter every time we went away for the weekend. He now works evenings, so we see him very infrequently and only on the weekends, but our coliving continues to work mostly smoothly – in case he sounds perfect, I had to start charging a cleaning fee since I was doing all of his dishes! We trust him when we are away to care for our very loved animals, and he has really become more like family than I ever would have expected. Whether he continues to live with us for only 5 more months or another 5 years or more, we will look back at this time as a very special situation where we were able to share our lives with another person.