Graduate students in the St. Louis area have a new and cheaper option for housing. Odd Couples Housing Inc. (OCH) co-founder John Levis found an alternative solution.
The empty nest homes of seniors provided an unlikely solution to the search for student housing, Levis said. The startup company looked to Webster Groves to start one of its early programs in shared housing, Levis said.
“You’ve got graduate students that are working on paying down debt and a number of them would like to live in a nicer place for a reduce cost if they could,” Levis said.
Originally, Levis wanted to put different single home seniors together. Levis said the idea came when his mother-in-law and her sister lived in separate two-bedroom apartments.
After seeing an improvement in the quality of life between the two women, Levis thought that there could be a need for this in the community.
“They socialized with people in their building more and began to go out together, that kind of thing,” Levis said. “I had told some of my buddies about what I had done and they said, you’re not, that might be a good idea for business.”
They came up with a better idea after analyzing the model with the business school at Washington University.
The students who considered the business model thought it was a viable business. They told Levis that it would be a better idea to put young adults with seniors.
Levis said this model ended up making more sense with young people looking for homes and many seniors with large homes and empty rooms.
OCH changed its focus to finding compatible seniors with graduate students who are looking for people to live with. Participants create a profile online and match homeowners and homeseekers based on compatibility. He said his team continues to develop better algorithms.
CEO Stephen Lilly said homeowners and home seekers find great benefits to living with one another. He recommends that there be a small set price for helping share expenses on bills. In exchange, the graduate student “pays it forward” by providing a variety of tasks or chores such as grocery shopping, technology support, dog walking or snow shoveling.
“For some, this helps mitigate student debt, connect with older adults who have life experience and wisdom, and most importantly, learn from one another,” said Lilly.
Dean of Students John Buck said OCH contacted the university last year and has communicated with OCH while they build their framework.
Buck said Webster aims to create a way to refer residents of Webster Groves who participate to students who need housing options. He said the university plans to treat it as another sort of housing contract.
Buck said international students would benefit from having a cheap and available option near campus.
Lilly said it provides a unique option for international grad students as well.
“Many feel it is exciting to live in a home and neighborhood and feel connected to older adults as many miss their families, especially around holiday time,” Lilly said. “It also gives them a chance to get to know Americans in a more personal way and they get to practice their English speaking skills.”
Lilly also believes the company will continue to meet housing needs as best they can. He said that rising rental rates can put affordable housing out of range for some young adults. Lilly said he believes OCH will expand to other cities if the St. Louis market stays stable.
Buck said it reminded him of a program he saw in the Netherlands where seniors would open their homes to young working adults.
“I think it’s a really interesting and potentially useful concept,” Buck said. “I think in many ways, it could be a win when you have someone who gets an extra little bit of assistance and another student who has a place to live nearby and you know, maybe that kind of becomes a model for other people in the area.”