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PBS NewsHour

Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together

Bonnie Moore was worried about losing her five-bedroom home in Bowie, Md., when
         she and her husband divorced at the height of the recession. So the 69-year-old decided to make lemonade out of her sour situation
         and began advertising for roommates. Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

GWEN IFILL: It’s not uncommon for young adults to live with roommates in order to offset the high cost of housing. But with one out of every three baby boomers now single and approaching retirement, some of them are returning to the communal living of their youth to ease the burdens of their golden years.

Special correspondent Spencer Michels reports for our Taking Care series.

WOMAN: I thought maybe we would use the plastic ones for them.

SPENCER MICHELS: Karen Bush and Louise Machinist like to plan together, everything from dinner parties to the breakdown of chores at their new condo in Sarasota, Florida, to projects at the shown they share with Jean McQuillin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

WOMAN: I will be hope April 4. And I will probably be there most of that upcoming week, so if there are things that I need to do…

SPENCER MICHELS: The longtime friends now in their 60s have been coordinating their lives like this for the past 10 years. Before that, like a growing number of female baby boomers, all three were divorced, living alone and unsatisfied with the size of their savings accounts as they neared retirement.

WOMAN: Let’s tell the real story. She cooks. I do the dishes.

SPENCER MICHELS: Combining resources, they decided, would make life cheaper, easier, and more fun. Their relationship was easy to describe from the start.

WOMAN: Fight like cats and dogs, lots of drama every day.

WOMAN: No, no, no. No, that’s “The Golden Girls.”

SPENCER MICHELS: “The Golden Girls,” the Emmy Award-winning sitcom from the ’80s that ran for seven seasons, first popularized the idea that four older women can get along well as roommates, for the most part.

BETTY WHITE, Actress: Dorothy, you’re the smart one. And, Blanche, you’re the sexy one, and, Sophia, you’re the old one.

(LAUGHTER)

BETTY WHITE: And I’m the nice one.

(LAUGHTER)

BETTY WHITE: Everybody always likes me.

ESTELLE GETTY, Actress: The old one isn’t so crazy about you.

SPENCER MICHELS: Nationwide, about 500,000 women offer the age much 50 live with a nonromantic housemate. According to census data analyzed by AARP, that boils down to roughly 130,000 group homes from coast to coast.

Louise, Karen and Jean officially decided to give it a shot in 2004, when they bought a large brick home together in Mount Lebanon neighborhood of Pittsburgh and drafted a legally binding document laying out everything from financial expectations to overnight guests.

It worked so well, they wrote a how-to book about living far better for far less. But they also knew the arrangement wouldn’t last forever.

KAREN BUSH: It’s a great big old colonial built in the 1930s, four stories, three winding sets of stairs. And so it’s a great house for us while we were young, but we know that at some point, that house will become difficult for us to manage.

SPENCER MICHELS: Still, their eventual need to move on doesn’t mean an end to the partnership, which the three say is becoming more valuable with time. They recently purchased this condo together in Florida, with new legal agreements in the works for what they will and will not do when it comes to things like illness, disability, incompetence, and death.

WOMAN: Well, I mean, if one of us goes soon, the other one is young enough and cogent enough hopefully to just go get a mortgage or find another person to buy in.

WOMAN: What are we going to do about some of this stuff?

SPENCER MICHELS: They’re now gutting the place.

MAN: I think we will widen the door.

SPENCER MICHELS: And, with the help of contractor Brian Anderson and independent living strategist Louis Tannenbaum, rebuilding it for a future when the women will be less mobile, which includes everything from selecting floor tiles with enough traction…

WOMAN: Yes, they slip.

SPENCER MICHELS: … to choosing age-friendly countertops and appliances.

KAREN BUSH: The front has some advantages, but having this sweep is really nice to have.

WOMAN: Yes, definitely good.

KAREN BUSH: The whole setup that we have here is going to help me be independent for a long time. And at the point at which I can no longer be independent, I will have additional resources to pay for what I need.

SPENCER MICHELS: But this isn’t just a warm-weather retirement idea.

The golden girls concept actually got started going strong here in Minneapolis, where a few years ago the median income of elderly women was $11,000 less than for retired men. That discrepancy prompted a local woman to start to organize.

Connie Skillingstad runs Golden Girl Homes, Inc., a volunteer-based group that introduces elderly single women in the Twin Cities to the concept of communal living and to each other. At least once a month, she hosts get-togethers on topics ranging from picking a roommate to tax preparation. Many say it’s something they have already considered.

WOMAN: Really, I’m not that keen on living alone. But there I am.

SPENCER MICHELS: But most admit being more than a little nervous about roommate drama or even sharing a bathroom.

WOMAN: Go to bed at night and there would be a half-a-roll of toilet tissue, and then you get up in the morning and then there would be no toilet tissue. And that would be an issue for me.

SPENCER MICHELS: And Skillingstad tells them up front it doesn’t always work, that minor differences can easily ruin everything.

But she also believes the setup, if managed well, can save lives and keep people out of retirement homes longer.

CONNIE SKILLINGSTAD, President, Golden Girl Homes, Inc.: I see both women with money and women with no money who need to do this and who can find a place here for that.

And, for example, there are women who have no money, but they have a house. They have space and they can share it with somebody, and it will help them to survive.

SPENCER MICHELS: It’s why Skillingstad has been spending time lately advising 54-year-old Nancy Schuna on how to make her home more attractive to a potential roommate. The financially strapped hairstylist has far more space than she needs, even after she finishes construction on a beauty salon in the front two rooms of her home. Several hundred dollars a month would go a long way to helping relieve some stress, she says.

NANCY SCHUNA: It would uniform my life, I mean, physically, psychologically, financially. And I could help them, too. It’s just not a one-sided thing for a woman to move in to my home, and she may want to help me with things, too. So, it’s a give and take. It’s helping each other and it’s caring for each other.

SPENCER MICHELS: Schuna’s next step will be finding her own Rose, Blanche, Sophia or Dorothy, and settling into a future where she doesn’t feel so alone.

GWEN IFILL: And if you’re looking for a Dorothy or a Rose to share your home with, we have tips on how to do that on our Health page.

The post Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Federal judge deems fetal heartbeat law ‘unconstitutional’

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the United States’ most restrictive abortion law, North Dakota’s prohibition of abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, calling it “invalid and unconstitutional.”

As a fetal heartbeat can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the law effectively banned abortion argued the Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s only abortion clinic. The clinic challenged the law after its passage in 2013.

Following that lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who is based in Bismarck, temporarily blocked the law from taking effect. In a 25-page opinion released Wednesday, he rendered his ruling permanent, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“The United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability,” Hovland wrote. “This Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent.”

In a statement, Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that Wednesday’s ruling “sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away.” The North Dakota attorney general’s office said it would “confer about” appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The post Federal judge deems fetal heartbeat law ‘unconstitutional’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

The real ‘Golden Girls’ of Prince George’s County

Put on some coffee and grab a cheesecake and meet some modern day "Golden Girls." (Not that there's anything
         wrong with the original ladies.) Photo of Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund and Bea Arthur as
         Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak by Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Put on a pot of coffee, grab a cheesecake and meet some modern day “Golden Girls.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with the 1980′s originals.) Photo of Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund and Bea Arthur as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak by Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Remember your first roommate? Your first roommate who wasn’t your sibling? It was probably in college or just after you graduated when you thought the world was open to a million possibilities, and you and your best friend would conquer the world. Well turns out roommates aren’t just wasted on the young. Baby Boomers are realizing the benefits of communal living, too.

According to an AARP analysis of census data, approximately 132,000 households and 490,000 women over the age of 50 live with non-romantic peers. They’re dubbed “Golden Girls,” after the hit 1980’s TV show that featured four ladies and the mischief they encountered while living together in a Miami home. The number of Golden Girls is expected to grow, especially given that one in three Baby Boomers is single and a disproportionate number of them are women.

So what’s it like to be a real life Golden Girl? We talked to a few who live in Maryland, just outside of the Washington, D.C., area. We asked them to share their experiences and best advice on how to find a roommate.


Rachel Lemberg, 68, met her roommate on Craigslist through an ad seeking a "Golden Girl." Photo by Margaret
         Myers/NewsHour

Rachael Lemberg, 68, met her roommate on Craigslist through an ad seeking a “Golden Girl.” Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Rachael Lemberg was 57 when she ran away from home. She left her husband of 25 years for a new life as a single woman. She packed two suitcases and a computer into her car and said goodbye to Ohio forever.

Now 68, Lemberg has retired from her corporate job and works for the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. And she has a new roommate, an active woman in her late 70s. The two of them met by way of a Craigslist ad seeking a “Golden Girl” to share a house.

She appreciates the company and she’s even admitted that it’s made her neater. “I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t all my space,” she says.

Before taking on a roommate, she recommends a little self-evaluation. “It’s not just about finances,” she says. You have to look at the emotional side, too. “How is it going to be if my roommate has a cranky day or if I have a cranky day?”

But in the end, she said, it is nice to come home at night to the lights still on.

“My kids think this is super,” says Lemberg. “It helps me maintain my independence.


Bonnie Moore was worried about losing her five-bedroom home in Bowie, Md., when she and her husband divorced at the height
         of the recession. So the 69-year-old decided to make lemonade out of her sour situation and began advertising for roommates.
         Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Bonnie Moore was worried about losing her five-bedroom home when she and her husband divorced at the height of the recession. So the 69-year-old decided to make lemonade out of her sour situation and began advertising for roommates. Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Bonnie Moore is a retired lawyer and the founder of the Golden Girls Network, an organization that connects older women across the country to help them find roommates in their area.

She’s also a “Golden Girl” herself. Moore, 69, lives with her three roommates in a five-bedroom home she owns in Bowie, Md. Living with these women allows her to maintain her large home that she once owned with her husband, whom she divorced at the height of the recession. “I lost all the equity and we had just done $300,000 worth of remodeling and I didn’t want to walk away from it.”

Moore has been a Golden Girl for six years, so she has a lot of advice for those new to the situation. The one question she always gets is how do you handle things in the kitchen? So she tells this story: “The first roommate that I had, I was terrified when she started cooking and I sat on the kitchen stool and watched her. And I pinched myself because I can’t say ‘don’t do this don’t do that. You’re not doing it my way.’ I just let her do whatever she was doing, and I just bit my tongue. … Now, six years later, I love to sit on the kitchen stool and watch people cooking because they’re gonna say, ‘you want some?’”

The takeaway: Your roommates aren’t always going do things your way, and you just have to let go.

And she plans to stay put for a long time.

“I’m gonna stay here until I can’t do the gardening,” she said. “That’s my criteria.”


Lorie James, 51, is a kindergarten teacher and a graduate student. She feels comfortable living in a "Golden Girls"
         home, especially after coming out of a long marriage where she took care of a husband and two children. Photo by Margaret
         Myers/NewsHour

Lorie James, 51, is a kindergarten teacher and a graduate student. She feels right at home living with three other “Golden Girls.” Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Lorie James hasn’t had a roommate since college, unless you count a husband, now an ex, and two grown children. But the 51-year-old kindergarten teacher recently moved into a house with three women in January.

Since she hadn’t had a roommate since she was in her early 20s, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was pleasantly surprised.

“For me it’s been a very comfortable fit,” James said. “It’s just a calm, laid back atmosphere. It feels like a relaxing place to be.”

James doesn’t have much time to relax though. Between teaching, taking classes to fulfill a Master’s degree and planning a 75th birthday party for her father, she hasn’t had a moment’s rest in her new home in Bowie, Md.

The living situation has been just what she needed after her divorce from her husband of 25 years.

“Something in my mind was like, ‘I just don’t want to live alone. Coming out of a long marriage and a house with two kids. I just don’t want to be alone this winter,’” she said.

Her advice is to be open-minded, because it might surprise you.

“I never would have considered moving in with anybody but the more I thought about it, it just made sense to me.”

And it really did work out. James recalls that during a recent snow storm her roommate and landlord Bonnie Moore said to her: “Another snow storm, you’re gonna have a snow day. Let’s have a glass of wine!”

The post The real ‘Golden Girls’ of Prince George’s County appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Roommate wanted: Must be clean, courteous and over 65

Bonnie Moore of Bowie, Md., opened her five-bedroom home to roommates six years ago. Now the 69-year-old landlord gives
         classes on how to build a "Golden Girls" home. Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Bonnie Moore of Bowie, Md., opened her five-bedroom home to roommates six years ago. Now the 69-year-old landlord gives classes on how to build a “Golden Girls” home. Photo by Margaret Myers/NewsHour

Six years ago, Bonnie Moore and her husband built the kitchen of their dreams. They designed it to be bright and big enough to host dinner parties but also intimate enough to be able to pick a corner — preferably one near the windows overlooking the garden — to relax in with a glass of wine. It was the perfect addition to their home in the leafy bedroom community about half an hour outside of Washington, D.C.

But things didn’t work out for the couple, and after a five-year marriage, they divorced. Smack-dab in the middle of the worst recession in recent U.S. history. Moore said she lost a lot of equity in the home. But she didn’t want to abandon it and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they poured into it.

“I didn’t want to walk away from it, because I love it. We did a fabulous kitchen,” said Moore.

Her solution: three women who rent rooms from Moore in her five-bedroom house. You can call the foursome the real “Golden Girls.” They may not gather around the kitchen table for midnight cheesecake sessions like the ladies from the hit 1980’s TV show, but they do support one another in the form of an affordable, safe and comfortable living situation.

“So this was my answer to making lemonade out of lemons.” Moore said.

According to an AARP analysis of census data, approximately 132,000 households and 490,000 people live in a Golden Girls situation. And the number is expected to grow, especially given that one in three Baby Boomers is single, and a disproportionate number of them are women. And according to the Social Security Administration, widowed and divorced women rely on Social Security for 50 percent of their income after age 65, so frugality becomes a priority.

For Moore, becoming a landlord was a big change, but after six years and about 15 roommates later, the retired accountant and lawyer has become an expert in building these types of group homes. She’s the founder of the Golden Girls Network, a company that connects older roommates through a national database. And she’s written a book on how to set up a Golden Girls household. We asked her to share some of her tips, based on her experience as a homeowner. The first rule? “You really need to look at this with a positive attitude,” she said. “No. 1: positive attitude. I insist!”

Read the rest of Moore’s tips below:

1. What do you have to offer as a homeowner?

What does your house have to offer? A cozy living room for late night gatherings perhaps? "Golden Girls" photos
         by ABC Studios via Getty Images

What does your house have to offer? A cozy living room for late night gatherings perhaps? “Golden Girls” photos of Estelle Getty, Betty White, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan by ABC Studios via Getty Images

Moore says to take a look at your house with fresh eyes. Walk out the door and come back in as if you were a stranger. What does the room look like? What does it smell like? Consider baking cookies when a prospective tenant comes over for an interview.

Make a checklist of things you have to offer: Can you give her a private bathroom? Can you give her some kitchen shelf space?

2. Know yourself.

Are pets a no-no? Make a list of deal breakers before you place an ad.

Are pets a no-no? Make a list of deal breakers before you place an ad.

Examine what’s important to you, and know your deal breakers: Are pets OK? Is smoking? Alcohol?

Know what will work well in your house: Are there religious practices that may not fit into your lifestyle? Would a vegetarian be comfortable in a house full of meat eaters or vice versa? What’s a good age range for you? Are there working hours that work best? What cleanliness level suits you?

“Some people are OCD. Not in my house you’re not!” says Moore. “I keep my house ‘clean enough’ is what I call it.”

Make rules about common space. Moore recommends drafting a house agreement: write down details of what works for you and what isn’t going to work. Picky little things you never think about like can anyone put furniture in the common room? Can they hang pictures on the walls?

3. Look for creative ways of advertising.

Looking for a roommate? You need to spread the word. Photo by ABC Studios

Spread the word, “roommate wanted.”

When writing your ad, think to yourself, “what do I have to offer?” “’Walking distance to the Kennedy Center!’ That type of thing,” says Moore.

Craigslist is an option but you can also develop a flyer and pass it around in your social group or give it to your minister or rabbi. “Promote yourself,” says Moore.

Don’t put your address in the ad.

4. People start responding to the ad, now what?

Set up a phone conversation with a prospective roommate to see if your personalities click. Photo by ABC Studios

Set up a phone conversation with a prospective roommate to see if your personalities click.

Don’t give out your address when you talk to someone the first time.

Check all the deal breakers first through email.

Then get them on the phone and chit chat; find out how well you relate. And if you don’t think it’s going to work, Moore says to be straightforward. Say “I don’t think this is the right fit,” and be done with it.

If they get past the telephone conversation, then give them the address and invite them over for an interview.

Ask prospective roommates a series of questions: Why are you thinking of moving? When do you anticipate moving? Have you given a 30-day notice? “Some people have come to my house for an interview and they have not given a notice,” says Moore. “Thank you very much but you’re just shopping,” she tells them.

Watch for red flags. Are they leaving their current living situation because they don’t get along with their current landlord?

After the interview process, it’s time to talk about a lease. Moore recommends having one, which you can find samples of online. Moore also supplements the lease with a list of house agreements. “My house agreements are twice as long as the lease,” she says. This is where you can add rules about common areas and your deal breakers. Be very detailed, says Moore. You may need it in the long run.

5. So it’s not working. What do you do?

You tried but it didn't work. Don't worry, the next Dorothy or Rose or Sophia is out there somewhere. Photo
         by ABC Studios

You tried but it didn’t work. Don’t worry, the next Dorothy or Rose or Sophia is out there somewhere.

People fear getting into a bad situation and then not being able to get out of it. But you don’t have to be stuck with a bad situation for 12 months, says Moore. She adds, “If you’re unhappy, she’s unhappy. And if she’s unhappy she really wants to break the lease and get out of there. You need to offer her that option.”

This is where house agreements come into play. If a tenant has broken a rule, you can use that as an excuse to ask her to leave. This is a reminder to be detailed in your house agreement.

If a tenant is delinquent on rent or has left without paying, Moore recommends filing paperwork with the courts on the sixth day because it takes so long in the court process.

But, she says, “I have never had to evict anyone.” People usually respect the notice and leave before the end of the month. “You’re uncomfortable for 30 days and then it’s over.”

Bonnie Moore is a retired accountant and lawyer and the founder of the Golden Girls Network, a company that connects older women across the country and helps them find roommates in their area. She is the author of the book “How to Start a Golden Girls Home,” which this tip sheet is based on.

The post Roommate wanted: Must be clean, courteous and over 65 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.