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Real Estate & Housing

Q&A with Roomily

Kat Clark | 18 Dec 2018

Landed’s mission to help essential professionals, starting with educators, build financial security goes beyond providing down payment funds. We’re working closely with local organizations to gain a broader understanding of the housing landscape and how it impacts the entire community – including firefighters, social workers, nurses, and our teachers.

Over the past few months, we’ve had the opportunity to host free financial wellness events in Oakland, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, and we’re now preparing for events in Marin, Milpitas, and Denver in partnership with school districts and universities. At each pop-up event, a group of organizations has joined us to offer guidance and resources to attendees, including local nonprofits (like SparkPoint), teacher housing advocates (like Support Teacher Housing), affordable housing leaders (like Pam Dorr of Soup), lenders, realtors, and neighborhood housing services. Over the coming months, we plan to interview a number of these like-minded organizations to find out what they’ve learned and where they’re headed.

One of our most active participating organizations has been Roomily, a social impact startup now piloting in the Bay Area. Roomily is a housemate matching platform connecting home providers who have extra space – such as spare rooms, in-law suites, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – to long-term renters looking for more affordable housing. Curious about what their team is up to, we interviewed Roomily Co-Founder Jill Lindenbaum about what Roomily does and why it matters.

Roomily Co-Founder Jill LindenbaumWhat inspired you to found Roomily?

If you haven’t personally been affected by the housing crisis, you likely know someone who has been. Like everyone else I know, my business partner (Siggy Rubinson) and I were reading about the housing crisis and its negative effects on the community on a daily basis. After thinking and talking about it enough, we decided to be a part of the solution just like Landed and several other companies trying to address the challenge with innovative solutions.

Roomily was truly one of those “lightbulb moments” that came when Siggy combined the housing shortage issue with the needs of older adults, which she had also been considering. Since older adults are tending to age-in-place and stay in the communities they know well and love, many are still living in the same house they’ve been in for years –where they raised their families – and that house is now much larger than they need. Roomily’s basic premise was, initially, to identify seniors who would benefit from companionship and help around the house and then match them with someone who needs to find an affordable room to rent. Since then, we determined that intergenerational-based matching is just one highly symbiotic matching profile and have decided to broaden our scope in order to focus on our community-critical members, such as teachers.

What was the problem you saw that you wanted to solve?

As the economy is booming, the housing crisis is worsening. It comes down to supply and demand. The more high-paid workers who come into the area, the more low and middle-income earners are being forced to leave. The level of housing supply can’t keep up with demand, and rents remain too high. The basic problem Roomily aims to solve is alleviating the housing shortage; because without a significant source of new housing supply, the demand will never be met. Roomily brings a ready source of new rental space onto the market which in turn supports a viable and vibrant community.

How have you seen the housing crisis impact educators, in particular?

While there’s a confluence of factors to consider, the housing crisis is directly related to the teaching shortage since it makes it hard for teachers to stay in high-cost areas and/or stay in the field altogether. According to a Learning Policy Institute analysis, nearly 25 percent of former teachers said housing incentives might entice them to return to the field.

For those who do remain in the field, the high costs of housing make it difficult for educators to live in the communities where their school sites are located. They are often saddled with long commutes, which adds to the stress of the job and also makes it difficult for teachers to participate in the community in more meaningfully engaged ways.

What’s a story or experience in the world of affordable housing that’s really stuck with you?

In our earliest days, when we first began to develop the idea for Roomily, we connected with the Talent Manager for Oakland Unified School District whose job is to attract and hire teachers. During our very first conversation, she told us that several visiting teachers had found great rentals after being matched up to district families with extra space. These families were able to offer teachers below-market rents and, in return, the arrangement created a positive environment at home while earning the families extra income.

When I spoke to one of these parents, she said that from now on she would only rent to teachers and always offer below-market rates because she felt the relationship was so mutually beneficial.

What impact do you think more affordable housing would have on our community? Our schools? Our children?

Teachers want to live near their work, not only to reduce commute times but to be better at their jobs. Research shows that when teachers live close to work they can better understand the environment that shapes their students’ lives, which helps support stronger relationships with students and their families that go beyond lessons and grading. As a result, student outcomes improve. In addition, when teachers aren’t in a hurry to begin their long commute home, they can coach teams, participate in activities, show up at events, and basically participate in the school/local community in a more engaged and meaningful way.

How have you seen private/public partnerships, and other community partnerships, be beneficial in this work?

Housing is a complex issue. It’s local, it’s regional. It affects individuals, families, employers, cities. We’re all entangled in this issue together, and innovative public/private approaches will help solve it... Other countries, such as Canada and Australia, are accustomed to successfully relying on public/private partnerships and the same is happening here again.

For example, some school districts have been able to earmark funds for new teacher housing and are relying on public/private partnerships to bring those development projects to fruition. For Roomily, in addition to working with school districts, we’re developing partnerships with cities and local municipalities around the Bay Area. These cities are acknowledging that they (we) need lots of solutions. So, while they may be developing plans for new housing developments, they also see the value Roomily offers by leveraging existing resources – spare rooms and also helping other residents create new sources of income.

Anything else you would like to share?

There are so many reasons why we decided to start Roomily, but what motivates us the most is keeping our communities vibrant and viable. Like Landed, we’re dedicated to supporting those who support our communities. None of what we’re suggesting is new. In fact, having housemates and taking on lodgers is an age-old idea that we’re bringing into the 21st century with a technology platform that makes the process of finding a great match safer and easier than ever before. Beyond the matching, we want to offer services that will ensure the continued success of the match. If we achieve this, and significantly more people are willing to be housemates as a result, then we’ll be doing our part by making our current housing infrastructure work for everyone.

About the Interviewee: Jill Lindenbaum

Jill is the Co-Founder of Roomily, a housemate matching service that brings together home providers who have spare rooms with renters looking for more affordable rents. She previously worked for other startups such as Tiny Atlas Quarterly (a travel/lifestyle media startup), Google (when it was a startup), and has had her own PR consultancy.


The contents of this Q&A do not necessarily reflect the views of Landed, Inc. and are shared for educational purposes. To learn more about Roomily or contact Jill Lindenbaum, please visit www.goroomily.com.

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Real Estate & Housing Northern California

About the Author

Kat Clark

Kat works on the Growth team at Landed, where she leads Engagement. She previously worked at four schools in three states.

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