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Turn your home into a boardinghouse

When single mother Connie Baschke's severe health problems prevented her from working outside the home, she did what countless people in difficult situations have done for centuries: She took in boarders.

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In the summer of 1994, college students filled the three available bedrooms of Baschke's home in Fostoria, Iowa. The students were in town to work seasonal jobs in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, a popular summertime resort area.

"Parents were really concerned about sending their children off to a strange place to work all summer with very little supervision," Baschke says.

Baschke's summer boarding effort helped diminish those worries. In fact, the decision to take in borders was such a success that she made it permanent.

"It does seem safer to parents because I live here," she says. "They can come here and meet me and see what the room is like and be reassured."

In 2001, Baschke remodeled the basement of her 1914 home into three more rooms and opened Connie's Bed & Breakfast and Boarding House.

Income from her six units -- including three to four full-time boarders at $550 a month and two to three seasonal bed-and-breakfast weekenders at $65 to $75 per night -- averages more than $30,000 a year.

In lean times, many homeowners may wonder whether they can open a boardinghouse and squeeze some rental income out of spare bedrooms or a converted garage.

But just how practical is it to open a boardinghouse today?

A boardinghouse by any other name ...
Wendy Gamber, a professor of history at Indiana University and author of "The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth Century America," thinks a modern version of the boardinghouse makes perfect sense today.

"A single-family home sort of defines the American dream, but there is also this strong undercurrent of communal traditions of various sorts," she says. "At any moment in time, substantial portions of the U.S. population do not live in those single-family, idealized homes."

Seeds of a communal living revival
Several factors have made communal living more attractive, according to Gamber. They include:
Rising energy costs of single-family homes.
Struggling economy.
Drift away from sprawling mansions.
Interest in green living.
Influx of immigrants comfortable with sharing space.
Unstable housing market.
Increased costs of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
Benefits of multigenerational living.

Gamber says traditional boardinghouses provided daily meals mostly to single male boarders as Americans moved from the farm to the cities during the 1800s.

The boardinghouse's seedy reputation, though sometimes deserved, was as much a reflection of the various turn-of-the-century campaigns for decency as the living conditions themselves, she says.

Next: "Neighbors are particularly likely to put up fierce resistance ..."
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