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Turn your home into a boardinghouse

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As the boardinghouse mutated -- first to lodging houses (sans food) and later to apartment-hotels and apartments -- each variation distanced itself from the negative baggage originally associated with the boardinghouse concept.

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Contrary to popular perceptions, boardinghouses and similar group-living arrangements never really disappeared, Gamber says.

Instead, they morphed into places where people continued to live communally. Examples include co-op housing for college students near campuses, group living among elderly people who shun traditional nursing home environments, and ongoing communes for ex-hippies and others, such as Black Bear Ranch in Forks of Salmon, Calif.

SRO, but not 'standing room only'
Today, traditional boardinghouses survive, even though many no longer offer meals.

Several current conditions favor a resurgence in communal living, Gamber says. While some people open boardinghouses for purely financial reasons, others see the boardinghouse as an extension of their values.

"I think there is some reaction against the McMansion," Gamber says. "There is certainly a lot of emphasis on being green and reducing one's carbon footprint, and maybe part of that is people trying to move back to cities, to places where they can walk or take public transportation to work.

What does it take for a boardinghouse to thrive in the 21st century?

According to Robert Sheehan, longtime consulting economist for the National Apartment Association, the prospects for a boardinghouse all depend on that old real estate saw: location, location, location.

Most residential areas prohibit people from taking in renters where they live.

"Single-room occupancy (SRO) is illegal in most jurisdictions," Sheehan says.

Exceptions occasionally are granted tend to organizations such as group homes for the disabled or elderly.

"Exceptions are typically made for nonprofit organizations or for local government programs," he says.

Private individuals looking to open a boardinghouse are often in for a tougher fight, Sheehan says. Neighbors are particularly likely to put up fierce resistance, earning them the colorful nickname NIMBYs, or "not in my back yarders."

"You go through a very long public hearing process to get an exception, and you're going to get a lot of opposition," he says. "The NIMBYs come out of the woodwork: 'The world is going to end and property values are going to fall!'"

Baschke is among the lucky homeowners who have received approval to turn their homes into boardinghouses. Before hanging out the "Room for Rent" sign in 1994, she had to clear her plans with Clay County and the town of Fostoria.

"You have to be zoned for multifamily," she says. "I went to our city clerk and got the zoning laws to make sure I fit the criteria. You also have to have a sales permit."

Some people ignore such legalities. Illegal boardinghouses are relatively common, particularly where there are heavy concentrations of immigrant workers and day laborers, Sheehan says.

He says there is no accurate way to measure the number of homes nationwide that rent out a basement apartment or mother-in-law cottage to nonfamily members, a common -- if illegal -- practice.

 
 
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