General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Will we see a resurgence of boarding houses?

Asked by Jeruba (52852points) March 21st, 2009

In the first half of the twentieth century (and before), the practice of “taking in lodgers” was an excellent solution to the problem of making ends meet. The genteel poor rented out rooms in their homes, and many offered communal meals (“room and board”—board meaning the table and hence food). People who owned large houses but lacked steady employment—widows, for example, who knew only homemaking—could maintain such facilities for renters and take in enough to support their families.

This practice has mostly fallen away, although bed-and-breakfast (B&B) establishments seem to have evolved from it for very short-term rentals.

At a time when many are becoming homeless and others are struggling to keep their homes, is it likely that we will see a rebirth of this practice, perhaps in a somewhat altered form? I saw a privately circulated message just this morning advertising a master bedroom for rent in a home in an upscale area, with full kitchen, yard, and laundry privileges.

Or are we on the whole too suspicious of one another these days to rent rooms in our homes to strangers and sit down to a communal meal with them at a family dining table?

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21 Answers

cookieman's avatar

Unfortunately, I subscribe to the thought expressed in your last paragraph.

I trust my wife and daughter – and that’s it. Everyone else stays at arm’s length. So while I interact with oodles of very nice people every day, the idea of anyone else living under our roof would never cross my mind.

laureth's avatar

Why not? Lots of cheap foreclosed homes could make someone a tidy living that way.

It already exists in college towns.

galileogirl's avatar

I think the idea fell into disrepute because of a change in lodgers. In the 20’s and 30’s there were fewer apts for up and coming single people and you didn’t set up housekeeping until you got married, so a furnished room with meals and housekeeping was kind of like living at home. My greatgrandmother kept one in Chicago when all her children were gone until she was in her late 70’s.

Lodgers, for the most part, kept the rules about no drinking, smoking, guests in their rooms and music or radios off after 10pm. It’s hard to see modern 20 somethings allowing the landlady coming into their rooms regularly to vacuum, dust and change the beds.

During WWII my grandmother followed my grandfather to DC with 2 teen-age children. DC had a long tradition of boarding houses because of it’s transient population. Since grandpa was being sent all over the country, they took the top floor of a town house which consisted of 2 bedrooms, a dressing room and a toilet, the bathroom which just held a bath was on another floor and shared.

I think today it would work like a roommate situation with a ‘housemother’ in charge. I don’t know if people today would be willing to be as limited in their personal space.

marinelife's avatar

What an intriguing idea, Jeruba, and one I had not considered. My mother lived in boarding houses in the 40s when she was a young working single woman. Most singles did. There were house rules. No gentlemen above stairs. A curfew.

I guess we will have to see how bad it gets. We once thought there would never be homeless children and families.

laureth's avatar

I’m guessing that any lack of privacy in a boarding house would still be better than the lack of privacy in a tent city, assuming that they can afford the room and board.

Jeruba's avatar

Having had this thought, I am now turning it over in in my mind and looking at it from various directions.

Once a house is in foreclosure, it might be very hard for any unrelated group without a single qualified signer to effect a purchase. But at some point before that, when the threat looms, mightn’t a person find it better to share the home than to lose it? Coming up with a full mortgage payment might be tough, but what about coming up with 20% of it? Are people doing this sort of thing? If not, I wonder why not.

Thinking of this video. (Story about it.)

cookieman's avatar

@laureth: I meant “living under our roof” – with us.

Now if I had the money to snatch up some inexpensive foreclosed homes, I may consider that model.

Unfortunately, as it stands now, I barely have enough money to keep the one house I do have.

basp's avatar

In my area I see lots of ads in the paper where someone is renting a bedroom of a house. There are a few variations, bedroom with use if the kitchen, bedroom with use of the rest of the house. Seems more like a room mate situation to me.

laureth's avatar

@cprevite – I get that. I don’t think I’d want anyone living right with me, either.

On the other hand, in my town, there are plenty of formerly-single-family homes that people have bought, rented out each room separately, and then have the renters take turns cooking for each other in the kitchen. It’s a big hit with students (there are two big colleges here, and several smaller ones) who are fresh from home and want a kind of halfway-house to the real world while they are completing their studies.

EmpressPixie's avatar

My college roommate is actually playing with the idea of becoming a lodger. She’s been answering ads in her area as she is moving out of her current arrangement and would like either a roommate or other rent-sharing thing. One of the things that she’s been seeing a lot of has been lodging—renting a room, access to the kitchen, a weekly meal.

I think I’d be very careful about it, but if I had an actual house, I would certainly look at taking in a lodger. I’d do the whole old-fashioned, make a meal a day for them thing and all. (But not the really old-fashioned, doing their laundry bit.)

Jeruba's avatar

Sharing a house is one thing, especially in the vicinity of a college. That’s been around for a long time, as is any form of roommate situation. Taking in lodgers is something else. It’s mostly a thing of the past, and I was just wondering if present circumstances were causing enough of a cultural change to bring about a return.

Something is making a family in a nearby high-rent neighborhood offer its master bedroom for rent to a single young professional or student.

basp's avatar

That is what I am talking about in my area. Families,mostly in an effort to avoid foreclosure or because the breadwinner has lost a job, are taking people in to help pay the bills.

lunaclips's avatar

Remember there were a lot of war widows in the other times where there was a lot of people turning to boarding. The women didn’t have jobs, and this was the only way to make ends meet.

I doubt if we will see this again. Census data show the prevalence of people living alone. I think people will resist moving in with others, and if they have to, it will be relatives.

MacBean's avatar

I boarded when I moved to Idaho from New York. I’d never met or spoken to the family I lived with before I got there. I took up their daughter’s room, who had moved away to college. It was an interesting experience. I quite liked the living arrangements, and if I didn’t completely despise the west coast, I would’ve happily stayed there with them for much longer. And I’d definitely consider taking in boarders myself.

augustlan's avatar

I think things would have to get a lot worse before I’d consider the idea. That said, a lot worse might be right around the corner.

marinelife's avatar

<—- Can’t handle B&Bs. Always opt for the privacy and freedom from observation of a hotel. Could never do a boarding house.

augustlan's avatar

I hate the idea of B & Bs, too. I need my space. And my own bathroom!

MacBean's avatar

Trufax, it was kinda weird to be puttering around the house only to have a middle-aged woman who I’d only met a few weeks prior also puttering around the house… naked.

Judi's avatar

Actually, there still are many “room and Boards” out there but they are usually rented to people on disability. I will be curious to see if “ordinary” folk decide to use room and boards during these hard economic times as well.

MacBean's avatar

@cprevite I was amused more than anything else. People are interesting creatures. XD

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