Town Talk Features

A Perfect Match

Anyone who has ever been a cash-strapped college student understands the frustration of trying to find housing on a budget. For many, there’s also a need for friendship, moral support and help navigating an unfamiliar city. So what’s the solution? According to local entrepreneur John Levis, St. Louis has a considerable pool of baby boomers and empty nesters living by themselves in large homes. To fill two needs at the same time, he and business partner John O’Connell recently launched Odd Couples Housing, a service that matches senior homeowners with young adults looking for living arrangements.

Levis says the idea for Odd Couples came about when two of his wife’s older relatives moved in together and discovered it was the perfect way to save money and feel more connected. “We paid for a practicum at Washington University’s Olin School of Business and originally looked at pairing seniors with each other,” Levis says. “The project involved graduate students doing a study about the feasibility of starting our business—what the current environment was like and how much competition there was. When we met with them, they said, ‘Putting seniors together is a great idea, but what about us? We’d love to live in nice homes and save money.’”

The partners took their suggestion, and now, the new company pairs responsible young adults with healthy, active seniors. So far, the results have been positive, Levis says. “Research suggests that by 2030, about 60 percent of the population will be 65 or older,” he notes. “We think this kind of generational intermixing is the idea of the future.” Levis and O’Connell also worked with Wash. U. to develop a computer algorithm for matching roommates. Each applicant fills out a detailed questionnaire, and results are compared with a database to find the best matchups in terms of personality, interests and activities. Close attention is paid to the parties’ cultural needs, and they can request background checks on potential roommates if they wish.

Young adults usually contribute between $400 and $500 a month, and they also help with a variety of tasks like grocery shopping, dog walking, yard care and errands. “Each situation is different,” Levis notes. “We don’t create a lot of rules about how roommates interact.” The young adult’s role is not a caretaking one, according to Levis. “If the homeowner develops health problems, the arrangement comes to an end,” he says. He expects the model to be popular among graduate students from other countries who are studying here.

“We’ve been surprised that not many other cities seem to have a similar program,” Levis says. “We heard about someone in Denver who created a strictly rental concept, but our model is more about help, companionship and compatibility.” He says there are plans to expand Odd Couples to other cities and states, and the company hopes to win NIH grant funds to further refine its roommate algorithm.

Levis says it’s fun to hear stories and anecdotes from both generations. “One of our arrangements paired a young man with a woman in Webster Groves,” he notes. “When we asked him how things were going, he joked that their only disagreement was about going outside and getting the morning paper.” Another match placed an international graduate student with a retired university dean. “The young man’s parents sent him a care package of food from India each month,” Levis says. “The dean is a huge fan of Indian food, so his eyes lit up when he heard about that!”

John O’Connell, John Levis and Stephen Lilly of Odd Couples Housing (Photo: Bill Barrett)