According to Habitat for Humanity, fully 16 percent of Americans spend over half of their incomes on housing expenses and "roughly one in six Americans are in need of a decent, affordable place to live." For those who are homeless, who are struggling to pay rent or mortgage or who are simply looking for a way to spend less on housing, there are free or at least reduced-cost housing alternatives.
Staying Put for Less -- or Nothing
If you are not already homeless and you wish to remain in your present housing situation, you might be able to stay there for less, or nothing at all. Talk with your landlord about establishing an arrangement whereby you exchange goods or services for all or part of your rent. Look into renting part of your living space, such as a spare room, to someone else.
According to House Sitters America, a housesitter usually performs caretaking duties, such as gardening and pet care, in exchange for temporary free housing while the owners or residents are elsewhere. These opportunities frequently last one week to four months, but possibly as long as six months to one year.
Jobs With Free Housing
In the United States and abroad, some jobs offer free housing as a benefit. Examples include permanent property caretaker/manager and live-in caregiver, such as a disabled or elderly individual's personal assistant, a nanny or a houseparent in a group home for foster children. The Canadian government places foreigners as live-in caregivers in private homes. Many Americans secure free housing in countries like Japan or Poland when they teach within English as a Second Language programs (ESL).
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If you have a low income and/or are disabled, you may qualify for government housing assistance programs, whether at the federal, tribal, state, county or city level. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, is a good resource for learning about programs for the homeless, renters and homeowners.
You might wish to consider applying for membership in a housing cooperative. Housing cooperatives are democratically run, often nonprofit, property owning and managing organizations. They are known for offering below-market rate housing costs or other arrangements friendly to low-income people.
Some groups are specifically targeted for free or reduced-cost housing programs, whether governmental, private sector, or combined public and private. Examples of groups served include single mothers, victims of domestic violence, recovering substance abusers, chronically mentally ill persons, people with HIV/AIDS, military veterans and professional artists.
In your search for a free or more affordable residence, you can prevent many problems if you take the time to learn from the Housing Rights Center about housing-related civil rights laws, such as those against racial or disability-related discrimination. Any housing arrangements you make with others should respect these rights, be put into writing and spell out the expectations that the involved parties have of one another.