SEEING DOUBLE

Breathing deep and trusting God: That’s about all Beverly Harrison can do until she finds a roommate.

In the meantime, she will continue to shuffle bills to pay the $1,300 rent on the three-bedroom house she leases in Desert Shores.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way when she left her marriage a little more than a year ago. At 51, Harrison was supposed to be renewing her life, finding herself and looking for a more compatible companion. Instead, she found herself searching the Craigslist classifieds for a compatible roommate.

"I moved out because I wasn’t happy in my marriage. For a while, it felt real good, then as the bills piled up, it became extremely stressful. The joy of having your own solitude goes out the window," Harrison says recently after posting her sixth Craigslist ad in three months.

The ideal roommate — at this point, anyone who can pay rent — eludes her. Harrison, a manager for a local restaurant, had one for three months but the young teacher moved out of state. "The idea of having a stranger move in is unsettling, yeah, but you do what you have to do."

Harrison’s situation — a local with a decent job earning a decent wage seeking to take on a roommate to make ends meet — is not unique, especially since housing costs in Las Vegas have risen in recent years.

Peruse the online Craigslist community on any day and you’ll read hundreds of ads, all by people looking for a roommate, whether they’re offering a room to help pay for the mortgage on their house or find someone to share a rental. And real estate and economic experts say roommates may be the solution to many others’ problems in months to come.

"As long as housing is not affordable, I think people will have to double up," says Debra March, executive director for the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Currently, 14 percent of the local population can afford to buy a house, March says, noting that the median income in the valley is about $58,000 while the median price of a home hovers around $300,000.

Local housing prices surpassed the national average in 2003, while wages did not increase, says Keith Schwer, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research. Many Las Vegans felt the economic pinch and took on roommates to alleviate some of the worry.

Cory Owens, 27, earns $42,000 a year working for an Internet marketing company. That used to be a good wage, he says, but now he has to live with roommates. He has had 10 during the past few years and has been with the current couple for more than a year.

Owens found that people moved out of town, got higher paying jobs, found new roommates or just didn’t work out. He plans to move out next month, into a house with another roommate, because he wants more space.

Apartments are no better, Owens adds. A one bedroom he rented three years ago in Green Valley for $630 a month now rents for about $1,000, he says.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about $800, March says, a significant percentage of most people’s income. And that’s not factoring in the costs of food and utilities, she notes.

Interest rates also have risen, and homeowners who bought with nontraditional loans face larger payments when their rates adjust. Many won’t qualify for refinancing because of stricter lending policies, so they’ll either have to take on a second job or get a roommate to pay their mortgage, says Joli Mauracher, a mortgage lender for Evofi One.

Just in the past month, clients have sat in her office and talked about getting roommates, she says.

"I think you’re going to see more and more people doing this," Mauracher says.

Recently, a client discovered her monthly payment was increasing $800; she already had a second job so she planned to get a roommate, Mauracher adds.

March says the impact of multiple families and adults living together may be felt in taxpayers’ wallets, too, and not in a positive way. More services will be needed for neighborhoods where multiple families share the same dwelling.

"Certainly it has an impact on schools and community resources. (With roommates), you’ve increased the demands on resources in that neighborhood so there are going to be higher demands on water, utilities and other resources," March says.

Living with a roommate long has seemed to be a rite of passage for 20-somethings, especially for those who go away to college or join the military. Among the current generation, though, roommates are looking like they’ll be more of a way of life.

"I like having roommates. Growing up, my parents had roommates, so I’m used to it," says Mathew Archuleta, 24.

He and his fiancee, Monique Fosco, 21, purchased a three-bedroom house in the southeast part of the valley last year. They have one roommate now, Monty Mayfield, 27, and they’re advertising on Craigslist for another.

During the five years the couple has lived together, they’ve had 20 to 25 roommates, Archuleta says.

Mayfield, who sold his condo two years ago and made about $30,000, is used to living with people who aren’t relatives.

"I’ve had roommates since I was 17," about 20 in all, he says. "It’s kind of natural for me now."

As a manager at Wal-Mart, Mayfield says he doesn’t make enough money to live on his own, and he knows few people who do. Archuleta recently heard from a man who needed to rent a room because his current roommate’s house was foreclosed.

"People in my age group, that seems to be the way they get by. Wages are so low they can’t do it any other way," Mayfield says.

Archuleta, a computer technician, and Fosco, a cocktail waitress, say they could afford their $2,000 mortgage on their own. But they say they enjoy having a roommate — and the extra money is nice, too.

A roommate is a built-in social network, which keeps them from spending money by going out to socialize, Fosco says. There’s also the security blanket effect; some people like having a presence in the home. It keeps the loneliness at bay in a town where neighbors rarely know each other and even fewer connect.

Finding a good one in this town is the proverbial search for the needle in a haystack, roommate seekers say.

Fosco and Archuleta have had all kinds of roommates: some who didn’t pay rent; others who destroyed their property. Then there are those who lie about working or steal. One former roommate accidentally stepped on their dog’s leg, breaking it.

Those experiences have taught them to screen, screen and screen. But even then, you can never know someone until you live with him or her, they say.

"We always make them sign a lease," Fosco says, one they draw up themselves. "We put a clause in the lease that says if they’re not up to our standards, we can kick them out within the first month. We haven’t had to use it. Yet."

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