Is living with seniors next in afforable student housing?

As the Cities of Tomorrow competition came to an end, a group of five from UW took home first place for their proposal on home-sharing. 

Titled “Homesharing for Homecare,” the proposal outlined by group members Matt McLean, Sylvia Green, Daniel King, Amy Zhou, and Catherine Vendryes suggested a not-for profit organization that could place students in need of housing with a senior citizen in need of company and assistance. In turn, the student would be able to take up residence at the senior citizen’s home. In the future, the group predicts that this model could be functional within Waterloo.

“Homesharing is allowing us to capitalize on two existing resources in the community to provide more affordable housing, [while making use of] extra spaces in senior’s homes, and [an excess of] student energy. The students get the room for cheaper while providing services for seniors,” said McLean. 

The Cities of Tomorrow competition, which first began in 2014, asked groups of post-secondary students from Ontario to develop solutions for growing challenges faced by the province. Each proposal received identified an existing problem and a functional, feasible means to alleviate it. The four categories discussed included: infrastructure, financing, housing, and job creation. 

The project began a year ago as the group met to brainstorm some possible ideas;  after discussing a few ideas they mutually recognized that each member had, at some point, experienced a home-sharing living situation. 

“Quite a few of us were dealing with getting [our grandparents] into assisted living centres or retirement homes, and in Canada, almost all of them are back logged. Like you have to be on a list for almost a year at this point to get into any retirement home,” said Vendryes. 

In their model, it’s expected that students would engage with the seniors. Assisting would encompass everything from daily chores, conversing, and even providing life skills workshops. 

“You can live in a retirement home as long as you contributed X number of hours within the home and things like that … one guy was teaching seniors in the home how to use computers. He was in CS and they didn’t need to know that much,” Vendryes said. 

The aim was to improve quality of life, explained Vendryes.

“Especially with seniors, depression tends to be a factor because of social isolation. And they found having these younger people in there who are at a certain point in their life where they are very social, [have] lots of energy, [are] very active, [have lots] of pursuits .... It gave seniors sort of a greater connection with other parts of society and opened their world up to more opportunities.”

According to Vendryes, home-sharing is a functional and feasible solution, especially given Canada’s changing and growing elderly demographic. However, with partnering two people from very different ages there comes challenges. Identified in the report are three major points of conflict: “The first one is intergeneration conflict. The second is class cultural conflicts, because not only are they different ages, they could be of very different culture. And the third was tenant rights.”

In order to ease both parties into their new residential situation, they proposed that a mediator be involved. Through an interview process, personality and needs assessments are facilitated. 

“[The] mediator [should be] very trained with conflict resolution and human resources management; who would be there to assist seniors and teenagers, especially in that early phase,” Vendryes said. “They interview them, gather information [on] personality types in order to overcome [those] barriers, trying to match similar personalities which includes anything from how they feel about noise to what time do they go to bed at night. These sorts of things help build bridges,”  with navigating cultural conflict. Especially, there are four considerations that often shape living experience: communication, role ambiguity, power, and demonstrations of respect. “Those four metrics [are] where cultures tend to vary widely and that’s when conflicts pop up,” Vendryes said. 

Looking to the future, the group hopes to make this model available within Waterloo Region. According to Vendryes, to start, the group would first need to find a qualified mediator, and second would need to gain funding, most likely through grants. But most importantly, the group will need to find willing senior participants.


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