As the student housing crisis continues worldwide and the shortcomings of traditional approaches to aged care are under the spotlight, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, intergenerational living schemes focused on seniors and students are growing in popularity.

There are two primary models in place. The first is a home-sharing model that pairs students in need of affordable housing with seniors in need of companionship to tackle the problems of loneliness and isolation of seniors and housing affordability for students. The second model sees university students live on-site in aged care facilities at lower than market prices, generally in exchange for a set number of hours of volunteer work. 

Home Sharing Models

While intergenerational home-sharing is well established in Europe, where organisations such as ensemble2générations in France and 1toit2ages in Belgium have been matching students and seniors since 2006 and 2009, respectively, intergenerational home-sharing is a much newer phenomenon in other parts of the world.

In Canada, universities have recently begun partnering with home-sharing platforms in response to the country’s undersupply of affordable student housing. Canadian home-sharing platforms such as SpacesShared and Canada HomeShare match students with older adults to support seniors to age in place, reduce loneliness, and provide students with affordable housing. Students can get a discount on their rent in exchange for helping around the house. Savings for students can be substantial – Canada HomeShare claims that the average student participating in its program can save an entire year’s tuition in just eight months compared to renting at market prices.

There is growing demand for the model, with Canada HomeShare announcing plans for expansion into twelve new locations. According to news outlet CP24, SpacesShared, a start-up launched in 2023, is already experiencing significant demand. It already works with around 15 Canadian colleges and universities and “has roughly 2,500 students and 500 hosts registered on its platform.” 

In the United States, UC Berkley is running a pilot program in partnership with the Front Porch Home Match program to match graduate students looking for housing with retired faculty and staff with extra space in their homes. The current pilot program will match six students with senior hosts for the spring semester, with students paying below-market rent. It is hoped that the pilot will be able to be expanded to other campuses.

Aged Care Models

Intergenerational living in aged care settings appears to be also growing in popularity; however, only smaller numbers of students can be accommodated.

Humanitas, a residential aged care centre in the Netherlands provides housing for six post-secondary students who stay in vacant rooms free of charge in exchange for volunteering 30 hours a month performing tasks such as hosting the evening dinner once a week. The programme began in 2012 after changes to how the Dutch government funds aged care led to an increase in vacancies. At the same time, students in the Netherlands faced increasing housing costs and a shortage of student rooms. Today, the program attracts international attention.

Inspired by Humanitas, the Canadian Alliance for Intergenerational Living will conduct its first intergenerational living pilot in Calgary, Canada this September. Its inaugural project will place two students from a post-secondary institution in Calgary, Alberta, with a local seniors’ home for the 2024/2025 academic year. Students will pay a nominal rent in exchange for engaging with residents for 30 hours each month.

In the United States, Judson Manor, a retirement community in Cleveland, Ohio, has accepted students from the Cleveland Institutes of Arts and Music since 2010. The Judson program has a twist in that it is structured like an “artist-in-residence program”, requiring students to perform recitals and concerts rather than general volunteer work. 

The UK will soon welcome a structured intergenerational living scheme at Melfield Gardens in the London Borough of Lewisham. It will provide 30 flexible and affordable homes for residents aged 55 and above and two four-bedroom homes for eight Goldsmiths, University of London postgraduate students. Students will pay lower rent in return for being ‘good neighbours’ by assisting residents or offering company for a number of hours each month. 

The House of Generations in Aarhus, Denmark, takes intergenerational living a step further with 100 retirement units where residents have daily visits from a care worker and 100 nursing units with more intensive medical support. “Scattered between the apartments for the elderly are 40 family homes, 40 youth flats and 24 apartments for residents with a disability. Each corridor has a demographic mix. Some flats have shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, and others are self-contained. Older residents babysit for young families and students help solve the pensioners’ technology problems.” Once a week, groups of children from the nursery interact with the nursing home residents. Residents also get together at the complex’s Friday afternoon bar, and activities include concerts, movie nights, and an annual music festival. The Times reports that the House of Generations model enables it to stretch funding further: “The mix of ages living at the property means it can tap into multiple local authority budgets. “The whole House has four owners. There are three different departments in the municipality, for schoolchildren, the elderly and disabled people. Then we have a private housing association involved, too.”

While there is growing evidence of the benefits of students living on-site in aged care or senior living facilities, this model is challenging to scale in terms of the number of students supported. However, as COVID has brought the need for an urgent revamp of aged care models into stark focus, funding pressures increase, the student housing crisis rages on, and generational shifts occur, could it be that we will see innovative new models and partnerships in the intergenerational living space?