By Amy Stephenson
September has arrived: shorter days, cool morning air, and students on the move. The latter may mean more to some Toronto residents. This month will bring new partnerships between students and seniors 55 and over in Toronto’s HomeShare Program.
The pilot was launched in May 2018, in response to one of the recommendations in Toronto’s Senior Strategy 2.0. The premise is simple: match university and college students in need of accommodation with older adults who have an empty bedroom. It diverges from traditional rental agreements as those involved are vetted and matched to ensure the unlikely pair can live together successfully. There is also an added incentive for students: they pay a reduced rent of $400-$600 in exchange for doing light household chores for the owner. At almost half the market average, the price is a significant draw for students. The household tasks are simple, things like running errands, shovelling snow, raking leaves, meal prep and cleaning. Students provide up to seven hours per week of tasked support as well as general companionship.
The increasingly challenging rental market with record low vacancies is just half the picture. This is mirrored with a growing number of socially isolated empty nesters. This disconnect in space availability is where the beauty of HomeShare begins. In addition to the obvious housing solution, quality of life is improved with intergenerational social connection. Both sides are able to contribute and both benefit. Students in the pilot had a greater sense of well-being and mental health, they had more time to spend on school work, and they saved money. For homeowners, the financial incentive made a difference, they felt good about helping out a student, and they didn’t feel so alone.
As one would hope, there is an in-depth process for participants. All parties have criminal background checks and safety checks. There is also a dedicated team of social workers providing follow-up and 24/7 responsive support if needed. At intake, individuals express their needs and expectations as well as hobbies and interests. Pairs are then matched to try to meet preferences on both sides. This means that if a senior needs a lot of help with outdoor chores and gardening, they won’t be matched with a student who doesn’t think they have a green thumb. Or they will put the culinary student with a senior in need of meal prep.
The idea of home sharing and co-housing is an internationally recognized initiative that has been in practice since 1972. In Canada, there are home sharing programs in six provinces and similar models operating across the country. Toronto’s pilot matched 12 students last year and eight are still living together. Right now there are far more students than homeowners applying to the program. With plans to expand with this school season, they’re hoping more seniors will get involved.
Learn more about the program at torontohomeshare.com. If you’re interested in participating in the program or learning more, please contact Laura Martinez, Program Manager at 416-978- 4706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.