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Intergenerational housing programs promote well-being for everyone

The BC Medical Journal published an article in May 2021 outlining the need and benefits of intergenerational housing options. For the first time in recorded history, there are more Canadians age 65 and over than there are under age 15. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2018, individuals age 65+ made up 17.4 per cent of the Canadian population. Projections estimate that by 2068, this percentage will grow to between 21.4 per cent and 29.5 per cent.

A growing challenge among the older adult community is housing, and it is exacerbated by age-related issues such as social isolation, accessibility concerns and socioeconomic factors. Social isolation is the most relevant and prevalent issue among older adults, who are at higher risk due to a life change like retirement, the death of a spouse or a change in health.

The concept of intergenerational housing connects seniors looking for social connections and additional income to younger tenants looking for affordable housing.

Canada HomeShare is one such intergenerational housing program that offers older adults and students a unique opportunity for multigenerational engagement. This program also creates benefits for both parties: students get safe, affordable housing in the desired location and home providers (older adults) receive assistance around the home. This solution also provides additional monthly income that can help older adults remain living independently in their communities.

The HomeShare model has been proven to prevent and reverse social isolation for both older adults and students. The quality of matches made has led to the development of supportive networks for older adults and students who otherwise may have been at risk of social isolation. In many instances, the preventative factors stemming from these networks remain, even after the match has ended.

Remaining at home is preferable to congregate care settings for most Canadians. However, without adequate support, accessibility and opportunities for social engagement, aging in place can feel, for many, like being stuck in place.

“The vision for Canada HomeShare is to assist older adults, especially the most vulnerable who are living with lower incomes and are at risk for isolation and loneliness, to remain safe and independent in their own homes and communities. It is also designed to ensure they not only age in place but also thrive now and in the years to come while providing safe and affordable housing to students,” says Dr. Raza M. Mirza, Network Manager for NICE.

Intergenerational housing models should be further explored as a way of addressing older adults’ concerns about housing and social isolation in Canada. Existing intergenerational programs benefit seniors through improved self-rated health scores, physical function, and cognition. Additionally, such programs have positive impacts on society at large, fostering a sense of community, improving intergenerational ties, cultivating economic benefit and increasing social capital.