Intergenerational Housing-The New Sharing Model?

Last month, I wrote a piece on intergenerational collaborations, specifically a small program that brought teenagers to a retirement home to tutor senior residents on use of the Internet. Also mentioned was a senior housing development in Connecticut that enables residents to work in the building’s ground floor day care center.

This intentional mixing of old and young in social environments is not new in the United States, but it is growing more common, as it becomes ever clearer that both groups learn valuable lessons from the other, and the perceived “communication gap” between the two may, for the most part, be made up (or at least exaggerated).

With regard to housing, it is also ever clearer that designing new models that mix the young and the old is becoming necessary, as affordable housing options for both groups don’t exist on the scale needed (Shelterforce‘s upcoming Aging issue discusses these challenges), and some programs are creating viable options.

An example of such an option is in a retirement home in a town in the Netherlands that offers local university students free housing in exchange for spending time with its senior residents. They accompany them on shopping trips, play games, or simply spend time and talk. Ironically, the article notes that retirement homes in many European countries lack the units to accommodate their aging populations, but the Dutch government’s budget cuts have made affordable units hard to come by, and so rooms in the homes are being left empty. The six students in this housing program are very happy to be living rent free and spending time doing something the author says many of them would be doing anyway in the Netherlands’ volunteer-oriented culture.

While it’s certainly not a big picture solution to a housing shortage problem, set ups like this are demonstrating that folks aren’t necessarily waiting for state and local governments to appropriate more money for housing that’s affordable, and are thinking outside the box and getting creative with the space they have. When agreed-upon rules are set and safety is a priority, not only is the benefit mutual, the living situation creates an air of community that traditional forms of age-restricted housing cannot match.

In an intergenerational cohousing community in Nevada City, California, one 95-year-old resident shares a four-bedroom home with two care givers who exchange errand services and household chores for reduced rent. The architect of the community has designed over 50 of them across the country, and in the Nevada City community, he says 20 of the 100 residents are between the ages of 55 and 95.

Independent, shared housing arrangements have existed for quite some time, but are also growing in popularity, as older people are looking for the additional revenue stream that renting space in their home can bring, along with companionship or assistance in the home, and younger people are looking for decent affordable housing. Technology is bringing the two groups together, as companies like the National Shared Housing Resource Center act as a clearinghouse for information seekers. There are also programs like one in Hawaii that involve more in-depth nursing care, that give both the aged and the working the power to leverage their assets to age, and live, on their own terms.

I’m curious to know if this move toward intergenerational models of housing is being spurred by the new sharing economy, or the increasing influence of immigrant cultures, in which the family has always been beyond a nuclear one, and includes grandparents and great grandparents. Whatever the cause, it seems as if people from all backgrounds are growing more comfortable with the idea. It is one we can only benefit from.

(Photo credit: Flickr user zizzybaloobah, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Keli A. Tianga is the former senior editor of Shelterforce.


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