Many Canadians are feeling the pressure of high housing and energy costs. With no relief in sight from the escalating costs, many Canadians have been adopting different housing models to cope. The 2016 Canadian Census shows 28.2% of all households were occupied by one-person—the highest since Confederation in 1867. The 2016 census also shows significant growth of multi-generational households with a 37.5 per cent increase since 2001. Perhaps Canadians have had enough of paying too much for housing and are ready to adopt a new vision of the basic societal unit.
However, not everyone wants to live with their family which is where the concept of inter-generational home sharing comes in. In these living arrangements, two unrelated people of different generations live together in a home. Typically, a mature home owner who is over-housed will host a younger person in their home, granted they have compatible personalities and habits. They share the kitchen and common areas while each person has their own private bedroom, just like a traditional family home structure. This concept is nothing new. However it has not gained much momentum until recently in Canada. Over the past 40 years, programs across North America have been promoting these unique living arrangements by helping match compatible people and support the unique needs of individuals.
The concept is very simple, spare bedrooms in homes are given a new purpose by providing an affordable housing solution. The benefits of these shared living arrangements often goes far beyond the financial benefits. One of the longest running programs in the United States reports that among other benefits, 81% of participants feel happier, 74% feel safer in their homes and 74% feel less lonely. Benefits are felt by both parties involved, in fact post-secondary students may benefit the most from this type of living arrangement. The 2018 UBC Okanagan Undergraduate Experience Survey shows that majority of students worry regularly about how to pay tuition and living costs. The same report tells us 4 out of every 10 students are experiencing very poor to fair mental health while 1 in 10 students reports having excellent mental health. The stress and anxiety students are experiencing is having a negative impact on a student’s studies. York University students appear to have it a little harder, where 48.7% of students reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function.
Inter-generational connections may be the missing link in our communities. Happipad’s research in collaboration with UBC Okanagan shows that majority of older home owners prefer sharing their home with young adults. This creates opportunities for mentorship that would not be possible without these types of living arrangements. Many inter-generational matches share meals together, shop together, and share their life experience to help with typical student struggles such as relationships and time management. Living with the right person is key to a happy home, however the length of stay may also play a very important part. Limiting the length of shared living arrangements can help mitigate conflicts that can occur from personality clashes or changes in people over time. Cailan Libby – CEO of Happipad reports that “some matches will live together for one or two years, however we mostly see living arrangements from two to eight months”. In fact, these shorter term living arrangements may be where inter-generational living can have the biggest impact.
Many students require rentals for 4 or 8 month terms, as do many recent graduates and researchers who are moving for work. It can be very difficult to secure a rental property for less than one year without expensive options available through short-term rentals. Many of these people are also relocating from different cities or countries, moving in with a mature person who is familiar with the city can make the transition much easier. Some students in Happipad’s program referred to their inter-generational home as a “home away from home”. We also see differences in our younger generations with 74% reporting to value experiences over products or things, according to research by the Centre for Generational Kinetics. This trend aligns with the values of inter-generational living arrangements. These homes become more than just a place to sleep, they are a place to connect over home-cooked meals and learn from different life experiences. These living arrangements do not resemble traditional rentals with a landlord-tenant hierarchy, they are fundamentally unique.
“homes in our inter-generational home sharing program feel very different from a traditional rental or roommate arrangement. There is a wonderful energy you can feel in the home, it is like stress melts away when you walk through the door. I often get greeted with home-made baking and captivating conversation, something you never see in landlord-tenant relationships.” Cailan Libby – CEO of Happipad
Perhaps Canada is onto something. The solution to our housing problems has been with us all this time, within the extra space of our over-sized homes. This style of living is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy building social connections while saving thousands of dollars it just makes sense. Instead of continuing our trajectory of increasing one-person households, perhaps we’ll begin to see a shift in the way we live and use our homes.