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Graduate Studies

Symbiosis: Students and Seniors Co-Housing Program (2.0)

Symbiosis is a program that connects students with seniors for a mutually beneficial housing relationship.

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The objective of Symbiosis is to support a dynamic, collective co-housing initiative that will enhance the social inclusion of seniors in the Greater Hamilton Area with nationwide potential. Symbiosis is a housing program that matches students with seniors in Hamilton and area. The concept – already successfully piloted around the globe – is a win-win. It connects students in need of low-cost housing with seniors who have a spare room and who could benefit from extra support and companionship.

International students who are working to improve their English Language Skills could benefit from the conversational English practice opportunities; seniors may benefit from a little bit of help around the house, and both partners could benefit from a sense of shared community/reduced isolation.

McMaster Symbiosis program was launched in May 2017. The objective of our project is to offer affordable housing for McMaster students and enhance the social inclusion of seniors in the Greater Hamilton Area, through a mutually beneficial housing relationship between the two parties. Our pilot project was successful, evidenced by student-senior testimonials and is reflected in the fact that so far, all parties involved have decided mutually to extend their co-housing arrangement for another year. Despite these achievements, we noticed that there was still a lack of awareness about intergenerational co-housing concept in Hamilton area.

This year we hope to:

  1. Increase awareness about intergenerational co-housing.
  2. Make good quality matches between students and seniors.
  3. Streamline the matching process.
  4. Build and enhance community engagement.

After two successful years evidenced by student-senior pairs’ testimonials and their decision to continue their co-housing arrangement, we aim to continue offering this service to seniors and students in Hamilton and the McMaster Community.

We offer two different housing options:

Low cost room

  1. Free room in exchange of modest help in the house (Light housekeeping, shovelling, yard care, etc.)
  2. Students and seniors can chose one of those options based on their needs.

For seniors, we help them to:

  • identify their expectations
  • define their ideal student profile
  • prepare adequate living conditions for the student
  • finalize their application
  • regular follow-up to ensure that a harmonious cohabitation is achieved

For students, we help them to:

  • understand seniors’ expectations
  • identify their motivations in this program
  • choose the best option that matches their needs (low rent versus free rent in exchange of services)
  • regular follow-up to ensure that a harmonious cohabitation is achieved

This is done through one-on-one interviews with both students and seniors to better define their needs and expectations. Once we match a senior with a student, they will meet and discuss their mutual beneficial relationship (We provide a project charter that helps them to familiarize themselves with their rights and responsibilities regarding each other). After a mutual agreement between both parties to the Co-housing arrangement, they will sign a personalized “Co-housing Agreement” that highlights what has been agreed upon.

For 2019-2020, we plan to organize more social events, open to all community members interested or curious about intergenerational co-housing. Those events are organized in order to increase awareness and knowledge about the program and also to enhance Symbiosis Community.

For the next year (2019-2020), we hope to maintain and enhance our presence in the community and beyond.

Founder and director of Symbiosis program: Soumeya Abed (postdoctoral fellow), Faculty of Health Sciences, biotechnology, (2020)

Project liaison and treasurer: Stephanie Hatzifilalithis (PhD candidate), department of health, aging,and society (2020)

Community member/liaison: Sandra Lubert (BA, BEd), retired senior

Our focus during the pilot program was to set up a successful matching process and determine if any adjustments are needed before to scale it up.

One important aspect that we would like to focus on in 2019-2020 is to increase awareness and knowledge about the program through social events with community members and to streamline our process. Those events are a good opportunity to inform and clarify our thorough process and hopefully overcome resistance by some seniors to the idea of intergenerational co-housing, in particular because of fear of the potential risks involved in taking in a stranger.

Testimonials from our current student-senior pairs are encouraging and we are expecting to see more in this coming year.

We are also expecting our program to be part of a solution to ESL students learning English and about Canadian culture.

A long-term outcome of this project would be to enhance community engagement and offer a better quality of life for both seniors and students. We predict that our project will have an economic, social, educational and well being impact.

Reduce significant workload: Our long-term goal would be to leverage technology to ease the workload and bring Symbiosis to more students and seniors in Hamilton and beyond.

Build on Online presence: We currently have Facebook and Twitter accounts. These platforms have been critical in promoting our program, events and sharing successful cohousing stories that we arranged. However, many people have been asking for a website where they could access more information about our program. We also have been receiving redundant questions by email that we have been answering individually. We felt that we could gather this information on a website, which would certainly help us reduce the workload and better inform/attract new prospects for our program.

Inspire and help other cohousing initiatives across the country: McMaster Symbiosis has already inspired cities across North America and abroad (over 30 requests from university professors, government, students, social workers, senior community centres, seniors and from the private sector). We have shared our experience and the tools we developed with cities from Victoria, BC, to Washington, DC.

Symbiosis Program has been recognized by the City of Hamilton (Age Friendly Hamilton) as one of Hamilton’s top 3 housing achievements in 2017.

April 2019

  • SPICES grant application

May 2019

  • Program promotion. Open registrations to seniors and students.

June 2019

  • Website has been developed. Senior’s month Open House.

May-August 2019

  • One-on-one interviews and home visits to verify participant’s eligibility.
  • Students-seniors matches.

September 2019

  • Move-in and co-housing contracts sign-up.

April 2020

  • Collect testimonials/feedback from participants.
  • Submit the final report.