Symbiosis: Students and Seniors Co-Housing Program

Symbiosis: Students and Seniors Co-Housing Program

Symbiosis is a program that connects students with seniors in the McMaster Community for a mutually beneficial housing relationship.


What is your project about?

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.

What are you going to do?

By connecting students and seniors, we fill two needs at the same time: Offer an affordable housing for students and extra income or help around the house for seniors. Both parties can benefit from a sense of shared community/reduced isolation.

Why are you doing it?

Our vision is to enhance community engagement in order to offer a better quality of life for both students and seniors, by helping them overcome the current challenges they are facing. The program was initiated by McMaster Postdoctoral Fellows (Soumeya Abed and Savitri Jetoo) who were new to the Hamilton area, and who could relate to the feeling of isolation and the difficulty of communicating in this new culture. We also see a lot of elderly persons and through conversations, realized that they feel similarly isolated and love sharing their life experiences. Our project seems like a perfect win-win solution for both students and seniors; or to follow the famous quote “It is in giving that both parties will receive”.  


Our mission:

The aim of symbiosis McMaster is to enhance the emotional and financial well being of students by helping them to find an affordable accommodation and a smoother integration into the McMaster community through this partnership with established community members, seniors. The aim is also to enhance the feeling of well being of seniors of Hamilton area through social interactions with students, enabling them to share their life experiences, to feel that they are making a difference in someone’s life and hence, be re-engaged in our community.

The pilot program was launched in 2017 through a SPICES application. After a successful year evidenced by student-senior pairs’ testimonials and their decision to continue their co-housing arrangement beyond the pilot, we aim to continue offering this service to seniors and students in the McMaster Community.


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

How are you going to do it?

We connect students and seniors by offering a personalized service and we commit to make the best possible match to ensure a harmonious cohabitation and the success of this mutually beneficial relationship. This cohabitation is intended to be friendly, without any subordination between the two parties.

We offer two different housing options:

  • Low cost room
  • Free room in exchange of modest help in the house (Light housekeeping, shoveling, yard care, etc…)

 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
  • Chose 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 2018-2019, 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. 

During the pilot program, we have set established procedures, a thorough student/senior recruitment process and collaborations with student and seniors groups in Hamilton.

We have secured a team of enthusiastic volunteers (Graduate students, McMaster Alumni and seniors) to run the program. More details on this can be found in the collaboration list. 

What results do you expect?

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 2018-2019 is to increase awareness and knowledge about the program through social events with community members. 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, by offering a solution to students housing shortage as well as reduce social isolation and loneliness among seniors.

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. 


  1. Soumeya Abed (Postdoctoral Fellow), Faculty of Health Sciences, Biotechnology, Founder and Director of Symbiosis Program
  2. Stephanie Hatzifilalithis (Ph.D student), Faculty of Health and Aging, Social Gerontoly, Project liaison and treasurer
  3. Swatie Maharaj (Undergraduate Student- Graduation 2018), Faculty of Social Sciences, Gerontology/Political Science, Program Manager (In charge of interviews/matches) 
  4. Carly Whitmore (Ph.D student), Faculty of Health Sciences, Nursing, Outreach Manager
  5. Daphne Payne, Retired, Community Liaison (involved in interviews/matches)
  6. Mohib Hassan (MSc. Student-Graduation 2018), Faculty of Engineering, Special Events Manager




April 2018: SPICES grant application

May 2018: Program promotion.  Open registrations to seniors and students.  

June 2018: Senior’s month Open House.

May-August 2018:

- One-on-one interviews and home visits to verify participant’s eligibility.

- Students-seniors matches.

September 2018: Move-in and co-housing contracts sign-up.

December 2018: Holiday party/Mixer.

April 2019: 

-End of the year Mixer event.

-Collect testimonials/feedback from participants.

- Submit the final report.