Symbiosis: Grad Students and Seniors Co-Housing Program

Symbiosis: Grad Students and Seniors Co-Housing Program

Symbiosis is a program that aims to connect graduate students with seniors in the McMaster community for a mutually beneficial housing relationship.


What is your project about?

Symbiosis is a housing project 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 a bit of extra support and company.

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 are aiming to fill two needs at the same time: affordable housing for students and company and/or extra income for seniors.


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 to overcome the current challenges they are facing. As former international students (and current postdocs) who were new to the Hamilton area, we could relate to the feeling of isolation and the difficulty of communicating in this new culture. We realized that other graduate students feel the same way and often contribute to reduced work output and feelings of depression. 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 graduate 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.


How are you going to do it?

We are aiming to 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 parts.

We will offer two different housing options:

  • Low cost room
  • Free room in exchange of modest help in the house

 Students and seniors can chose one of those options based on their needs.

 For seniors, we will 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 will 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 will be done through one-on-one interviews with both students and seniors to understand their needs and expectations better. Once we match a senior with a student, they will meet and discuss their mutual beneficial relationship (We will provide a project charter that will help them to familiarize themselves with their rights and responsibilities regarding each other). We are also planning to organize social events to our members and collaborators to share their experience and to enhance their relationships.

We have secured a team of mature graduate students and collaborations with seniors and students associations highly interested in our project and willing to assist us with the project promotion. More details on this can be found in the collaboration list. 


What results do you expect?

We would like to first set up a pilot program to determine if any adjustments are needed before to scale it up.

We are expecting to offer a solution to students housing shortage as well as reduce social isolation and loneliness among seniors, which we believe are two major problems in our society.

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, Ph.D/ Faculty of Health Sciences/Postdoctoral fellow (in progress)/role: Soumeya was enrolled, for 3 years, in a similar housing program when she was an international student in France. With her experience, she is able to anticipate potential challenges and to offer adequate solutions. Her role is to set up the pilot project, ensure the follow-up and be the main point of contact with SGS.

2- Swatie Maharaj, Undergraduate/Faculty of Social Science (in progress)/role: Swatie is a co-coordinator for Symbiosis. Her role involves recruiting and matching students and seniors, program development, and communications. 

3 - Savitri Jetoo Ph.D/ Faculty of civil engineering/Postdoctoral fellow (2015/2016)/ Savitri played a major role in building connections and collaborations with students and seniors associations, as well as McMaster Graduate Students Office. As a former graduate student and postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University, she is familiar with students needs and is engaged in the McMaster community. She will continue promoting our project and building new collaborations.

4- Mohamed AbouZahra/ De Groote School of business/ PhD student. Mohamed is a PhD candidate in Information systems. He helped in the project charter writing and will help in the project follow-up and event organization.

5- Graduate students volunteers will be recruited for the social events organization.


February 2017: SPICES grant application

March 2017: Advertising and open house.  Open registrations to seniors and students.  

Early April 2017: One-on-one interviews and house visits to verify participant’s eligibility

Late April 2017: Match students and seniors

May 2017: Short-term contracts start (May to August)

August 2017: Social event for current symbiosis participants and collaborators and survey’s collection.

September 2017: Long-term contracts start (September to April-August)

December 2017: Holiday party

April 2018: End of the year party for 2017 participants (and survey’s collection). Submit the final report.