The number of students worldwide has increased substantially over the last 30 years, causing a growing demand for student accommodation. In most European university cities however there is a clear shortage of modern and affordable student rooms, which calls for new initiatives. Pairing two generations –students and pensioners – seems the newest trend, benefiting lonely elderly with a helping hand at home, and providing students with cheap housing.
By Agnete Vestergaard-Kristensen
Most universities in Western Europe lack sufficient accommodation to house their students;
“very few accommodating more than 10 %”, shows the “Eurostudent report 2011”.
At the same time, the student rooms available are often set at prices too high for most students. Property broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. estimates that college dormitory rents are rising faster than inflation at the moment, making it clear that new, cheaper initiatives will be received with open arms by the students.
The supply of adequate housing, on or off university campuses, for those who cannot or those who choose not to stay at their parents’ home, cannot keep up with the demand. In addition today’s students are also more willing to travel, since students with international experience are preferred by employers, again adding to the need for more accommodation for both domestic and international students.
Two generation under same roof
Getting two strangers from different cultures and generations to live together successfully under one roof is not easy however countries such as France, Luxembourg and Belgium see great success with the projects of pairing these somewhat unlikely housemates, enabling students to live in low-cost accommodation in an older person’s home and at the same time save the latter from isolation.
Along the lines of the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, the Belgian non-profit organization ASBL 1 Toit 2 Ages (2 Ages 1 Roof), centered on intergenerational housing, set a 2012 target of creating 95 pairs of senior/student house sharing arrangements. Already in October they surpassed the number, having created a total of 100+ housemates, and at the same time expanding their operations to include Namur, Liege and Mons; five branches in total.
“To me, it is a clear success creating housemates from the two generations. I see the elder blossom and the young dedicated to their studies without worry over their financial situation. It makes my day, when the elders call me to tell that the pair learn from one another; students finding pleasure in reading books instead of using the computer and the pensioner getting out of the house – One student brought her wheelchair bound housemate to the beach, another pair went to the cinema, a place the elder hadn’t been for over 15 years”, says project manager Madame Claire de Kerautem.
The housing situation in Belgium is particularly difficult. Not only is it hard to accommodate the students, the retirement homes are full. Therefore the project is greatly supported by politicians. The politicians of Brussels calling the organization “a solution for the elder to stay longer in their own homes, keeping them on their toes – being independent”.
Commissioner praises intergenerational housing
In 2011 1 Toit 2 Ages was rewarded the Lauréat du Prix Egaltitude: Intergeneration 2011 in Wallonia. This year the French sister organization “Ensemble2générations” was given the Social Entrepreneurs awards at “The Ceremony of the European Year 2012” for making over 900 student/elderly partnerships in the 15 regional branches since 2006.
European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, is very impressed by the intergenerational housing initiatives.
“Given the concrete situation, there is a need to develop more intergenerational housing. Very often you don’t need extra money to resolve the social problem, but you have to promote ideas and entrepreneurship, and then many problems will easily find their solutions. The Commission cannot invent solutions for the housing situation, we are however happy to highlight the problem, and I am very interested in this innovative approach”, says the Commissioner.
The Belgian organization sees multiple winners.
“We cost nothing for society. The houses already exists, it is just a matter of creating the contacts. I think our generations are too separated with little or no solidarity and link between them, and I would love to see this form of house sharing exist everywhere. It is not easy to open your home up for a stranger, especially if you have been lonely for a long time, but they both end up winners – and so does society in times where affordable housing is difficult to find between a rock and a hard place”, says Madame Claire de Kerautem.