As Canada faces a growing shortage of affordable housing, a Toronto-area university is pairing students with seniors in an effort to help them find housing as the school year begins.
Humber College has announced a partnership with online home-sharing technology platform, Spaces Shared, to connect students seeking accommodation with seniors who have additional space as an affordable housing option. And according to the university, more than 500 students have already enrolled.
Ian Crookshank, dean of students at Humber College, says students can save money through matches, easing the financial pressures they face.
“Students could receive a discount if they agree to perform certain chores around the house that could help around the house, such as mowing the lawn, washing dishes or even just spending time and providing company,” he said.
Students who enroll in the program will be able to live with hosts and pay through an online platform. Homeowners with vacancies can register online, post an ad and connect with students to find a suitable tenant.
Humber College is not the only school trying to ease housing pressures by collaborating with seniors. In April, Georgian College signed up for a similar program with Spaces Shared and another similar online platform, Homestay, to connect domestic and international students with local residents in Barrie.
“A blessing,” says the oldest
Oddly enough, some international students living with Canadian seniors say there couldn’t have been a better living situation.
When Awofadeju Olajide Simon, an international student from Nigeria, decided to move to Canada, all options were out of his budget.
Friends in Canada told him it would be easier to find housing within the country than to write to landlords in Toronto from Nigeria.
“It wasn’t. I was stressed for days,” he said.
Fortunately, one of his teachers put him in touch with an elderly couple, Hubert and Monica Campfens, in Toronto’s east end.
The couple has been renting two rooms and a basement to international students for the last 33 years. They say they like to share the entire house with the tenants and don’t want them to be confined to their rooms.
Hubert was a young teenager in Holland during World War II. He says his family took in two Jews and lied to his neighbors to protect them. He says those years left a profound impact on him that continued to shape his experiences even after he moved to Canada in 1953.
“I was especially concerned about minorities,” he said.
Over the past three decades, Hubert and Mónica have lived with dozens of international students and immigrants.
“It’s a blessing. It greatly improves the quality of our life,” Hubert said, adding that the couple did not want to be isolated after retirement.
“My wife and I have learned a lot,” he said as he continued to share fond memories of alumni, including his various jobs, a student who met his match in the neighborhood and got married, and barbecues in his backyard.
“I felt at home,” remembers an international student
Simon was eager to meet the Campfens after days of exchanging emails about the rental.
“The first thing he did was hug me,” Simon said, referring to Hubert. “I felt at home”.
Now they cook, listen to music, ride bikes and share stories with each other.
“You want to still be part of the community and be able to share whatever knowledge and wisdom you have with a younger generation,” Hubert said.
As more and more students continue to sign up for a similar accommodation arrangement, Humber College says it is still looking for hosts. Crookshank says the program will create a win-win situation for all students and hosts.
Finding affordable housing across the country is a challenge for many, he says. But newer international students often find that they can’t rent places that require a credit score or a full-time job.
“And then if you add to that the complexity of being new to an environment… it’s a complex situation that we’re dealing with,” Crookshank said.
Hubert, for his part, encourages more seniors with more space in their homes to also open their doors.
“Having international students share time and space with you is really a great contribution and makes your life much richer than sitting alone,” he said.
Meanwhile, Simon says that through his conversations with Hubert he is learning about the country he wants to call home.
“Because what you read on the Internet doesn’t do justice to what you hear from someone who has experienced all these things,” he said.