January 17, 2019

One solution to two big social problems

vcHere’s a solution that could tackle two of the West’s most urgent problems: a young generation priced out of affordable housing, and the loneliness and isolation of a rapidly ageing population.
For so-called millennials, like Mikyoung Ahn, a large home is a seemingly unattainable dream. She could not imagine living in a spacious detached house on the leafy outskirts of Paris, just half an hour from the Arc de Triomphe. She definitely couldn’t imagine paying just 120 Euros (£100) a month to live there.
Yet, with the help of an innovative housing scheme, that idea is no longer a fantasy for the 25-year-old student from Seoul, South Korea.
An aspiring architect, she wanted to live and study in one of the world’s cultural capitals. To realise her dream, she turned away from traditional student accommodation. Instead of moving in with other young people, Mikyoung chose as a landlady and housemate a 78-year-old widow with a passion for patchwork.
“I knew I was going away from home for university, and that I wouldn’t have any family or any friends,” she says. “But after the first meeting her, I knew it was going to be perfect.”
Mikyoung and her landlady, Monique, have been living together since October, after they were matched by an organisation called Ensemble2Generations. This organisation and others like it pair elderly people with students, in an arrangement called homeshare.
The concept is simple, yet it attempts to bridge an intergenerational divide that exists in many parts of the world.
On one side are older people, who own properties that were purchased when house prices were comparatively cheap, but who may now need some help with daily activities like shopping and cleaning.
On the other side are young people, who cannot afford to rent a decent flat, but who may have some time to spare.
Mikyoung helps Monique with a range of everyday tasks. She carries Monique’s shopping in the supermarket, washes up, and has even created an instruction sheet to help Monique understand all the buttons on her TV remote.
“It’s not a big deal,” she says. “It’s just life, you know. If I lived here, I would have to clean the dishes or take the trash out. I feel really this is my home – this is our home.
“Every night when I come back, I prepare the dinner and I put on the music that I have learned today. For example, Champs-Élysées or something like that, and we sing together.”
Monique, who is a retired schoolteacher, is now an avid fan of Downton Abbey, after being introduced to the programme by Mikyoung.
“We have very good moments together, because we share a lot,” says Monique. “We often sit together and watch TV programmes. Everything is simple between us.”
Turning to Monique, she adds: “You are like a granddaughter to me.”
Homeshare is not a new idea – it was first trialled in the USA and Spain during the 1980s. However, experts have recently started to view it as a scalable solution to two problems that continue to cause social problems. While young people are migrating to cities, pushing up the price of rent, many populations in the developed world are ageing.
Homeshare schemes are now active in 16 countries across the world. Since 1999, an organisation called Homeshare International has acted as a network for homeshare schemes.
“The benefits to the householder are they feel much safer at home because of having someone else in the house,” says Elizabeth Mills, the organisation’s director. “They’re happier, incidents of accidents and falls go down, and the reassurance for the householder’s family is absolutely enormous.”
Most programmes offer two homeshare arrangements for prospective participants. The first allows the student to live in an elderly person’s home rent-free in exchange for help around the house. The second requires the student to contribute money to household bills, but places fewer burdens on their time.

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