Homesharing is a win-win solution and is increasingly popular amongst students. But intergenerational living proves to be much more than simple accommodation as it is intended to be mutually enriching. The principle is simple: elderly people provide housing to young people in exchange for company and occasional services provided or an insignificant monthly rent.
The match between the generations and the contractual terms between the parties are arrived at under the guidance of an intermediary organisation. In most big cities, intergenerational homesharing is promoted by NGOs and provides a response to the problem of student accommodation. In smaller cities that have significant student populations, local intermediaries are emerging as well. For instance, in Lille, in the north of France, which is the third-biggest student city in France after Paris and Lyon, Générations & Cultures is dedicated to helping both elderly and young people to live together.
The main purpose of Générations & Cultures is to form a link between two age groups. Through its proprietary programme “Un Toit à Partager” (tr.: a roof to share), about 400 cross-generational housing arrangements have been finalised since 2010. The public’s interest in homesharing is increasing every year; and, as the NGO’s president, Marie-Dominique Lacoste, explains: “We realise that the growing demand is diversifying. On one side we receive requests from those who have homes to offer who are not exclusively the elderly, but also persons with disabilities, or small families, or divorced people living in big houses. On the other side, the profile of those who would be hosted has enlarged and now includes not only students, but also young workers, people who are changing professions, or single-parent families”. And there is a particular interest in Erasmus students as motivation is coming from both local people and students to facilitate mobility exchanges. These pairings are often driven by cultural curiosity as well as a perfect mutual understanding and are the protagonists of international, intergenerational homesharing.
The diversity of demand has brought the need to personalise the services and the way of bringing people to live together. The team at Générations & Cultures is carefully handling each individual inquiry for hosting or being hosted. Individual meetings and interviews are taking place in order to assess the needs and interests of all parties. Besides the services provided, the process of linking the hosts and the hosted is value-based, and focused on the full spectrum of respecting otherness while embracing solidarity. In some cases, there is even an immersion time to check the chemistry of the pairing.
While the homesharing lasts, Générations & Cultures monitors the situation by listening to the feedback from the parties on their new living experience. The association is also designing projects for collective house sharing in partnership with local authorities. Taking into account current French legislation governing the housing sector, Générations & Cultures must clarify the definition of “intergeneration”. Accordingly, intergenerational living is considered to include people who “have at least one generation of distance, that is 20 years on average between the hosts and the hosted persons”, notes Marie-Dominique Lacoste from the NGO’s internal chart.
The daily work of the NGO requires a huge attention to the challenges of communication. Générations & Cultures is focused on promoting its services and at the same time to maintaining an awareness of the responsibilities involved when taking part in the homesharing process. The website is regularly updated with testimonies. “We have a large and growing program, but for a targeted public”, says Ms. Lacoste. This careful work has been shaped by the reciprocal interests that intergenerational homesharing entails: services provided, be it a human presence in the house or weekly shopping, and affordable living.
In the end, the objective is to connect people productively and provide a win-win solution to the diversity of socio-economic profiles.
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