Home Sharing. Coming of Age in a Longevity Society

Home sharing. Of all the abundant housing options for later life living from which older adults can choose, one that fits their own unique desires, this one goes a long way to serve the needs of more than one age cohort. Espousing the positive idea of intergenerational connectivity of sorts, home sharing is a growing movement that has finally found its time, here in 2019.

One could argue that this is more relevant today for many reasons. For a start, older adults are taking more mindful and willful control of how they choose to live which perhaps can be through more than one transition or stages in their later life. At the same time, younger generations, some students and others newly working in their 20’s, are experiencing much the same economic strains related to affordable housing as are older generations.

As it happens, one of the globally networked organizations leading this movement, HomeShare International celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The organization began in 1999 when Nan Maitland, an occupational therapist in London, expanded a UK work in progress since the late 1980’s, in direct response to the needs of older people who needed some added support to carry on living independently in their own homes – aging in place is the term we’ve come to know.

Maitland, passed away in 2011 at age 84 by her personal choice of assisted dying in Switzerland. Her stance on this issue found her as an activist with another organization Friends at the End. With respect to home sharing, Maitland believed that intergenerational relationships could be mutually beneficial and fulfilling, where just as in previous times of socioeconomic stress, today the mutual needs around financial assistance and companionship have some social synchronicity.

However the history of all this goes further back to another woman activist by the name of Maggie Kuhn. In 1970,she was the then 65-year-old founder of the Gray Panthers movement in the USA. Among many aspects around aging and the rights of older adults in those days, she had a strong conviction around housing options and she lived in her own home sharing it with younger adults, who received rent relief in exchange for help with housework and their companionship.

Fast forward to now and I’m sure these two women would be pleased to see that the world of intergenerational housing activists had caught up to them. Yet, while home sharing may not be for everybody, it certainly is gaining momentum. HomeShare International has fourteen participating countries including HomeShare Canada. From August 1st to 15th, Toronto HomeShare is holding four public information sessions as outlined on their website.

Home sharing has other variations that are not intergenerational in nature such as reflected in the resource website Golden Girls Canada. Capitalizing on that 1980’s TV sitcom, this group has now managed to find its way to squeeze in the “guys” in their banner logo. Not evident as to how that’s working out. Dorothy Mazeau, who founded this entity, has been an active promoter of the cohousing movement in Canada and the USA. However, with all this interchangeable terminology, the word cohousing itself does not necessarily define the full range of home sharing models it includes.

But jargon aside, it’s all good. Practical, accessible and affordable home or housing options are what we need as we select our way through a longevity society, and build towards age inclusive communities that work for everyone. As Maggie Kuhn, a woman for all seasons cautioned, housing options that tend to segregate our elder generations from the rest of society, is not a healthy approach.

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