Symbiosis: McMaster University's program to connect graduate students with seniors to share housing. (Courtesy of McMaster)

Symbiosis: inter-generational co-housing at McMaster University

Symbiosis is the name Soumeya Abed came up with for the inter-generational co-housing program at McMaster University.

A research scientist in the Department of Medicine, Abed tells me it was personal experience that motivated her to start the program.

“Based on a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship”

As an international student from Algeria studying in Paris, she had lived with two elderly women in the city with some of the most expensive rents in the world.


But it’s not just the financial considerations that have made the program such a success, it’s also the companionship, for both parties.

Abed acknowledges a lot of work goes in to arranging the right fit: interviewing and vetting students and visiting and vetting the seniors who want to participate.

Symbiosis: Soumeya Abed, above, is the founder of the multi-generational, co-housing program, which provides companionship for the elderly and gives students a break on rent in return for light chores and housework. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In an interview with the CBC’s Kas Roussy, Abed, said the program “is based on a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship.”

“It connects students who are looking for affordable housing with seniors who have a spare room, a furnished room, and can offer a little bit of extra support and companionship,” she said.

“If something’s good, then why stop?”

The seniors must have a spare bedroom, be willing to share common areas such as the bathroom and kitchen and they must have home insurance. And they must not have any cognitive impairment.

The program began last year, as a pilot project with forty applications and eventually 10 students were placed with seniors.

Symbiosis success: ‘Having Cara makes a difference to me,’ says Lesly Adamson, 92, of her 23-year-old roommate, Cara Duncan. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

There have been more applications this year, and Abed says so far, one match has been made, but she is still actively recruiting seniors and interviewing students who will start school later in January.

Tafadzwa Machipisa, a 27 year-old student from Zimbabwe,  was one of 10 students placed last year.

Machipisa liked it so much, she came back to live with 73 year-old Constance Jain again this school year.

“If something’s good, then why stop?”

Abed agrees. “We’re hoping now to sustain the program, secure some funding and be able to offer it and extend it to more seniors and students in our community.” she said.

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