Toronto’s housing market is still a huge burden for many people living in Toronto. But as rental rates continue to soar, students are particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity. A 2021 survey from Fostering Learning and Awareness on Student Housing suggested that students in Canada end up paying 25 per cent more than the average renter.

A variety of general solutions are necessary to address Toronto’s housing crisis on the whole. One option for students in particular, though, is to share space with seniors with a room or two to spare in their house. 

The SpacesShared platform

Humber College has partnered with the SpacesShared platform to pair students looking for accommodation with seniors with extra space, providing an affordable housing option. 

Ian Crookshank, the associate vice president, learner and career success and dean of students at Humber College, explained in an interview with The Varsity how pairing tools at SpacesShared focus on looking for beneficial attributes between the student and senior worker. The platform tries to create a “direct connection” between both users by having each party fill out a questionnaire, including prompts like “How often will you clean up dishes and the cooking area after using it?” and “How often would you like to have daytime guests visit you at the home?”

The SpacesShared platform differs from regular home-sharing platforms, as Crookshank described, where a tenant might live in the basement apartment of someone’s house with a separate entrance. 

“You’re going to be using the main entrance to the home, there’s [going to be] a communal living space,” he pointed out. Furthermore, he added that students can get discounts on their rent in exchange for helping out around the house, with tasks that “might be hard” for seniors to keep up with on their own. 

With the platform already in use in the Barrie Area, SpacesShared’s arrival in the GTA seems to have created a buzz, as over 500 students in the area have already signed up. SpacesShared has also partnered with other Canadian universities and colleges with the goal of supporting students across the country. 

Not just an affordability solution

Home sharing as a concept is not very new. Yet, in Canada, the concept of home sharing — with a common space and a ‘roommate’ feel — may be something that many Canadian individuals will need to get used to. 

Crookshank noted that the program has seen many students, but finding seniors willing to allow a student to live in their home has been more of a struggle. However, Crookshank is confident that this hesitation will fade in the longer term. He predicts that option will become more normalized as a “critical mass” of seniors and students start to use the platform. 

While the home sharing program may help seniors and students with their bank accounts, potential benefits go beyond that. Crookshank pointed out that home sharing may be a way for seniors to preserve their old homes, which are often filled with memories — instead of selling and downsizing. He also pointed out that seniors may benefit by combatting loneliness and increasing their day-to-day cognitive stimulation.

Furthermore, Crookshank highlighted the importance of intergenerational connections between students and seniors. He explained that living with a senior citizen has unique potential benefits to students. “A senior who’s been a part of a community and has been within that community for a period of time… has that sort of narrative knowledge of both the community and life,” which may support and connect students in a way they would otherwise not have access to.