A program that helps match seniors with rooms to spare and students in need of living accommodations could see up to 400 people more in more affordable housing each year if the city comes up with the necessary funds.
In a city where a growing number of seniors are aging in their homes while an affordability crisis continues to challenge people of all ages trying to live in the city, Councillor Josh Matlow plans to ask Thursday for $90,000 to administer the HomeShare program, which was piloted last May.
Continuing the program, which ran out of funding earlier this year, is a recommendation in the city’s new seniors strategy approved by council with the support of Mayor John Tory, last year.
A motion to include the funding in the budget this year was moved earlier by Councillor Mike Layton but failed to get the votes required, with Tory’s budget chief Councillor Gary Crawford and councillors Brad Bradford, Jennifer McKelvie and Frances Nunziata voting against it at the budget committee. Final budget decisions are up to council, which meets Thursday.
“There’s so many win-win-wins when it comes to this,” for “very small” administrative costs, Matlow, the city’s seniors advocate, told the Star.
“Our city is unaffordable for people of every age range and demographic. There are seniors who are house rich but are financially poor and are struggling to make ends meet. There are young people who can’t afford to live in our city altogether. There are seniors who are entering long-term care facilities and retirement residences. There are many more seniors who would far prefer to live out their years at home in the community that they know so that they aren’t isolated.”
The program, developed by city staff and the non-profit National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE), matched 24 people, including a student who was in a homeless shelter during the pilot, according to numbers provided by Matlow’s office. Social workers conducted interviews to match students and seniors, and participants in both categories underwent police background checks, overseen by those staff.
Students participating in the pilot paid rents of $400 to $600 while contributing to household chores agreed to by each pair for five hours per week.
The program wasn’t designed to just help students struggling to pay rent in the city, said Raza Mirza, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging and the network manager of NICE.
It also allows a home owned by a senior to be “right-sized” instead of forcing them to downsize, he said, and has proven to have positive benefits of companionship for both the seniors and the students.
“I receive at least three to five emails or calls on a daily basis now saying ‘how do I get into this program,’” Mirza said.
Senior participants in the pilot project reported feeling more safe and less isolated in their home, he said, while all participants said they would love for the program to continue. He hopes council will approve Matlow’s motion.
Funding from the province for the pilot project ran out as of Jan. 31. The funding being requested by Matlow would cover the cost of the equivalent of two full-time staff.
While the program was earlier limited to university students, Matlow and Mirza both say it can be expanded to others needing affordable housing.