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The Promise of Intergenerational Program and Policy Solutions

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Cara Robinson
February 26, 2024

Over the past two decades, there has been wide-ranging discussion regarding the role of intergenerational programming, or programming that merges the needs of older adults with younger generations. This programming often focuses on providing activities for both older adults and children in settings such as NICUs, daycare centers, senior centers band community centers. The stated purpose is to offer older adults with the opportunity to engage in personal relationships, physical health and mental stimulation to curb the epidemic of loneliness while improving health outcomes. Children benefit by forging connections with safe, experienced elders while institutions are able to create a system of mutual care for some of the most vulnerable populations. While most of these intergenerational programs highlight the importance of relationship development between young children and seniors, a different kind of intergenerational care, homesharing, creates a program that builds bridges between young and older adults.  

Young adults, particularly in today’s housing and economic markets, face challenges finding stable, affordable and adequate housing. These young adults often seek assistance from their colleges and universities, families (who are often living far from the young adult) and social service organizations and nonprofits. Older adults whom have lost spouses, financial resources, experience declining health and worry about housing stability often find themselves facing a reality where they want to stay in their home, and the neighbors, community institutions and networks they trust and age in place for as long as physically and mentally able. These dual pressures provide a policy and program solution via homesharing.   

Homesharing is a concept of two unrelated adults living together in the same space for mutual benefit based on the needs of the home occupants. In the case of intergenerational care, homesharing refers to older adults finding ‘roommates’ among a community’s college student population for the purposes of providing affordable housing for both parties. Homesharing allows young adults to find safe, fiscally sound living situations which allow them to focus on college and graduate school. Older adults gain a potential source of income and/or services that allow them to stay in their home. The rent paid by the young adult is below market and, in exchange, they provide a plethora of services and resources to the older adult. For example, a young adult may cook, clean, do yardwork, drive and/or offer technology services for the senior; each of which assists the older adult in maintaining their home. Much like the goals of intergenerational care between seniors and young children, older adults also are able to foster a relationship that helps avoid chronic loneliness while young adults may find mentoring and financial stability in their home placements. 

Homesharing has been a tradition on many college campuses for a century. These universities, often HBCUs, created networks to assist students in housing placement to ensure their ability to attend and matriculate through their studies. While the historical implementation of community-based housing placement was not specifically to help older adults age in place, the foundation for today’s programming and policy solutions was built on these system examples. 

The historical homesharing systems were maintained through private networks of individuals, families and institutions. Today, homesharing is a shared governance between local governments, housing and aging nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities and technology corporations; each playing an important role in the landscape of this intergenerational policy solution. Local governments are often the conduit for funding homesharing pilot programs via housing trust funds while housing and aging nonprofit organizations serve as the homebase for program implantation. Colleges and universities are essential partners as their housing and graduate school offices are the main source of young adults for housing placement and these offices maintain a system of outreach and engagement to recruit students in need of assistance. Finally, technology corporations have developed tools to help students and older adults apply, find appropriate roommate matches, and evaluate housing placement effectiveness. Each stakeholder institution is key to the proper implementation of homesharing. 

Of course, homesharing programs have the potential to have negative outcomes (as does any housing placement or social service program). Roommates may not get along and/or have different standard of living values (e.g. cleanliness, organization, personality), either the renter or landlord may not hold up their end of the bargain, or the program is poorly monitored and evaluated. It is imperative that each partner institution provides the ongoing feedback loop of assessment for housing placements; which, in and of itself, creates the burden of overhead and performance measurement. Homesharing programs must be adequately and appropriately staffed to perform effectively.

The promise of expanded intergenerational care programming and policy solutions is an area public administrators and community partners continue to explore. Exploration should extend to implementation via pilots such as locally-based homesharing in order to fast track care, resources and opportunities for young and older adults alike.          

Author: Cara Robinson, Ph.D. is the Department Chair for the Department of Social Work and Urban Studies at Tennessee State University. Dr. Robinson is an Associate Professor of Urban Studies. Dr. Robinson has taught undergraduate courses in Urban Studies and Nonprofit Management and Leadership and graduate courses in Public Administration in the College of Public Service at Tennessee State University.

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