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A New Affordable Housing Model: Intergenerational Living

Golden Age Foundation has been a staunch advocate of building smart ageing cities through social innovation. Social innovation as a means to this end can be new ideas, concepts, process and services that meet the changing social needs and trends of an ageing population. A good example of such initiative is Humanitas of the Netherlands.

The Humanitas program, which started in 2013, is a retirement home project based on intergenerational living model. It provides rent-free housing for university students in return for being good neighbours, putting a certain amount time a month to run a variety of activities for the older residents. The project has not only helped to develop intergenerational connectedness, but also eased the housing demand issues of university students. Though this new model is still at a pilot stage, the concept and its initial results have aroused many interest and discussions in Hong Kong as a plausible alleviation to our two key social issues, ie, the lack of holistic elderly care services and unaffordable housing for young people.

As early as 2004, The ESDES inter-générations, a non-profit organization in Lyon, France, has embarked on pairing young people with the elderly to live in the host’s home. It aims at providing care for elderly at home and a solution for the lack of housing for young people in addition to bridging inter-generation gap.

In 2010, a retirement community in Cleveland, USA, named Judson Manor, launched an “artist-in-residence” program. It provides five students from the Cleveland Institute of Art rent-free living in a residential building with 120 elderly. Students as “artists” are required to provide solo recitals and weekend concerts to their older neighbours, and even lead art therapy classes for them. The program has immediately filled up the whole residence with joy, energy and life. The elderly see students as real artists. Every time when students pass by the lobby, people feel lightened up. The students’ weekly concert is something the elderly look forward to as a highlight of the week.

All these intergenerational programs may differ in forms. However, they share the same concept and social mission to enhance intergenerational connectedness and positivity in elderly living, in addition to easing the housing needs of the younger generation. Young people who live with the elderly may simply be chatting or watching TV together with them. But essentially, this has also brought about more meaning in life and bonding for both parties.

Intergenerational living is not a new concept. It has been deeply rooted in Asian culture for centuries. Two or three generations used to live together under one roof. As the global population is ageing at a fast speed, transforming our society into a smart ageing era is indispensable. It is quite common in Hong Kong to send our senior citizens to an elderly home when they cannot be taken care of. It is time for different sectors of our community to re-think how we can make better use of our diverse social resources and innovate for smart ageing.