Calgary pilot project brings together students, seniors

Two post-secondary education students met their new roommates for the fall semester Tuesday morning.

But your dorms will be unlike any other in Calgary.

Shannon Penner, a student at Mount Royal University, and Maryam Shakir, who studies at Bow Valley College, will live in a senior support center for the next school year.

After spending the past year living in university housing, Penner is looking forward to a quieter lifestyle.

“The most exciting part of this is that there is a chef, so I don’t have to cook, which is amazing for me, because as a student I’m busy and that’s one of the things I struggle with.” Penner said.

“So this is an amazing opportunity to essentially have my rent taken care of because I can afford it, and also to have my food taken care of because I can afford it.”

It marks the launch of a unique pilot project that brings together several generations under one roof.

The students, selected through a partnership between Silvera for Seniors and the Canadian Alliance for Intergenerational Living, will reside at Westview Town Suites.

The eight-month program, which will run from September 2024 to April 2025, aims to address student housing affordability while enriching the lives of seniors.

Students will pay $500 a month.

For that, they get a one-bedroom suite, prepared meals, and all utilities covered.

In exchange for subsidized rent, students will contribute 30 hours of volunteer service per month at the facility, which could involve helping with activities, providing companionship, or simply listening.

Shakir, originally from Iraq, says multigenerational interactions are something she misses since moving to Canada in 2017.

“In our culture, when we are children we are taught to take care of our elderly. My grandfather and my grandmother, we must go every Friday to visit them. We respect them a lot. It is as if we (made them) saints, I would say, because they are like the most important figures in the family,” Shakir said.

“I’m a Canadian citizen, but I came from a different country and other people here came from different countries. I love this diversity.

“I’m really a person who loves culture, who loves music. I love learning and I love new cuisines. So I’ll share some of mine with them (and) they might share some of their cuisine with me. Maybe we’ll cook something together “We love it. Maybe a new exercise. Maybe we can dance together.”

Olivia Chubey, director of operations and services for Silvera for Seniors, says the program will not only offer reduced rent to students, but Silvera will also benefit by filling vacant suites.

“We’re in the senior housing business. So we have to make sure our population has access to affordable housing and lifestyle programs. That’s my first priority,” Chubey said.

“But then how can I make up for some of the vacancies with different generations? Let’s explore that. Let’s see how that model works.”

The pilot project in Calgary is the latest example of a growing movement toward intergenerational housing arrangements.

While similar student housing arrangements have been tried in Canada before, Chubey says this is the first time it has been established with the goal of becoming an ongoing program.

“I hope we can take advantage of this in the future, to the extent possible,” Chubey said.

“I think government support for this model is essential, especially when we look at the different ministries, for example the Ministry of Education. Obviously, we need federal grants that are secured, but there could also be corporate sponsorship.

“People can contribute to this model in the future.”