Changing the way students live

Team winners holding chequeThis UWaterloo team's proposal could change the way students and seniors live in Waterloo Region and beyond. 

Cities of Tomorrow is a provincial competition that provides Ontario students the opportunity to present city improvement proposals to policy leaders. Founded in 2014, the competition aims to develop solutions to challenges faced by Ontarians including urban development, a lack of affordable housing and unemployment. A UWaterloo team caught the judges’ attention and earned first place for their affordable housing proposal.

The student team was composed of Matt Mclean, Sylvia Green, Daniel King, Amy Zhou and Catherine Vendryes. They took home a cheque for $10,000 for their project, 'Homesharing for Homecare.' The proposal was for a non-profit organization that would place students looking for affordable housing in the homes of senior citizens who seek company, assistance or both. The “Homesharing for Homecare” system would lead to increased student housing without more infrastructure, as well as better community linkages with senior citizens.

Seniors, especially those who have been widowed, often find themselves isolated and lacking the energy required to maintain a large house. Students, on the other hand, often struggle to find clean and safe housing options that are also affordable. The project's ultimate aim was to address all these issues, as team member Catherine Vendryes, a 4B Arts and Business English student, explains:

Our final product is a result of a desire to improve living situations for both students and seniors.

The team’s proposal is one that could change student housing in the near future. Yet overseas, this idea is not new, explains Vendryes:

The idea came from a news article about how a retirement home in the Netherlands was allowing students to reside there rent-free provided they offered skills to the community there.

One of the project challenges is the integration of two different demographics. To address this reality, the proposal includes a mediator who would assess the personalities of participants and help ease both parties into a living situation.

Matt Mclean, a recent graduate of the Mechanical Engineering program, credits the proposal’s success with the creativity and collaboration of team members:

What really made the difference was how well our team worked together. We approached the idea from so many perspectives from our collective co-op experience, I honestly don't think there any major things we overlooked. The judges had very little to add after our presentation, which means we really did cover most angles with this project.

Cities of Tomorrow logoTo get this project off the ground, the team hopes to find mediators and funding, so that Homesharing for Homecare can move into the Waterloo Region.

Our first step is to find a local senior-focused organization to help this program get legs in the community, explained Catherine. We will also be in need of a program coordinator and have been discussing approaching the Peace and Conflict Studies department about finding great candidates and volunteers.

According to Mclean, the real success of the project was not the cash prize, but rather the experience the students gained through their involvement in the competition.

The opportunity to present our idea to a panel of policymakers, economists, and infrastructure experts was truly amazing. To be able to see an idea we talked about over coffee grow into a program which city councilors would be willing to back was something I couldn't have anticipated. It was worth every phone call and minute invested. The Cities of Tomorrow competition is truly a great platform for students with ideas to be heard.

With such a large community of seniors and students living in Waterloo, Homesharing for Homecare may just be the future of affordable housing and caring community.

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