Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The youth get a housing deal, the elderly get companionship—it’s win-win.
In Helsinki, a city where rents are notoriously high, anyone’s eyes might pop at the chance of grabbing even a small studio apartment for €250 ($265) a month. So it’s no wonder that this offer of studios for people under 25 in the suburb of Laajasalo, all with private facilities and balconies, received an enthusiastic response when it appeared on Facebook recently.
But while they cost less than half the typical price for a Helsinki studio, the apartments come with a catch—albeit hardly an onerous one for the right applicant. They’re located in a home for seniors, one where the young studio-dwellers would be expected to spend three-to-five hours a week with the older residents.
The plan, put together by Oman Muotoinen Koti, is called “Homes That Fit.” Located initially at Helsinki’s Rudolf Seniors Home, the city-funded project aims to address youth homelessness, reduce social isolation, and encourage mixing between the generations. Younger people get an affordable place to live and some contact with older folks who aren’t their grandparents. The elderly residents, meanwhile, get to mix with an age group that rarely comes through the senior home’s doors.
But the younger residents won’t be care-givers, as such. Their chief duty will be, more or less, just hanging out. As project manager Miki Mielonen told Finnish broadcaster YLE:
“I’d rather have someone with a guitar in their hands, rather than just another [professional] pair of hands. We came to the conclusion that’s there’s no need to emphasize social or health education. The staff is here for the purpose of providing trained senior care. The residents we’re looking for would have a different perspective on everyday life from our residents, one that would bring variety to their leisure time.”
Beyond the thought of elderly residents being forcibly exposed to hours of acoustic guitar playing, the plan seems kind-hearted and ingenious. It’s just one of several bright ideas from Oman Muotoinen Koti, which is also setting up a communal home for young people in unused municipal buildings—spaces that are collaboratively partitioned by the residents themselves to suit their own needs.
At present, the plan is small and experimental. So far the Rudolf home is offering just three apartments, into which successful applicants will move in January. The idea’s potential is nonetheless huge, both in terms of providing young people with a socially useful way to find affordable housing, and in making senior homes livelier, less isolated places for older residents to live.