On housing two generations under one same roof, by Chantal Baestle

As with every generation, it’s not uncommon to hear laments over the “demise” of youths today, and the dubious social effects of Generation Y – oft referred to as Millenials. With technologies and ideas advancing at an exponential speed, it’s too easy to feel that the gap between youths and elders are spiralling out of control. But how to move beyond such a reductionist concept, and turn your words into action? Intergenerational housing projects, like the local 1toit2ages platform seek to bridge the gap and disprove the ageist assumption that young and old live in worlds that are too far apart. We speak to a couple, Chantal Baestle and Dermot Turner, who live together with Astrid (19) in Mons, about their own personal experiences and the beauty of intergenerational learning.

All visuals provided by Thomas Ost (c).

My husband and I have been renting homes to young people for almost a decade now, but when I heard of the initiative 1toit2ages — an intergenerational housing project — through a friend, I thought to myself “now this is a more comfortable way to do what I have always wanted to do.” I have three sons, but when they left, life in the house was pretty much gone. I used to be a teacher too so I love youth — it makes me feel like I’m participating in everyday life. For the students who stay with us, I cook and drive them to class, basically making sure they have a home away from home. So they can concentrate on their studies, but more importantly, don’t end up eating rubbish! It is healthy for the young and the old to live together — as an elderly person, you end up learning things you wouldn’t otherwise. What’s more, from a more economic standpoint, there are considerable financial gains involved in pairing elderly landlords with young tenants. Students pay less monthly rent, and receive not just accomodation but a real home. And the landlords are keen because they don’t have to be in an old age home and can keep maintaining their homes with the help of the young. In our case, for instance, our tenant helps us set up computers.

It’s basically social welfare, just in a more fun way.

All in all, it’s a good initiative because it bridges the generational gap which shouldn’t be underestimated when you consider how increasingly difficult it is becoming for old people to live in the current environment. My tenant, or should I say my housemate, is eighteen years old but she wants to help out and be part of an environment that doesn’t involve dorms, noise and stress! It makes sense, because at no point is she alone. My husband also loves having around as it gives him someone to talk to whilst Astrid, our tenant, benefits by being able to practice her English with him. The idea is to fill the house with different roles. For example, I can teach them to cook, and they can teach us how to use Skype. It helps fulfil all the different aspects of household living. A friend, who is also participating in the programme, asks her student to help her take walks in the park — something she misses and cannot do alone. I mean when you look at it, it basically is social welfare, just in a more fun way. I have been doing this for four years, going into my fifth and, to be honest, I feel like a second mother to these kids. I cook for them, make sure they drink enough water during their exams and it all makes me feel more secure to have them around. The most important is to be matched perfectly as this isn’t your usual landlord — tenant relationship, it is more about creating a family or a feeling of community. There is a whole world out there, one you may feel removed from as you get older, but by housing students in my home, I am in touch with this world. None of this actually changes our way of life, but there’s always more happening when there are young spirits around.