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Housing That Mixes Young and Old Benefits Both

An inventive French program makes life richer for students and the elderly

Intergenerational Living, Lyon, Rhône-Alpes, France

Senior and young woman, Old and Young Mixed Housing, AARP Livable Communities

Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

A senior woman laughs with a younger woman in Paris Aug. 8, 2015. The "One Roof, Two Generations" national initiative encourages older residents to rent empty rooms in their homes to students and young professionals for free or at very affordable prices in exchange for help.

With just under half a million people, Lyon is France's third largest city. Its greater metro area, with a population of about 2.2 million, is second only to Paris.

For a select group of Lyon residents, a city housing program creatively replicates the benefits of belonging to a multigenerational family household.

At a dozen independent living residences that serve older adults, college students are invited to move in and pay discounted rent in exchange for socializing with the building's older residents. Another program helps fill rooms in the houses of older adults with empty nests.

The Details

There are 18 residences in the City of Lyon for independent older adults, 12 of which welcome students to live on their top floors. The move was inspired by a national safety directive pre­venting older adults from living above a certain floor level.

A consortium of local universities helps match apartments and students, who need only commit to one hour a week of simply chatting with the older residents, playing board games with them, accompanying them on walks or other activities. A city agency educates the students on aging issues and regularly checks in with them.

This intergenerational, independent living program builds on a 10-year-old national initia­tive — called "One Roof, Two Generations" — that encourages older residents to rent empty rooms in their homes to students and young professionals for free or at very affordable prices. In exchange, the young people interact regularly with their hosts and assist with chores including shopping, cleaning and maintenance.

The Costs

The City of Lyon renovated and adapted all 18 of its residences for older people at a cost of €40 million. The buildings include age-friendly accessible features, such as handrails, grab bars and raised toilet seats.

Two local nonprofits help administer the "One Roof, Two Generations" program. Depending on which organization a participant works with, he or she will pay a one-time fee of €400 (about $435 U.S.) before moving into a rented room or welcoming a new housemate. The other group collects €20 to make a match, then charges additional fees to provide services once cohabitation begins.

The Results

There are approximately 1,000 apartments in the 12 city-owned residences for older people that are taking part in Lyon's program. About 100 apartments in these buildings are set aside for the students. Both older and younger people confirm that intergenerational living is an enriching experience.

Deputy Mayor Françoise Rivoire believes the program fundamentally changes life in Lyon for people as they age. "We encourage intergenerational living because we want our older people to have choices — to live alone, to live with a student, to move into our independent residences, but to age in place for as long as possible," she says. "It's up to the older generation to decide, but at least now they have options."

Published August 2015

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