Young at Heart
Empty nesters need help around the house; cash-strapped students need cheap lodging. The solution: Toronto HomeShare, a pilot project that pairs seniors with students
Theresa and Cristiana
The owner: Theresa Bielawski, 69, a retired geriatric care manager
The tenant: Cristiana Kooy, 20, a first-year humanities student at the University of Toronto
The place: A three-bedroom semi near Crawford and King
The rent: $600 a month for one bedroom; the bathroom, kitchen and living area are shared
Theresa: I bought my house in 2001 and retired three years ago. I’m divorced, so I lived alone. I’ve dealt with flooding in the basement the past few years and have some health issues. It’s been challenging facing multiple renovations, and the house feels too big for me. At the same time, I love this part of the city and I want to stay. I just had to figure out how to make that happen.
Cristiana: In 2017, after graduating high school, I took two years off. I moved to Milan, where I worked as an au pair. I returned to Canada last summer to attend U of T, but finding housing near campus was a nightmare. In July, I went with my dad to a U of T housing fair and discovered HomeShare. The fact that my dad was enthusiastic about the project gave me a good feeling. It took a couple of months to settle into a groove. Theresa is an early riser and I am definitely not, but it works well. By the time I get up and need the bathroom, she’s long out of there. Every week, I vacuum and mop the floors and clean the sinks and mirrors. I shovel snow whenever needed and did some yard work in the fall.
Theresa: We had to figure out the best times for Cristiana to help with the outdoor stuff. At first, she wanted to rake leaves at 9 p.m., in the dark, when you can’t see them!
Cristiana: Ironing out those details hasn’t been a big problem because we’ve both lived with other people.
Theresa: When you have somebody new in the house, accommodations are necessary. For either of us to have friends over, we need to do a little planning and communicating to avoid the surprise of strangers wandering around the house. We just have an open dialogue. I’m a social person, so it’s been great having Cristiana here for the company and to engage in her life as a student. It brings back a lot of memories.
Cristiana: Theresa loves sharing culture and art she’s into. We watch a lot of Cityline together. She prints out recipes for me. I appreciate the ease of conversation and company when I just need to vent about something at the end of a rough day.
Yuval and Kim
The owner: Kim Nguyen, 68, a peer support worker at Mount Sinai Hospital
The tenant: Yuval Dinary, 23, a third-year social work student at Ryerson
The place: A three-bedroom townhouse near Dupont and Shaw
The rent: $600 a month for a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor
Yuval: I was living with my dad near Yonge and Eglinton, but I wanted my own space and to live a little closer to school. I couldn’t find a place I could afford on my own, though. My stepmother told me about HomeShare last August. I saw right away that this was a win-win situation.
Kim: I bought my house in the early ’80s. I have three children, and my youngest son got married and moved out last April. All summer, I lived alone and wanted more company. But I’m schizophrenic, so renting a room to a stranger isn’t easy. One of my daughters found out about HomeShare, and its facilitators understood my situation. I was matched with Yuval because he’s a social work student. He moved in here in early September.
Yuval: Kim wakes up much earlier than me, and I’ve had the opportunity to develop better habits such as a consistent morning routine. Around the house, I don’t have to do much. I just shovel snow and take the garbage out. Kim is very independent. She does her own cooking and goes grocery shopping with her son every weekend.
Kim: We also clean together. My house used to be messy, and Yuval helped organize things a little bit. There were some little issues at first. I usually put things in the same place in the kitchen, and they moved around with Yuval here, but now I’m used to it. If something bothers me, I tell him right away. We have open communication. It’s nice having someone else in the house. When I’m by myself, I get paranoid and have negative thinking. If there’s somebody here, it clears my mind and gives me something else to think about.
Yuval: Kim is an inspirational person. When we hear about schizophrenia, we have a preconceived notion that’s not always accurate. Kim works and gives back to her community. She has a social life and an amazing family. Kim should be very proud. It’s an honour to share this space with her. I hope to stay here until I graduate next year.
Nick and Maureen
The owner: Maureen Moriarty, 75, a retired care navigator in a family health team, and her daughter, Tara (not shown), 47, an associate professor in U of T’s faculty of dentistry and medicine
The tenant: Nick Veltmeyer, 27, a postgrad student in early music at U of T
The place: A five-bedroom detached house in the Beaches
The rent: $500 a month for a second-floor bedroom and a shared bathroom
Tara: This house has been in my family since 1970. My father died two years ago after a long illness, but even before that I noticed my mother, Maureen, had been struggling. When she was diagnosed with dementia, my partner and
I moved in to help out. I’m the sole breadwinner, and caring for my mother can take between 20 and 40 hours a week. Some days, she needs somebody with her constantly. I realized I needed some help, and dementia care is expensive. But I had to make sure I found trustworthy tenants because my mother is vulnerable. I rented out one room to a friend and gave HomeShare a try for another room.
Nick: I was born and raised in Halifax. I’m a musician and applied to an advanced artist certificate in my field last year. I got accepted late, so every U of T residence was full. Apartment hunting was a struggle since I wasn’t in Toronto yet. A lady at my church in Halifax found out about HomeShare from a CBC interview and suggested I apply. Things progressed quickly. I got matched with Maureen and Tara in August and within two weeks I was living here.
Tara: I’m gay, so of course it was important that the tenant be comfortable with that. Within a few minutes of meeting Nick, we knew we were a good match. It also helped that my mother loves music and once sang
in a church choir.
Nick: Everything changed for me when I moved here. I don’t have family in Toronto and I used to have more free time. Now my life is very structured and busy. Besides my studies, I freelance as a singer and organist, and putting myself in all these new situations takes a lot of energy. Coming back home to Tara’s family balances me out because it’s such a relaxed atmosphere here. If I’ve had a hard day and I’m feeling low, there’s lots of love in the air. There was one day in early December when I was in tears and everyone here hugged me.
Tara: It’s been a lovely arrangement. Nick took my mother on walks before it got too cold, and we often come up with new things to do together. Aside from that, Nick pretty much lives around us.
Nick: We have had to solve a few issues, mostly to do with me messing up sorting the garbage.
Tara: This young man doesn’t understand how Toronto recycling works. We had to explain it to him a few times. But truthfully, I’m surprised at how easy it’s all been. Nick has been absorbed into our lives.
Nick: Coming from the East Coast, I wasn’t expecting a lot of warmth—Torontonians have a reputation for being self-absorbed and less community-minded. So I’m pleasantly surprised I found the most supportive people around.
Tara: Nick has helped stabilize our financial situation, and that reduces stress. But the company is the best thing. For my mother’s 75th birthday last October, Nick and a friend performed a wonderful Nova Scotian folk song called “If I Were a Blackbird” for us. It made the occasion very special.
Catherine and Zoë
The owner: Catherine Finlayson, 61, a retiree
The tenant: Zoë Butcher, 18, a first-year social sciences student at U of T
The place: A two-bedroom semi near Woodbine and Danforth
The rent: $500 a month for a bedroom plus a study space on the second floor; the bathroom, kitchen and living area are shared
Zoë: I went to high school in Ottawa. After I got accepted at U of T, I needed a place to live. My mom and I went to a U of T open house last summer. We found out about HomeShare there, and my mom really loved the idea.
Catherine: I was renovating the upper floor a few months after buying this house in 2014 and had a terrible accident. I tore my meniscus in my left knee. I’ve been leaning on my right leg to compensate, so both knees have been steadily worsening, and it’s getting harder to do things. My youngest daughter moved out in 2016, and I’ve been living here by myself ever since. One day, HomeShare popped up on my Facebook feed. I thought it would be nice to have somebody young who could help me. Zoë and I knew we were a good match almost right away.
Zoë: I was staying at a family friend’s house in Mississauga at the beginning of the semester and moved in with Catherine in early October. My commute to school is now only 20 minutes, which is great. It’s also worked well because we both stay up late at night and sleep in.
Catherine: It’s really been seamless. We don’t have any strict rules for guests. Zoë is paying rent, so she can have anybody over she wants. This is her home, too. We don’t have meals at the same time but we’re often in the kitchen together doing meal prep or cleaning up, which gives us a chance to chat.
Zoë: We’ve figured out we have similar personalities. We’re both laid-back. There have also been some weird coincidences. We both grew up in families of six kids and both our dads are academically inclined people who pushed us a lot to excel.
Catherine: We talk about politics, music, movies and our favourite Netflix shows. We watch Jane the Virgin together. I consider Zoë family and worry for her like she’s my daughter. She even texts me if she’s going to be late.
Zoë: It’s nice sharing a space with someone, even if I’m busy with school or work. My family is hours away in Ottawa, so if something happens, there’s someone they can call or go to
for help. My mom really likes that.
Catherine: It’s been fun having Zoë around. I’m terrible at asking for help, but Zoë always offers to carry the vacuum up and down the stairs. She shovels snow and chips off the ice on the sidewalks. In the fall, she helped with gardening and raking leaves. I now have a sense of security that makes it easier for me to live here.
Have you found a creative solution to the high cost of housing? We want to talk to you.
Seven Ways to Hack the Market
Part 1: The Skinny Dippers
Three buyers who scored narrow plots of prime real estate and found a way to make it work
Part 2: The Co-owners
These couples couldn’t afford much individually, so they pooled their resources and nabbed a gem in the Annex
Part 3: The First-Timers
Two young professionals needed a bit of help to buy a condo. Then they found Options for Homes, a non-profit that provides no-interest loans
Part 4: Microsize Me
A condo building that offers tiny living without the claustrophobia
Part 5: Young at Heart
Empty nesters who need help around the house; cash-strapped college kids who need cheap lodging. The solution: HomeShare
Part 6: The Year of Living Nomadically
My relationship had gone to ashes, my apartment to my ex, and I was broke. My salvation? Serial house-sitting
Part 7: All in the Family
This Toronto builder is designing homes for multiples generations, each in their own space, all under one roof