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More and more college students are moving in with senior citizens and they're both enjoying mutual benefits

Multigenerational households are increasing across America as young people are priced out of the housing market and more seniors want to age in place.

More and more college students are moving in with senior citizens and they're both enjoying mutual benefits
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Dean Mitchell

Nadia Abdullah's hunt for an affordable apartment in the Boston area was turning out to be a disheartening endeavor in the months leading up to her graduation from college. "It was a little frustrating because I couldn't find anything in my budget," the 25-year-old, who shared on-campus housing with four other students until she graduated from Tufts University, told The Washington Post. It was around the same time that 64-year-old Judith Allonby was contemplating whether she should move out of her family's old home in Malden, Massachusetts. Although the two-story house seemed too large for one person and required a lot of upkeep, Allonby, an attorney, liked the neighborhood. "I rely on public transportation," she said.


While researching their options, Allonby and Abdullah stumbled on an unorthodox solution to their dilemma: an intergenerational housing arrangement facilitated by Nesterly, an agency that matches young renters with older adults looking to supplement their incomes and share their space. After passing the agency's background check, Abdullah and Allonby were matched to share Allonby's family home in an arrangement that fit their specific needs: Abdullah would rent the top floor of the home for $700 a month in exchange for helping the elderly attorney with the housework, gardening and occasional grocery runs.


"It was perfect—Judith has become like my family," said Abdullah, who moved in with Allonby in late May 2019 and still lives there. "She even allowed me to adopt a cat. She now loves Mango as much as I do." Allonby admitted that she was surprised at how compatible they turned out to be. "It's really nice to have somebody else around, and Nadia brings a different atmosphere and energy than I had with my 88-year-old mother," she said. "Nadia is definitely not listening to Frank Sinatra."


According to Donna Butts—the executive director of Generations United, a D.C.-based organization that focuses on programs and policies that connect generations—multigenerational households are increasing across the United States as young people are priced out of the housing market and more seniors want to age in place. "Sometimes, just having somebody around to walk the dog and have a meal with a few times a week can make a huge difference for an older adult," said Butts, pointing out that loneliness and isolation doubled for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.


As schools shifted classes online amid the health crisis over the last two years, college students also faced a similar dilemma. "With young adults and older adults feeling the most isolated, connecting them is the right thing to do," Butts said. Several universities in the country also foster such multigenerational living arrangements. Music students at Drake University in Des Moines have the opportunity to live rent-free at a local senior living center in exchange for performing several times a month for the residents. Molly McDonough, a 22-year-old vocal performance major, recently began taking advantage of this provision by moving into Wesley Acres, a senior living community that offers everything from independent apartment life to long-term care.


"It gives me some live performance practice and helps me save on rent at the same time. I'll be applying to graduate schools this fall and you have to pay a lot in fees, so this move made sense," said McDonough, who now performs soprano arias from operas like "La Bohème" for seniors several times a month. "It came fully furnished, with towels, dishes and anything else I needed," McDonough said of her pleasant, one-bedroom apartment on the center's fourth floor. "They also allowed me to bring my two cats."


McDonough also enjoys hearing the life stories of senior residents while dining with them in the communal dining room. "They've lived such full lives and there’s a lot that I can learn from them," she said. "They're all really sweet and caring." She's even found a cheerleader and friend in 81-year-old Arlene DeVries, who lives at Wesley Acres with her husband, Fred DeVries, 83. "Arlene wanted to give me a tour of Wesley Acres and I found out she'd also been a voice major at Drake. Right away, we became good friends," McDonough said. Speaking of their heartwarming friendship, DeVries said: "Molly is so talented and a lot of people who live here have limited mobility and don’t have the opportunity to go out much anymore. We're delighted to have her here. It gives us all a lift to have someone younger living with us."

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