Social Housing providers serve many different categories of adults and families. Two specific groups that we see in social housing are elderly and single mothers. These are two completely different groups with completely different problems. In the USA social housing system, many seniors end up in a combo building that houses both seniors and disabled. This situation can cause two problems. One, they are often lonely and disconnected. Two, seniors do not always get along with the younger disabled residents with a different lifestyle. On the other side, young single mothers are trying to raise children while often going to college or trying to work. The slope is a steep one to climb. Guidance and assistance are needed for many of these young women to succeed.
In Beekmos, Houten, Netherlands an innovative program combined these two populations. The partnering agencies on this project were Stichting Timon a young adult welfare organization and Habion a housing corporation specialized in affordable housing for seniors. The program is a project of housing for young mothers/young adolescents living with elderly residents in an “assisted living environment”. (Social Housing in Europe, Michela Braga and Pietro Palvarini 2013) There are 17 units of housing in the project. 13 are dedicated to the young mothers or young girls who can not live with their families. The other four units are reserved for coaches selected from the elderly population. The elderly residents serve as a coach for the young women. The elderly bring life experience and can offer useful advice which is profitable for the young ladies. On the reverse end, the relationships are good for the elderly because it offers the opportunities to add a sense of meaning to their lives and builds relationships.
The design and location of the building are important. The building itself it located in the city center. That makes it easier for both the seniors and the young ladies to access services and goods. The seniors live on the ground floor while the upper apartments are reserved for the young ladies. The rooftop terrace, collective meeting spaces and consulting rooms create spaces that encourage meeting and intermingling.
The innovative features of this program are as follows:
- “It is an intergenerational project. Complementary needs of two social groups are combined in order to create synergies.
- It not only responds to housing problems, but also to the need to build social relationships.
- The project aims at creating an assisted living environment providing additional services to housing.
- The project was entirely designed and conducted through a partnership between third sector stakeholders (non profit providers and social housing companies).”- (Social Housing in the European Union page 29)
I find this program and others like it bold and innovative in nature. Combining the interests of young and old to form an affordable housing program is a great concept. I have found other programs in Europe that match unlikely candidates. One example is a project in Spain between the city of Valladolid and the Municipal Land Housing Company. They created a project where seniors over 65 and college students lived together under one roof. The elders are able to extend social relationships and the students obtain cheaper rents by providing social support to their older neighbors. The University actually chooses the students based on the agreement reached with the social housing company. The housing company also decides what tasks the students will take on. The project is considered successful in that college students have clearly defined roles and the elderly know who to call in case they need help. (Affordable Housing and the Challenge of an ageing population in Europe-Success Stories for Preparing the Future. Housing Europe)
Out of the box thinking is what it will take to truly house and nurture various special populations.