Canada’s rental housing affordability crisis is at an all-time high, with rents rising at an unprecedented pace. In many communities across the country, the current housing stock is not matching the needs of rental applicants.
This blog explores the house-sharing model and how it could be a solution to providing affordable rental housing for low-income individuals and individuals who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Canada.
What is House-Sharing?
The house-sharing model is a specific program designed to provide individuals experiencing homelessness or those who have lower incomes with more affordable housing. This model promotes social relationships, prevents social isolation, reduces costs incurred by healthcare systems, and can protect a sustainable housing stock. Individuals residing in house-sharing programs are usually provided with a private room, sharing common spaces, such as washrooms, kitchens, and laundry areas, within a home.
House-sharing is formally defined as a situation where two or more individuals, often unrelated, share a home for common benefits. This can take the form of a homeowner entering into a written agreement to make space available to a home seeker. It can also take the form of the property owner not residing on the premises where the homeowner rents out each bedroom to unrelated individuals. In other words, this housing model can extend beyond homeowners and home seekers.
Although sometimes used interchangeably, house-sharing should not be confused with co-housing. Co-housing is a form of collaborative housing that goes beyond one single housing structure. Here, entire neighbourhoods are developed where community members own private dwellings and share ownership of common property.
House-Sharing in Canada
In 2014, the HomeShare Canada Network released a set of principles for the house-sharing model, which was intended to guide house-sharing practitioners as they establish new programs in communities across Canada. These include:
- Reciprocity and mutual benefit: House-sharing arrangements should be formed based on providing autonomy, independence, and dignity to both the home provider and the home seeker.
- Respectful relationship: Once a match and relationship are formed, equal respect and importance should be given to both the home provider and the seekers’ needs and interests.
- Multigenerational: This arrangement can facilitate the development of intergenerational relationships that can benefit both the home provider and seeker and, in turn, their extended relationships.
House-Sharing Programs in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
There have been various efforts to implement these house-sharing programs in Newfoundland and Labrador. One such program is the Home Share program in St. John’s.
Home Share is a house-sharing program aimed to support older adults and seniors to age in place by connecting them with post-secondary students seeking affordable accommodation. For students, the program helps to offset the economic pressures on them. It is also advantageous because their confidence in the house-sharing model contributes to the broader objective of student recruitment and retention, social inclusion, and the ability to age in place.
This program matched 90 students in 80 homes. The success of this project stemmed from an efficient matching process and collaboration among stakeholders. For example, to ensure efficient matching, the program includes visits to homes before placing clients in a home and a thorough evaluation of both parties in their matching process.
While the Home Share project was a success, it did not continue due to a lack of funding and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research recently commissioned by End Homelessness in St. John’s and conducted by Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) to look into the potential of implementing a sustainable home-sharing program in the City of St. John’s explored three potential house-sharing program models: 1) community agencies in partnership with social housing providers; 2) community agencies using their own housing stock; 3) community agencies in partnership with the private rental market.
Our research found great potential for successful house-sharing programs in St. John’s when there is a strong partnership between community agencies and social housing providers. Our research highlights the potential benefits and challenges of house-sharing and key considerations for implementing a house-sharing program in St. John’s.
What are the Benefits and Challenges of House-Sharing?
- Financial: It helps address the issue of housing affordability by providing an opportunity for individuals to share costs connected to maintaining housing – e.g., rent and utilities.
- Social inclusion and shared experiences: House-sharing is beneficial for combating feelings of loneliness and social isolation due to the natural social networking within this housing arrangement. It also offers participants the opportunity to learn from one another – i.e., sharing cultural traditions or practices and providing language assistance.
- Decreased wait time for housing: House-sharing programs can help reduce the wait time for accessing housing. By using a house-sharing approach, people experiencing homelessness who, for example, have criminal records and otherwise may have difficulty securing housing in the private market can obtain affordable and accessible housing in a timely manner.
- Conflict: When unrelated individuals of diverse backgrounds come together, interpersonal conflicts are bound to arise. This can be compounded by the fact that some residents may be experiencing mental health issues, substance use, and addictions that contribute to additional conflicts among residents.
- Sense of home: The lack of privacy and ownership over one’s personal space may contribute to the limited feeling of home and belonging for participants in house-sharing programs.
- Funding and staff: As landlords, the staff must enforce tenant responsibilities on residents of this program – e.g., regular payment of rent, respect and maintenance of the property, and ensuring they are not interfering with other tenants’ enjoyment. As support workers, they work to ensure residents keep their housing. While house-sharing is an affordable method to address the increasing cost of housing for people experiencing homelessness, some programs have been shut down due to financial costs.
- Youth house-sharing: Program staff expressed barriers to partnering or integrating this housing model for youth in or exiting the foster care system. Some programs require parental or guardian consent for youth under 18 to participate in the program. This can be challenging when the parent or guardian of the youth may not be easily located, out of the country, and if the agreement needs to be notarized, only some have access to a notary.
House-sharing presents an innovative solution to the housing crisis by providing affordable rental housing to individuals experiencing homelessness and low-income families in a timely manner. While house-sharing can provide participants with a sense of community and other benefits, the program model is not without its challenges.
For any house-sharing model to succeed, collaboration and transparency are imperative.
Note: This blog was developed based on the House-sharing: Exploring the Potential for the City of St. John’s report.