'Like we're roommates': How a 79-year-old found company and a little extra help by letting a student move in

In the years since it launched as a pilot project in Toronto in 2018, Canada HomeShare has expanded to Vancouver, Peel Region and Kingston, with more Ontario locations in the works.

Program pairing older adults with students who need affordable rent expands after Toronto pilot project

Dorothy Rusoff was looking for company and some help around the house. She found both in Maggie Meier, a student who moved into her house this fall. (CBC)

Dorothy Rusoff, 79, has been relying on video calls to stay in touch with her friends during the pandemic — but sometimes still finds herself stumped by her laptop. 

Luckily, her new roommate, 23-year-old Maggie Meier, is now there to help her. 

"She's a genius!" said Rusoff with a laugh. 

"I think it's going well. I think we've resolved the grievances with technology so far," added Meier, a student at Ryerson University. 

The two found each other thanks to a program called Canada Homeshare, which pairs older adults who have extra space in their homes with students in need of affordable rent. 

In the years since it launched as a pilot project in Toronto in 2018, the program has expanded to Vancouver, Peel Region and Kingston, with more Ontario locations, such as Barrie, Oshawa, and Peterborough, in the works. 

"The response is overwhelming," said Dr. Raza Mirza, the network manager for the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, which created the program. "It highlights for us that there really is an unmet need in our community."

WATCH | How intergenerational housing can help solve Toronto's housing crisis and let seniors age in place:

How intergenerational housing can help solve Toronto's housing crisis — and allow seniors to age in place

6 months ago
Duration 2:07
A housing program is looking to tackle isolation and affordability in one fell swoop. Canada HomeShare brings students and seniors together to live as roommates, helping older adults age in place and giving young people access to affordable rent. CBC Toronto met with a pair involved in the initiative.

Seniors 'desperately' want to stay in their own space

Mirza says the idea is about more than giving students a financial break or providing a new source of income for seniors. 

"We are moving towards really addressing isolation and loneliness through this program," he said.

Rochelle McAlister manages mental health and addictions programs for seniors at WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto. 

McAlister, who is not affiliated with Canada HomeShare, said that in her experience seniors "desperately" want to stay in their own space, but sometimes lack the support to do so. 

"We know that seniors constantly face isolation challenges and particularly in the pandemic, it's become quite disastrous," said McAlister.

"We have a huge goal of keeping people living independently in their homes for as long as possible," she said, explaining that Canada HomeShare and other programs like it can help. 

'Looking for someone else to be in the house'

That was the situation Rusoff found herself in. 

"I was really looking for someone else to be in the house. My husband passed away a number of years ago," she said. "And people said, 'You should move.' But I thought, 'Where am I going to move to? Because I love my house.'" 

After reading about the program in the newspaper, Rusoff felt it was the right fit for her — and was eventually paired with Meier, who happened to be looking for a place to live. 

"My mom was helping [with] my search. She found this program and was so excited, she said 'Maggie, this is right up your alley!'" said Meier. 

'Everyone’s always very jealous' when they learn about her living situation, Meier said with a chuckle. (CBC)

As part of their agreement, Meier has also committed to pitching in around the house for seven hours every week. That's where troubleshooting on the laptop comes in. 

"The one that is the most important to me is the computer. The computer and garbage!" Rusoff said. 

For her part, Meier says she came into the arrangement "really excited" for the companionship of living with a roommate, and hasn't been disappointed. 

"I wasn't really sure how I was going to be of help to Dorothy… I could tell she was incredibly independent," Meier said.

"I feel like in our case it feels like we're roommates, and not like I'm supporting someone." 

With files from Laura Pedersen