Pilot project finds 30 matches in two years
For Diana Gustafson, getting involved in a pilot project to match university students in need of a place to live with older homeowners who have rooms to spare was twofold.
© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Memorial University social work assistant professor Gail Wideman (left) and Andrew Harvey, Home Share NL’s co-ordinator, give a briefing on the project.
“It really resonates with me in terms of my commitment to social justice and community-based activities,” she said, “and it came at a time in my life where I was living in a home where I couldn’t do my own shovelling. It was a big house and I thought it would be great to share it with someone.”
Gustafson has opened her home to three students since Home Share NL was launched in 2012, and she’s among those who hopes the program finds a way to reach more people.
On Wednesday, Memorial University social work assistant professor Gail Wideman gave a presentation based on a report she co-authored that evaluates the Home Share NL pilot project.
Her assessment was largely positive, noting it created 30 matches in just under two years.
A feasibility study completed prior to the program’s launch noted such programs typically do not manage to find matches in the first six to 18 months of existence.
“We have some really deep information about what’s good and what needs improvement around the Home Share program, but I think the 30 matches says it all,” said Wideman. “I think they’ve done a wonderful job.”
During her presentation, Wideman touched upon many of the thoughts that came from interviews with program participants. Multiple home sharers spoke of wanting company and support around the house. One person said having a student in the house gave them peace of mind in the event of an emergency.
Students highlighted the economic benefit of the living arrangement, which was inexpensive compared to other rental options. Some considered it a home-away-from-home that was family-oriented and desirable for students more interested in sleep than partying at all hours.
Among the disadvantages, some homeowners said the provision to include food was costly. Others encountered personality clashes. There were also cases where students found there was not enough food available. One student said she ended up sharing more personal information with her housemate than she would’ve liked.
The report identified cases where the program may help older homeowners making them feel more safe and providing a housemate who can assist with tasks such as shovelling snow.
Gustafson’s experience with the temporary lodgers has been a success. She said the level of oversight Home Share NL provides is particularly beneficial.
“It’s minimal, but it’s there when you need it, and they do the work of matching. I don’t think, independently, I could’ve chosen three people that were a better fit for me.”
Patrick King, Memorial University’s off-campus housing co-ordinator in St. John’s, said his office works hard to help raise awareness about Home Share NL, referring both students and landlords to it. Even with the presence of a new residence offering hundreds of beds for students, the need for Home Share’s service will remain, King said.
“Right now we have about 2,000 students that we can put on campus, and there’s 18,000 students at Memorial, including our part-timers,” he said. “The more housing the better, at this point.”
Calgary Home Share co-ordinator Cheryl Snider also spoke Wednesday. She noted it took her program nine months to get its first match, a task Home Share NL accomplished weeks after its launch.
“Thirty matches to date is an outstanding accomplishment and an indicator that Home Share is meeting a need in the St. John’s area,” she said.
According to Andrew Harvey, Home Share NL’s co-ordinator, an expansion into Corner Brook to serve MUN’s Grenfell Campus is being considered, as is a further expansion in the St. John’s area.
“Our primary focus is we have a successful program here — let’s keep that going. If we’re going to expand, make sure we do it sensibly and in a way that will be sustainable.”