St. Lawrence College is teaming up with a Toronto based company called SpacesShared in an effort to expand the affordable living options available to students at the Kingston campus.
After rolling out in Kingston, the college has plans to utilize the partnership in Cornwall and Brockville.
SpacesShared aims to pair up college or university students with adults living in the community who may have spare bedrooms, with the share accommodations offering the potential of quite a bit of monthly savings for students compared to the traditional rental market.
Since officially launching operations about 8 months ago, the online platform has built partnerships with Wilfred Laurier University, as well as Georgian, Humber, and Lambton Colleges.
On its website, SpacesShared says it aims to alleviate two main problems that are plaguing Canada: student access to affordable housing and older adults ability to age at home and remain connected to the community.
CEO Rylan Kinnon says in consultations with student leaders, unsurprisingly access to affordable housing was identified as a significant issue and detrimental to student mental health.
But with housing so unaffordable that the struggle extends to middle-income Canadians, Kinnon said looking at the way non-North American cultures live opens the door for different opportunities.
He says pairing up older adults and students is not a new idea, but it has yet to become mainstream.
“I had remembered reading about models predominantly in Europe, but some piloted in Canada that maps students and seniors together, read about the incredibly positive impact that these types of relations have both for the student and for the older adults,” Kinnon said.
“How come these haven’t been scaled, why is this not happening all over the place? We have an aging population and we’re trying to figure out how to help our aging population age in place and we have students desperate for affordable housing.”
To Kinnon and his team, it’s an option that hasn’t been fully explored but should be.
The platform allows hosts with extra space to sign up with an identity verification and criminal record check, and offer up their spare room as well as establish any expectations or non-negotiables they’d have for a home sharing agreement.
Students are then paired up with hosts and when they eventually move in, the platform’s customer success team checks in on a routine basis to ensure the pairing is working out.
With such a short track record and the nature of the accommodations offered it’s difficult to directly compare cost savings a student might see through SpaceShared, but Kinnon said it has been very cost effective for some students who have used the platform.
He said one student in Barrie who agreed to a discount to help around the house is only paying $425 a month, while the average studio apartment in Barrie costs over $1,400 per month.
While Kinnon says the platform has yet to encounter an issue that wasn’t eventually resolved, the nature of the relationship between host and tenant could potentially leave students in a lurch as they wouldn’t be covered under the Residential Tenancies Act.
Kinnon says that there are safeguards through the platform to help protect both host and tenant and resolve any conflicts that may arise, but in a worst case scenario SpacesShared can’t currently ensure a new, suitable accommodation if a student ends up having to leave.
St. Lawrence’s President Glenn Vollebregt said the college feels comfortable with the safeguards SpaceShared provides, and said if the platform isn’t able to resolve a student’s situation the college is there to help.
“Any student that needs help finding accommodation, we have housing coordinators at our campuses and we have residences on our campuses. So, obviously, as being an SLC student, we would look after that student and help them find space,” Vollebregt said.
“In terms of the issues with SpaceShared, that’s where they’ll go first in terms of dealing with their particular situation and if it doesn’t work out, yeah, absolutely. The college is here, it’s our students.”
Vollebregt said for SLC, the early track record of SpacesShared was promising and the school is eager to implement new, innovative ways to offer housing options to students.
He says it also has residual benefit on the community and the hosts themselves.
“We’re looking for new innovative ways, some solutions to help address the housing shortage and help our students build connection to community,” Vollebregt said.
“And this seemed like a really unique opportunity to provide both a community service, help older adults and help our students.”
SLC is hosting an information session on SpacesShared at the Kingston campus on February 1, with the platform looking to add viable hosts and start pairing up students and community members as soon as the upcoming semester.