Young people offered cheap accommodation in seniors home in Helsinki, Finland
Project aims to make renting affordable for youth and offer social benefits to seniors
When Emil Bostrom’s father left Helsinki to work abroad, the 23-year-old kindergarten teacher was left in the tricky position of having to find somewhere new to live in the notoriously pricey Finnish capital.
He initially persuaded relatives and friends to put him up in the short term. But that made “normal living” difficult.
“It’s a very expensive city to live in,” Bostrom explains via email. “If you manage to get an apartment that the city owns, it can be quite affordable. But the amount of applicants for those apartments is so high that the waiting list takes forever,” he adds.
Nineteen-year-old trainee chef Jonatan Shaya found himself in a similar bind when his mother and brother decided to move out of Helsinki. Finding a place for himself was “hard when there (are) so many people who look for the same thing,” he laments.
It was the same story for 18-year-old Veera Dahlgren, who describes being stymied in her attempts to move out of her cramped family apartment.
Yet Bostrom, Shaya and Dahlgren have been provided with an opportunity they hope will mean the end of all their housing problems.
The trio are the first participants of “Oman Muotoinen Koti” (The House that Fits) scheme.
The pilot project run by the City of Helsinki began this week and sees people under the age of 25 provided with cheap accommodation inside the city’s Rudolf Seniors Home for one year.
The only proviso is that they give a minimum of between three and five hours of their time to their elderly neighbors each week.
According to Miki Mielonen, a representative of Helsinki City’s youth department, the idea is to prevent homelessness and help young people find their feet with reasonably priced accommodation. It also aims to bring “social benefits” to the seniors in the home.
“In Finland (there) is a strong tradition for young people to move out from their parents’ place early, pretty much around at age 18. Now the trend is that young people get their independence later and later,” because of the accompanying costs, Mielonen explains.
Avalanche of applications
Oman Muotoinen Koti takes its inspiration from a similar project in the town of Deventer, in the Netherlands.
The Dutch scheme offers free accommodation to university students and seeks to encourage social interaction with the elderly to help ward off the effects of old age.
Although placing more of an emphasis on the low-cost housing aspect, the Helsinki government was keen to adapt the idea for its own purposes.
Helsinki has experienced rapid population growth in recent years, according to local government data. The Global Property Guide website, meanwhile, ranks Helsinki as the 16th most expensive city in the world in which to rent a property. It even ranks above Geneva, Rome and New York.
So popular was the Oman Muotoinen Koti proposal that when an advert for applications was posted on Facebook late last year, more than 300 people applied.
According to Bostrom, it’s not difficult to figure out why the program was so highly subscribed. The 23 square meter (247 sq ft) studio apartments feature a bathroom, storage space, kitchen and balcony.
“I didn’t really see any difference between this apartment and other studio apartments I’ve seen, except maybe for the balcony which is a nice plus,” Bostrom says. “The main difference is the price.”
Rent at the seniors home comes in at €250 ($272) per month. That’s roughly a third of the price of the average rent for a studio apartment in the city, according to local government figures (in Finnish).
An opportunity over a chore
All the participants say they are keen to offer up their time with the seniors and see this requirement as a positive of the program rather than a chore.
“They (the seniors) have so many years in their life and they have so much experience,” Dahlgren says. “I respect that if I can hear and if they want to tell me some stories.”
Mielonen adds that most people who were interviewed wanted to do more than the advertized three to five hours with their elders.
The mix of skills held by those who were carefully selected after a rigorous screening process mean they will be able to participate in a variety of activities like playing music or cooking classes, he adds.
Its also a new experience for the seniors in the home and one that most seem keen to be part of.
“One lady said she hopes that they bring some modern ideas and that some new life to this place because these old people don’t go out too much any more,” Mielonen says.
But he adds it’s likely there will be at least a few elderly renegades unhappy to share their space with the younger generation.
“There are more than 100 old people so I can imagine there are at least some who don’t want to be disturbed,” Mielonen continued.
“It was quite funny, when we were interviewing young people we had one old person (who lives in the home) who said that ‘you have to remember that all of the old people are not nice.’”
Hopes remain high, however, that intergenerational relations will be largely positive.
“I think there is quite a strong stereotype in Finland with many people thinking young people don’t like old people and vice-versa,” Mileonen says. “But I think that is one of the stereotypes that we are going to crush.
“Already, I know that there are so many young people who really want to be with old people. As for the old people, they have lots of experience and lots to give but their social lives are not too active any more.
“Different generations will understand each other more.”