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A Toronto college is pairing international students with seniors to help ease the housing crunch

Hubert Campfens has been hosting international students for over 30 years and says 'it's adding a lot to the quality of our life.' (Saloni Bhugra/CBC)

Hubert Campfens has been hosting international students for over 30 years and says 'it's adding a lot to the quality of our life.'

Photo: (Saloni Bhugra/CBC)


Humber College says over 500 students already signed up on the housing platform

As Canada faces a growing affordable housing shortage, one Toronto-area college is pairing students with seniors in an effort to help find them accommodations as the school year begins.

Humber College has announced a partnership with online home share technology platform, Spaces Shared, to pair students looking for accommodation with seniors who have extra space as an affordable housing option. And according to the college, more than 500 students have already signed up.

Ian Crookshank, dean of students at Humber College, says students can save money through the pairings, easing the financial pressures they face.

Students could receive a discount if they agree to do certain tasks around the home that might help around the house, like mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, or even just spending time and providing companionship, he said. 

Students who sign up for the program can live with hosts and pay through an online platform. Homeowners with vacancies can sign up online, post an ad and connect with students to find a suitable tenant.  

Humber College isn't the only school trying to ease housing pressures through pairing with seniors. In April, Georgian College signed up for a similar program with Spaces Shared and another similar online platform, Homestay, to pair domestic and international students with local residents in Barrie. 

'A blessing,' says senior

As unfamiliar as it may sound, some international students living with Canadian seniors say there couldn't have been a better living arrangement. 

When Awofadeju Olajide Simon, an international student from Nigeria, decided to move to Canada, all of the options were way out of his budget. 

He was told by friends in Canada it would easier to find housing from within the country than writing to landlords in Toronto from Nigeria. 

It wasn't. I was stressing out for days, he said. 

Fortunately, one of his professors linked him up with an elderly couple, Hubert and Monica Campfens, in Toronto's east end. 

The couple has been renting out two rooms and a basement to international students for the past 33 years. They say they like to share the whole house with tenants, and don't want them to be confined to their rooms.

Hubert was a young teenager in Holland during the Second World War. He says his family took in two Jewish people and lied to their neighbours to protect them. He says those years left a deep impact on him that continued to shape his experiences even after moving to Canada in 1953.

I became concerned, particularly about minorities, he said.

In the last three decades, Hubert and Monica have lived with dozens of international students and immigrants. 

It is a blessing. It's adding a lot to the quality of our life, Hubert said, adding the couple did not want to be isolated after retirement.

My wife and I have learned a lot, he said as he continued to share fond memories of former students, including their various jobs, a student finding his partner in the neighbourhood and getting married, to the barbecues in his backyard. 

'I felt at home,' international student recalls

Simon was eager to meet the Campfens after days of exchanging emails about the rental.

The first thing he did was hug me, said Simon referring to Hubert. I felt at home. 

They now cook, listen to music, bike and share stories with each other. 

Hubert Campfens and international student Awofadeju Olajide Simon say they enjoy listening to music together. (Saloni Bhugra/ CBC)

Hubert Campfens and international student Awofadeju Olajide Simon say they enjoy listening to music together.

Photo: (Saloni Bhugra/ CBC)

You want to continue being part of the community and to be able to share whatever knowledge and wisdom I have with a younger generation, Hubert said. 

As more and more students continue to sign up for a similar housing arrangement, Humber College says it is still looking for hosts. Crookshank says the program will create a win-win situation for students and hosts.

Finding affordable housing across the country is a challenge for many, he says. But newer international students often find they cannot rent places that require a credit score or a full time job. 

And then if you add into that the complexity of being new into an environment... it is a complex situation that we're grappling with, Crookshank said.

For his part, Hubert is encouraging more seniors with extra space in their homes to open their doors too.

To have international students share time and space with you is really a great contribution and makes your life so much richer than sitting alone, he said.

Simon, meanwhile, says through his conversations with Hubert, he's learning about the country he wants to call home.

Because what you read on the Internet doesn't do justice to what you hear from someone who's experienced all these things, he said. 

WATCH: Trying to wrap your head around Toronto's housing crisis? Chris Glover breaks down the problems and some potential solutions:

A teetering tower: Potential solutions to Toronto's big housing problem

Toronto's housing plan has holes, and whoever is elected mayor on June 26 will have to think of ways to fill them. CBC Toronto's Chris Glover looks at the scale of the problem, and the innovative solutions that have worked in other cities.

Saloni Bhugra (new window) · CBC News