What is companion housing?

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What is companion housing?

The word Companion is likely not new to you. A companion is simply a person with who you spend a lot of time. A companion should be complementary to yourself, such that you feel safe and happy when together. A companion does not imply a romantic relationship. You have likely had several people or pets in your life that you could consider a companion.

So, what is Companion housing?

Companion housing is best defined as a lifestyle choice where you choose to share a home with one or more companions. This living arrangement may be for a few months or several years. These companions are carefully selected so that you can relate and enjoy each other’s company. The feeling you get is that you are better off having your companion(s) around you than living in a home all by yourself. This is similar to a healthy family structure where each person respects and helps each other for mutual benefit. This concept may sound similar to a traditional roommate. However, companion housing puts a greater emphasis on the connection between people and is carefully structured to create a harmonious, supportive, and connected household.

The relationship between housing companions is different than that of a landlord and tenant. Each person within a companion home has equal say to establish house rules and etiquette. In some situations, one housing companion will have to wear two hats. The landlord hat to establish rental regulations, and the housing companion hat to establish a fair and enjoyable home environment.

By definition, housing companions are people who are not related that live in a home together. Each person retains their own private space, however they share a common kitchen and common areas. Each person lives independently, however they choose to live together and support each other in a mutually beneficial manner. Arrangements could involve combinations of singles, couples, families, or any combination.

Language Clarification

In this book the language Host and Guest are used to explain the structure of a companion housing arrangement. The Host is the person who provides the home (homeowner or primary/master tenant), Guests are non-related persons who pay rent and share the home with the Host.

Why companion housing?

Social isolation, housing costs, and senior populations are at record levels. As a society, we need to look at alternative ways to live more sustainably and adapt to the current times. Companion housing is an old philosophy that can help us address many modern social, economic and health problems.

The family structure used to be the centerpiece of our homes. However, many of us now have families spread across the country or are too busy to spend time together. Companion housing allows us to create family-like dynamics in our homes with others we are not related to. For those without family nearby, this provides a small network of people you can trust and seek help from when needed. These unique living arrangements have been shown to reduce social isolation, increase community inclusion, and allow seniors to age more easily in place. This creates a foundation upon which we can live more sustainably while feeling more connected to our communities.

Companion housing has the potential to change the outlook of our housing situation significantly. Across the nation, millions of bedrooms are sitting empty in our homes. By unlocking this under-used space, we can create many affordable housing opportunities without any construction. This brings tremendous financial benefit as little to no cost is involved in turning houses into companion homes. We can all benefit from the enormous social benefits as well; isn’t it nice to be around happy people? Companion housing is not a solution for all of our housing challenges. Still, it is an essential piece of our overall solution to create more sustainable and responsible ways of living.

Who can be a housing companion?

Housing companions can be anyone you enjoy spending time with and are compatible enough to share a home. A housing companion can be someone who appears very similar to you or could be someone of different ages, races, ethnicities, gender, or cultural backgrounds.  Now, housing companions cannot be just anyone. After all, who wants to share a home with a stranger that you have nothing in common? A companion should be carefully selected depending on the qualities, values, personality, and characteristics that best match you and your lifestyle.

Common examples of companion housing arrangements include a senior and university student sharing a home, families sharing their home with a senior, or groups of 3-5 mature women or men who share a home.

Life in a companion home

Life in a companion home is about creating a fun and inviting environment where everyone is respected and supported. Each person in the home follows a general set of rules and guidelines to ensure appropriate behaviours and etiquette are followed.  Companion homes should always feel like a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment. You should feel that overall, you are happier and healthier living in a companion home than living alone.

Typical household traits:

  • Meals are often shared as a way to connect; this can range from daily to once a week
  • Each person lives independently and has their own activities and social circles
  • Each person retains their ability to have personal quiet time when they need it
  • Companions often travel together, shop together, and carpool
  • Companions help each other to complete household chores and cleaning
  • Companions provide moral support and help each other if one becomes sick or injured

In some arrangements, a housing companion may provide extra care for a fellow companion. This may include grocery shopping, shoveling snow, or cooking to help an elder, sick, or injured companion. Task exchange may be mutual; for example, help with cleaning may be exchanged for help with cooking. Or task exchange may be credited towards one’s monthly rent based on the time or effort involved. Task exchanges are common among intergenerational companion homes where younger companions will provide extra help for their older housing companions. More on this in module 5.

Living your best life

We all want to live the best version of our lives. Companion housing is a tool available to help if you choose; how it can help you depends on your phase of life and personal needs. In this book, we will dive into why you might want to live with a housing companion, how to choose a housing companion, how to structure and share a home, and much more!

Next, we will take a step back in time to learn a bit about Canadian population and housing history to see how we got to where we are today.

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