Elderly homeowners and needy lodgers could be a perfect match

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

The practice of young people becoming lodgers in the homes of elderly people is undergoing a revival, thanks to the rapid aging of the population.

Sachio Yamamoto, 83, accepted Shusuke Kondo, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Fukui, as a boarder in his house in the city of Fukui in January.

The two initially ate separately but now often eat together, with Yamamoto doing the cooking.

“I feel encouraged,” said Yamamoto, who was feeling lonely after his wife passed away. “I feel merry and peaceful now.”

Kondo, who hails from Osaka Prefecture, was living on his own in an apartment. Now he enjoys spending time with Yamamoto. “I feel comfortable,” he said.

Yamamoto is the first homeowner to accept a lodger under a program launched jointly by the University of Fukui and the prefectural government to help both the elderly and students from feeling isolated.

The university and the prefecture worked out the program because a large number of elderly people are living alone in big houses and often need help shoveling snow in the winter.

Homeowners who don’t need nursing care are eligible for the program. The landlords and boarders work out curfews and other terms in advance. The rent is basically limited to no more than ¥20,000 a month.

Unlike in the past, the program is not primarily aimed at generating rental income for landlords but at nurturing “loose mutual support” between the elderly and the young, said Yoshinobu Kikuchi, an associate professor at the university.

Nevertheless, the program offers an economic benefit to elderly homeowners.

Many seniors are worried about existing solely on their pensions and become “mentally stable” when they have additional money coming in, said Kazuyo Sonohara, a representative of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Heartwarming House, which arranges home-shares between people of different generations.

A public-private program has been launched in France to encourage elderly and young people to live together after a large number of seniors living alone died in an unprecedented heat wave in 2003, said Tomoo Matsuda, a senior researcher at the Mitsubishi Research Institute.

The French program also allows youths to reduce their expenses in accordance with the amount of time they spend with their landlords. For example, a student who sits down for supper with the landlord six days a week doesn’t pay rent.

It also improves the mental health of the elderly by giving them a sense they are helping the young, Matsuda said, adding that a similar program here would “cut expenses for elder care and stimulate demand for home renovations in Japan.”

Recruiting seniors, however, may not be all that easy. In one Tokyo district last year, elderly residents were asked to accept young people as boarders, but the project was canceled due to lack of interest.

Hiroyuki Kubota, an associate professor of family sociology at Nihon University, said that since boarders can help the elderly avoid living alone and help them support themselves, Japan should encourage such programs with subsidies and other incentives.