Elderly house-sharing business expects to thrive beyond COVID-19 crisis

By Chris Welsch

For the couple who founded 1Toit2Ages, the COVID-19 crisis drove home the importance of their primary mission: fighting loneliness.

“We are convinced that we are social animals and we need social contact,” said Regis de Kerautem, one of the founders of 1Toit2Ages. “So we are doing everything we can to avoid another situation like the lockdown where people were just closed in and alone.”

Claire de Kerautem, the other founder, and Regis started the not-for-profit company in 2009 with the idea of connecting students seeking affordable housing with ageing adults who would benefit from some companionship and the rental income. The company’s name means “one roof and two generations.”

“We wanted to re-create the intergenerational relationships that are disappearing in our society,” Claire says. “Home-sharing creates benefits for everyone — studies have shown it reduces the risk of falls, leads to better health and well-being, and allows people to stay at home as long as possible.”

Taking action during the crisis

The company had about 500 matches living together when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Right away, about 80% of the students left Brussels and the eight other Belgian cities where their universities had closed classrooms. The team behind 1Toit2Ages quickly took steps to help clients who were in trouble.

“We set up a platform to allow volunteers to call elderly people who were suddenly isolated, and it was a big success, with hundreds of calls made,” Claire says. “And we realised many of the students who remained had lost their jobs, making it hard to afford rent or food.”

The company sought donations and delivered food packages to the students.

Queen Mathilde of Belgium has been a supporter of the programme since 2012. During the lockdown, she contacted Claire and Regis and asked if she could speak to a matched pair to see how they were doing. The call was a success, and the Queen was impressed.

“Many of the pairs who stayed together during the lockdown formed very strong relationships,” Claire says. “They really took care of each other.”

>@EIB
Claire de Kerautem’s house-sharing company connects students seeking affordable housing with ageing adults who benefit from the companionship and extra income. ©EIB

Diversifying the business

The company has two types of plans for people who participate. Students pay €300 a month, plus an annual fee, to rent a room with an elderly person. If they agree to do some household work, it’s €180 a month.

1Toit2Ages is a past finalist of the European Investment Bank Institute’s annual Social Innovation Tournament. The tournament supports entrepreneurs who are making an impact on social, ethical or environmental issues.

Looking forward, Regis and Claire are making plans to diversify and expand the concept of 1Toit2Ages. They have organised intergenerational matches at five buildings in Brussels, where people live independently in apartments, but share activities. In this model, the younger people would not necessarily be students.

Regis says they are focused on fighting isolation, no matter how it can be done.

“I think people really appreciate what we’re doing because they’re not feeling alone anymore,” he says. “And that’s really the soul of what we’re doing.”