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Crashing at Grandma’s? Some New York University Students to Bunk with Elderly

NEW YORK — Ah, college. Halls of ivy. Stimulating class discussions. All-night cram sessions. Sleeping in an old woman’s apartment?

New York University is introducing a program next fall to help students save money by putting them up in elderly people’s spare bedrooms.

It may get snickers from some students who see college as their first chance to get away from mature adults, but it is bound to get consideration from others straining under the institution’s $66,000 annual bill for tuition, room and board.

The program, to be operated in conjunction with the University Settlement social service organization, will start with 10 to 15 students bunking in senior citizens’ spare bedrooms.

Neither the students nor their elder hosts have been selected yet, but the basics of the program are in place: Participating students will pay $5,000 a year, thousands of dollars less than the cheapest on-campus housing option.

Almost all of the money will go to their senior hosts, said Ellen Schall, a professor of health policy and management who chairs NYU’s affordability steering committee. The initiative will be expanded if it’s popular.

“This is a win-win for both the seniors and the young adults,” said University Settlement CEO Eric Weingartner.

Living in an older person’s spare room wouldn’t be for everyone.

NYU history major Brendan Gutenschwager, 19, said the option doesn’t appeal to him, but might attract serious-minded older students. He envisioned that might be students who think, “You know what? I just want to get through my classes and have a good place to study where I’m not surrounded by a bunch of loud college students.”

Christine Park, 19, who is studying music business at NYU, said she’d consider applying.

“If it meant that there were other NYU students in that building, and it’s cheaper, why not?” she said.

Under the plan, the first group of students will all be placed in one building where many elderly tenants have spare rooms. University Settlement is looking for a building near NYU’s Greenwich Village location with a high concentration of low-income seniors with extra space.

The students will not be caregivers for their hosts, but may pitch in on small chores like changing a lightbulb or carrying laundry from one room to another.

“We’re trying to identify buildings where the financial contribution from students will be meaningful to the seniors,” Weingartner said. “The part that’s more nuanced is the impact of having companionship for both the senior and the students.”

The NYU initiative does not exactly replicate anything else in the United States, though there are other programs that house young people with seniors.

At Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly’s two intergenerational sites in Chicago, college-age resident assistants serve as helpers for their older neighbors.

Unlike the NYU students, who will not be expected to work, the young people in the Chicago residences spend about 20 hours a week on chores including cooking and cleaning, program director Janet Takehara said.

She said the two age groups get along well.

“They plan activities, they decorate for the holidays together, they go on outings together,” Takehara said. “It’s very much an intergenerational friendship.”

Jim McGough, who is 72 and moved into one of the Chicago residences in August, said he invited the resident assistants to watch the Cubs’ triumphant postseason run in his room.

He relished the chance to explain baseball to one of the assistants who is from Germany.

“I enjoy teaching him about America and he enjoys teaching me about Europe,” McGough said. “It is a lively place, and I attribute that to the young people and the old people interacting.”

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