Intergenerational Housing

A brief discussion with JLA Architects’ Joe Gallagher on addressing the shortage of skilled-care workers


This coming spring, Joe will be a featured speaker at the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association’s (WALA) Spring Conference (March 14–16, 2018). We sat down with him to discuss his topic of Intergenerational Housing.


JLA: First off, can you give us a simple definition of what “Intergenerational Housing” means?

Joe:  I think of Intergenerational Housing as a housing or community typology that is designed to provide a lifestyle complete with recreational, educational and social activities and opportunities amongst individuals in different generations or age groups.


JLA: What introduced you to the topic of Intergenerational Housing and what interested you about it?

Joe:  I’ve always been interested in the thought of what happens to us (selfishly, what will happen to me) as we get older. In many countries, the children and grandchildren take care of the elders at home; but very rarely do we see that here. Elders are introduced to senior communities as soon as they hit 55+ and we now see a large portion of seniors opting to move into these communities.


JLA: Why does the U.S. need Intergenerational Housing?

Joe:  Over the past few decades, we have watched the baby boomers go from making up the bulk of our workforce to now retiring and entering their senior stages of life.  Currently, there is already a shortage of skilled care providers and that trend is only going to continue to worsen. What’s worrisome is that census statistics show that there is a gap between the baby boomers and millennials (the Generation X period did not provide as many people) and therefore there will soon be a greater need in an already squeezed-thin workforce to support the baby boomers. But if we look at the population that falls under the “millennial” or “Gen-Z/ iGen” category, the number is exceedingly higher, which creates an ‘out-of-the-box’ opportunity for the provision of less-skilled assistance.

Intergenerational housing can help alleviate non-skilled tasks within senior communities, as well as introduce students to a prospective career field they hadn’t considered.

This would require many different groups to work together. Those groups include the communities themselves, local universities, local governments and future developers. Whether it be encouraging future developments through tax alleviation or compensating students with free rent in exchange for providing services for the community; the ideas are endless.


JLA: You’ve mentioned that some Intergenerational Housing communities already exist.  Can you give us an example of one and how it works?

Joe:  Well, I plan on going over a few case studies at my presentation at the conference, but I can briefly chat about one of them.
One of my favorite case studies is Humanitas, a social service organization, located in the Netherlands.  The story is rather interesting; a student at a local university reached out to the community about a potential exchange program. His reason for reaching out was because of the noise and living conditions in his dorm. He offered to assist in any way he could within the community in exchange for being able to live there.

The initial program was established to help ‘ward off the negative effects of aging’.  In exchange for rent-free living at the facility, students would provide at least 30 hours per month of what they called ‘good-neighbor service.’

These socialization opportunities were as simple as watching television together, celebrating events, eating meals together, and providing companionship when residents were ill. Eventually, the program grew to having 6–8 students living alongside the 160 senior residents each year.
The whole concept was eye-opening to me and really was the starting point to my research and drive to learn more about how this living arrangement could be greatly beneficial here in the United States.


JLA: What type of outcomes and benefits are they seeing from Intergenerational Housing?

Joe:  The outcomes have been mutually beneficial to all parties involved: the seniors, the students, and the facilities themselves. For seniors, there have been numerous studies done proving that socialization alleviates social isolation and loneliness.

By introducing youth to a senior community, it has now been shown that their overall social engagement levels increase, thus bettering day-to-day life for the residents.

These positive benefits are also seen with the student participants. Many keep wanting to come back for ‘just one more semester.’ Then after graduation they take on jobs within the communities. They develop a long-lasting bond with the residents living there. I am not saying all of them do, but some of them do.
By going one step further and opening up clinical rotations and residency opportunities in these senior living settings, we can hope to bring increased awareness and interest in the geriatrics field. We can even attract non-nursing students to senior care by providing them with something they need or want (such as free rent).


JLA: How can we bring Intergenerational Housing to Wisconsin?

Joe:  Well we can bring it to Wisconsin either through new community developments or (what I think would be the best plan of action right now) we should encourage existing, understaffed facilities to consider establishing new programs or to facilitate group efforts with local universities. Jewish Family Services/Housing of Milwaukee (JFS) has been working to share social services between their family-based and senior housing communities giving opportunities for social interactions between the two communities. I actually have a whole list of ideas for future engagements that will require collaboration between local communities, universities, spatial planners/designers and local government.
If anyone has questions or comments regarding the topic itself, any interest in attending or participating in some future round-table discussions, or would like some advice (design or organizational) within their own community; please don’t hesitate to reach out to me ( I am hoping to put together an email list to start providing monthly updates on any new research I may find, upcoming conversations/discussions, etc.


Thank you to Joe for his insights! You can see Joe’s entire presentation on March 16, 2018 at the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association’s Spring Conference at Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells.


UPDATE: WALA 2018 Spring Conference


About Joe Gallagher

Originally from just outside of Philadelphia, PA, Joe graduated from Temple University (Philadelphia) with a master’s degree in architecture. He and his wife relocated to the Madison area in August of 2016, and in June of 2017 he joined JLA Architects as a project assistant. He is currently two exams away from licensure. Senior Living design is something that he has always been passionate about. His goal is to enhance collaboration between designers and medical professionals within the field of aging and memory loss during this extremely imperative time, as senior numbers continue to grow. Joe comments, “Thinking outside of the box is extremely important right now, as senior numbers continue to increase, and work force numbers remain static and/or decrease.”

Email Joe: