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LifeLink: Making Aging More Accessible

Check out LifeLink:
Finals Presentation |

 

What if all it took to create affordable housing, or a more united university community, was intergenerational living? Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, believes it is the solution. Others believe it too, as she won $2,500 in funding from Poverty Solutions “Best Innovation in Economic Mobility” Award in this years’ Innovation in Action Final Showcase. Over an afternoon Zoom call, I met with Aunrika to learn more about LifeLink’s origins, its power, and where she sees her ideations heading. 

Story by Taylor Schott

As a sociologist, Aunrika saw an opportunity to put her studies to practice by devising a system that works to break the barriers of college costs while also combatting senior poverty. LifeLink — Aunrika’s elegant concept — matches out-of-state students with in-state senior residents to help fight an expensive and competitive housing market commonly found in university areas. 

 

A SYMBIOTIC SOLUTION

Intergenerational living is, at its most elemental, a family — and areas like metro-Detroit need more of them. Says Aunrika,

“What does it look like for universities to be engaged with their communities, beyond their students?”

Aunrika sees LifeLink and other models like it as an opportunity to do just that — to integrate all who reside in the university area, and in a way that expands the accessibility of housing, for both students and seniors. 

This housing solution follows a precedent set by communities across the country, which have executed these plans with promising futures: universities in New York City and Berkley partnered with local programs in to help quell a student housing crisis, and to simultaneously aid seniors facing loneliness or economic hardship. Aunrika has identified southeast Michigan as an area which could benefit greatly from such a program — with the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor serving as host for educational resources, job opportunities, and housing. 

 

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT   

It is clear that UM has already put programs in place which would serve LifeLink’s model well — says Aunrika of this match, “The emotional components of intergenerational living are similar to what we find at the University of Michigan’s living and learning communities.” Each year, hundreds of underclassmen apply for these specialized communities — Sustainable Living Experience, Living Arts Engine, and Multicultural Housing Opportunity, to name a few. Aunrika sees these spaces as an opportunity to facilitate an even better relationship between UM students and the Ann Arbor community — by allowing applicants to live and learn with a real, intergenerational element — providing new options for housing while also helping local seniors to live in a more equitable, emotionally-supportive fashion. 

Aunrika advocates that university communities, “Tap into senior housing and home ownership as a way to alleviate a lot of student debt that’s accrued through paying for housing, as well as shaking up the housing market itself through providing new options for students.” Speaking on the divisions within the identities of the area’s residents, Aunrika views her solution as one that can, “Remove this idea that there’s a townie, that there’s a student, or a “real” Ann Arbor person or a “real” Detroiter. This notion of the student and the professor as transient, not really giving anything to the community —  those kinds of social connectedness and social activity that makes those kinds of others disappear is what I try trying to do with something like this.”

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Looking ahead, Aunrika’s next challenge is that of scale — how can LifeLink’s structure expand to service the greater Midwest? She needs to find a team and the talent to put this plan into motion. Over the coming summer months, Aunrika plans to continue collecting data from seniors and homeowners as she tries to pin down exactly what services LifeLink program should include, and how to execute them. 

Her advice to those who plan to participate in Innovation in Action? “Do it at any point in your Michigan career. It’s amazing. Do it multiple times. I really advise that. I learned a lot from my fellow presenters and fellow competitors — be open to it as a learning opportunity.” By applying her skillset as a sociologist, and looking at university communities with a fresh eye, Aunrika has opened up possibilities that could change the way we live at college, and in college towns. 

 

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