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Why Helsinki's young adults are moving in with seniors

A recent housing project in Helsinki offers remarkably cheap apartments for those under the age of 25. The only provision? They must spend time with their older neighbors. 

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    Fans wait for the team to arrive for the gold medal celebration in Helsinki, Finland, January 6, 2016.
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In Helsinki, intergenerational mingling is now incentivized by cheap rent.

Last year, the city introduced a cheap housing opportunity for young adults under the age of 25. The program offers 247-square-foot studio apartments with a bathroom, storage space, kitchen, and balcony for only $272 every month – about a third of the average price for a studio in the city of 600,000.

There are only two caveats: The apartment is inside homes for the elderly, and the young tenant must spend between three to five hours with their geriatric neighbors each week. But for many applicants, spending time with seniors is a positive element of the experience.

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"They have so many years in their life and they have so much experience," 18-year-old Veera Dahlgren, one of the first three participants of the new program, tells CNN.

"I respect that if I can hear and if they want to tell me some stories."

Ms. Dahlgren’s family is from Helsinki, but needed to move out of their congested home when she came of age. Emil Bostrom, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher, and Jonatan Shaya, a 19-year-old chef-in-training, are fellow tenants in the Oman Muotoinen Koti, or the House That Fits, project.

Like pretty much all other major cities in the world, Finland’s capital of Helsinki has faced rapid population growth in recent years. And with population growth – a significant portion of which can be attributed to young adults – comes an inevitable rise in the cost of living, and of course, rent inflation.

While the city offers some subsidies for housing, rent-regulated apartments are hard to come by. Currently, Helsinki is ranked 14th on the list of the world’s most expensive cities. For those young and freshly independent, this poses dire problems – even homelessness.

"It's a very expensive city to live in," Mr. Bostrom writes in an email to CNN’s Eoghan Macguire.

While many Americans also struggle to pay rent in metropolitan areas, public housing opportunities are largely for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Youth isn’t a common demographic that qualifies for assistance.

Prior to moving to the seniors home, Bostrom had been living with his father in Helsinki. When his father transferred abroad for work, he stayed with relatives for a while. But it wasn’t an ideal situation.

"If you manage to get an apartment that the city owns, it can be quite affordable. But the amount of applicants for those apartments is so high that the waiting list takes forever," he says.

According to the Oman Muotoinen Koti website, Helsinki’s Youth Housing Association aims to ensure that every young person will have a home by 2018. Miki Mielonen, a representative of the youth department, says this project, currently in its trial stages, crucially helps out young people while offering social benefits to senior citizens.

Shortly after the applications became available in late 2015, the department received hundreds of applicants. The screening criteria included the ability to participate in a variety of activities, such as cooking or playing instruments.

"I think there is quite a strong stereotype in Finland with many people thinking young people don't like old people and vice-versa," Mileonen says. "But I think that is one of the stereotypes that we are going to crush.”

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