M. McCracken, G. Watson
Mounting evidence shows that women with low incomes have acute housing
needs, are at greater risk of living in unsafe and unhealthy environments,
and require specific supports to achieve stable and affordable housing1.
This stems from the high incidence of poverty among women; one in five
Canadian women live in poverty2. Women who are Aboriginal,
visible minorities, immigrants or refugees, disabled, senior or youth
have higher levels of poverty3, and therefore have more difficulties
finding and affording suitable housing.
The housing crisis in Canada has been linked to the federal government's
withdrawal from housing in the 1990s4. The proportion of
female-headed renter households paying 30% or more of their household
income on housing increased from 38% to 47% between 1980 and 1995, and
female-headed households comprise 45% of Canadian households with core
housing need5. As a result of the withdrawal of federal funding,
there has been no expansion of social housing in Manitoba and a decrease
in the total number of low-income rental units6. Additionally,
the wait list for Manitoba Housing buildings has increased 93% from
2000 to 2003; currently there are 3,033 people waiting for subsidized
rental housing in Winnipeg7.
As a response to the housing shortage, the federal government became
involved in housing again in 2003. The federal and provincial governments
developed the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI). They have earmarked
$50 million dollars for housing programs in Manitoba; the City of Winnipeg
has put forward $17.5 million dollars8.
There is no acknowledgement of women's specific, gendered housing needs
in the AHI. Additionally, since low-income women are more likely to
be renters, the AHI is not an adequate response to women's needs. This
is because only one of the four AHI programs is geared toward renters,
the rest are designed for home owners. The research reported here demonstrates
how a gender-based analysis of housing programs, such as the AHI, could
address issues of substantive equality, or equity of results for women.
Housing policies and programs that use a "gender and diversity lens"
take into account the ways in which new housing developments are responsive
to women's needs, and in the case of AHI, reveal the need for housing
for low-income renters, since women are more likely to rent. Other gender-specific
considerations address such issues as safety from violence, and access
to child care. A Gender-based Analysis Checklist for housing program
planners and policy makers is included in Appendix D.
Since housing costs represent a substantial proportion of women's personal
spending, and good housing policies are key to reducing poverty among
women, this study seeks to inform governments, policy-makers and community
leaders which housing models and practices better meet women's needs,
and which do not. The report documents the effects of different housing
policies on Winnipeg women's health and well being, economic security,
and skills. We conducted three focus groups with 29 women living in
private market housing, public housing, and cooperative housing. We
spoke with women who are living independently, at or below the poverty
line. The needs of women who require supportive housing, which combines
social or health support services with housing, are not addressed here.
The women in the study agreed that safety was their number one concern
when looking for housing. This is not surprising given that many women
have experienced domestic violence in their homes, and studies show
that women are more likely to stay in unsafe situations because of
their inability to find other housing9. The women we spoke
to told us they had experienced sexual harassment from landlords in
the private market. Safety features such as lighting sensors and cameras
in stairwells and elevators made women feel safer. Women on social
assistance do not receive funding to pay for telephone service unless
they have experienced domestic violence previously, and several of
the women could not afford to pay for a phone. This is a concern since
telephones are important in emergency situations and to reduce isolation.
- Price of rent:
The price of rent has a tremendous effect on women's ability to afford
other necessities such as food and medications. Clothing and food
budgets are used to subsidize the rent. Women living on low incomes
are vulnerable to homelessness and living in sub-standard private
market housing units because they cannot afford proper housing. They
have to deal with health risks such as mould and rodent infestations,
and risk eviction and homelessness if an apartment is condemned by
the Health and Safety Department.
- Women not aware of their rights:
Women were not aware that social assistance will provide the exact
cost of utilities if the women present the utility bills to social
assistance. They thought they were only eligible for the amount estimated
for their utilities. Women renting privately had difficulties getting
basic repairs done in their units.
- Stable and Secure Homes:
Forty-four percent of the women living in rental and public housing
had moved in the past two years, none of the women living in cooperative
housing had moved in the past two years. The constant struggle to
find adequate, affordable housing is disruptive for women and their
children, if they are parenting. Studies have found that thirty percent
of children in poverty have changed schools three times before age
11, in contrast with ten percent of better-off children10.
This has an enormous effect on these children's education and social
Women told us they require access to services such as community clinics
and women's groups close to their homes. Having stable housing enhances
women's safety, they told us, because knowing neighbours is key to
building social supports, preventing crime, and building community.
- Women and Participatory Decision-making:
The women we spoke to had many ideas about how to make their housing
situations better. The women living in private market and public housing
were not aware of avenues for participating in the governance of their
rental buildings, such as Tenant Associations.
- Women and Cooperative Housing:
The women living in cooperative housing told us they felt safe in
their buildings, because of security measures and the fact that they
knew many of their neighbours. The women who received a subsidy in
the cooperative housing building told us this had significantly helped
them to become self-sufficient. The price of rent set at 25% of their
income meant that they were able to afford adequate food and medications.
Seventy percent of the women we spoke to identified as having a disability.
This high percentage of women with disabilities points to the success
at co-ops for creating accessible environments. The women said they
liked the fact that they could participate in decisions of the co-op
if they wanted to. Having a vote meant to them that their ideas could
legitimately be considered. Women who were involved in their cooperatives
gained organizational, communications and leadership skills.
Therefore, new research is needed to further investigate how housing policies
can empower and support women in all of their diversity to achieve financial
security, improve their health, and build their skills.
- Create affordable housing options for women with low incomes:
To enable women to have a choice of living situations, women need
to have access to affordable private market housing, public housing,
and cooperative housing. New housing must be developed and administered
with meaningful input from women themselves, and be properly supported
and resourced. Since women comprise a larger percentage of renters,
new housing needs to be built to meet the needs of women renters with
low incomes and eliminate the waiting lists for cooperative and public
- Implement gender-based analysis in all housing policies
Given Section 15 and 28 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms11, Canada's
commitments under the Beijing Platform for Action12, and the Federal
Plan for Gender Equality, all levels of governments should adhere
to Canada's Federal Plan for Gender Equality13, and implement gender-based
analysis in all new housing developments in Manitoba. Gender-based
analysis policy is a systematic approach for using a "gender and diversity
lens" in the development of effective and efficient public policies
and programs. Policy makers and program planners at all levels of
government should participate in gender-based analysis training.
The Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg should develop and
implement gender-based analysis policies throughout all departments.
The absence of formal provincial and municipal gender-based analysis
policies means that systematic efforts toward substantive gender equality
are not being made in Manitoba and Winnipeg.
Please see Appendix D in the Full Report for an example of a Gender
and Diversity Analysis Guide for housing program planners and policy
- Incorporate participatory decision-making in all aspects
of housing policy and programs:
Participatory decision-making processes involving women with low incomes
from diverse backgrounds should be incorporated at every level of
housing policy and programming, from the setting priorities for new
housing developments, to the every day governance of housing complexes.
Participatory decision-making bodies should be adequately resourced,
including access to training and supports such as child and dependent
- Support women with low incomes to achieve financial independence
and housing security:
Social Assistance and Disability Assistance Policies must be re-structured
to meet the basic housing needs of recipients. The January 2004 increase
in social assistance and disability assistance rates of $20 per month
for couples with no children, single people and those receiving disability
assistance, does not make up for twelve years without rate increases.
Social and disability assistance recipients living in private rental
housing should receive rent allocations equal to the cost of market
rents, and should receive enough funding to cover the cost of a telephone,
and non-prescription medical items. The annual reporting requirements
for persons with disabilities is unnecessary and should be eliminated.
Additionally, supports are needed to help women stay in their neighbourhoods
and find housing that meets their needs, and to assist women's rights
as tenants are upheld. Community-based organizations need to be adequately
funded to assist women to find good quality low-income housing.
- More research needed
The women living in cooperative housing told us that stable, adequate
and affordable housing helped them improve their health, economic
status and gain skills. However, there is very little information
about how housing policies can best meet the needs of women of different
populations, for example, Aboriginal women, lone mothers, immigrant
women, refugee women and elderly women.
For a complete list of all recommendations, please see the full list of
recommendations at the back of this report.
1 Rude, Darlene and Kathleen Thompson (2001). Left in
the Cold: Women, Health and the Demise of Social Housing Winnipeg: Prairie
Women's Health Centre of Excellence
; Reitsma-Street, Marge
et al. (2001) Housing Policy Options for Women Living in Urban Poverty:
An Action Research Project in Three Canadian Cities Ottawa: Status of
Women Canada.; Kappel Ramji Consulting Group. (2002) Common Occurrence:
The Impact of Homelessness on Women's Health Phase II: Community Based
Action Research Final Report Sistering, Toronto.
2 Morris, Marika Women and Poverty Factsheet Canadian
Research Institute on the Advancement of Women 2002
3 Donner, Lissa. (2002) Women, Income and Health in Manitoba:
An Overview and Ideas for Action Winnipeg: Women's Health Clinic.
4 Rude and Thompson, 2001:5.
5 SPR Associates, 1997 and CMHC 2000c quoted in Kappel
Ramji Consulting Group, 2002:108.
6 Strauss in Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. (2001)
A Community Plan on Homelessness and Housing in Winnipeg Winnipeg. Downloaded
November 2002 http://www.spcw.mb.ca/reference/doc_complan.pdf. P.48.
7 Straus in SPCW, 2001. P. 49 and Mindell, Tannis., Deputy
Minister of Family Services and Housing, Government of Manitoba Personal
Correspondence. July 4th, 2003. Letter to Sid Frankel, Chair, Social Planning
Council of Winnipeg.
9 Kappel Ramji Consulting Group, 2002.
10 Campaign 2000, Report Card on Child Poverty in Canada
(Toronto, 1999) in Morris, 2002.
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