July/August 2001

Low-income women need a stronger voice in shaping housing policy

by Patty Pitts

Although 16 per cent of Victoria's women live in poverty, they have virtually no voice in developing the policies and designing the housing they need, according to a report by Status of Women Canada.

The report studied the housing concerns of women living on low incomes in Victoria, Regina and Saint John. While it found low
income women are hopeful about future housing options and have ideas to contribute, their participation in housing policy is virtually non-existent.

"I was surprised at the invisibility of women when it came to issues of housing policy and design," says Dr. Marge Reitsma-Street of UVic's faculty of human and social develop
ment and one of the report's authors.

Housing Policy Options for Women Living in Urban Poverty: An Action Research Project in Three Canadian Cities draws from previously unpublished 1996 census data relating to women, poverty and housing in the three cities. In Greater Victoria, researchers also conducted a community-based assessment of housing needs in 1998 and 1999, and analysed municipal and regional housing policies.

The report's other Victoria
authors, Brishkai Lund, a program director with UVic's division of continuing studies, researcher Josie Schofield and community worker Colleen Kasting, offered seven housing policy options to improve the situation for low-income women.
The options range from broadening eligibility criteria for social housing to establishing public-private housing development partnerships.

The report concludes that over two-thirds of women living in low-income households spent 30 per cent or more of their gross income on shelter expenses. This applies to over 21,000 households in Victoria, over 11,000 households in Regina and nearly 9,000 households in Saint John.

The majority of these low-
income households are maintained by lone, female parents or women living alone or with a friend. They perceive that their gender affects their current housing and low-income economic status and that poverty is the key factor restricting their access to safe, affordable housing.

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