The lack of affordable, safe housing in Niagara hits women and gender-diverse people particularly hard, says a recent Brock University-Niagara YWCA policy brief.
But it is more than just a shortage of inexpensive shelter that sees women and gender-diverse people being disproportionality locked out of the affordable housing system, according to the brief titled, “Improving Safe and Affordable Housing for Women in Niagara, Before and After COVID-19.”
“There needs to be systemic change in providing programs and supports, so women and genderdiverse people are in a position to access housing, which goes beyond adding more housing units,” says lead author Joanne Heritz, Brock Assistant Professor of Political Science and Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) Research Associate.
The research team presented the brief at the YWCA Niagara Region’s annual general meeting, held online last night.
To produce the brief, researchers with Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory partnered with the YWCA Niagara Region to form a housing advisory council consisting of women and genderdiverse people who experienced homelessness, members of organizations who represent people with lived expertise of homelessness, and YWCA officials.
Through focus groups, researchers interviewed residents at the YWCA shelter and women in transitional housing to share their experiences.
From these interviews and other information gathered, the research team identifies five key areas in which women and gender-diverse people face barriers to access and keep housing that meets their needs:
- Affordability – Rent increasing an estimated 25 per cent from 2021 to 2022 now places minimum-wage earners “in core housing needs;” for instance, a single working parent spends more than half of their minimum wage income on housing.
- Support systems – Some reported a lack of disability units. Also, income supports such as ODSP and OW tend to penalize people who earn extra income, live with an employed family member or get a minimum-wage job.
- Trauma – Survivors of partner abuse face low income or inadequate social assistance, dependence on the abusive spouse for financial support, poor credit scores and precarious employment that leads to mental health and self-worth issues. Also, housing in locations with active substance use can be traumatizing for women recovering from addictions.
- Discrimination – Women who are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, immigrants or were previously in homeless shelters found it especially difficult to get decent housing.
- Safety – Because of high rental costs, the only affordable option is housing in neighbourhoods with high rates of substance use, theft, yelling and violence. Some participants reported feeling unsafe because they must share living spaces with strangers, including bathrooms and kitchens, for affordability.
The brief puts forth recommendations to the federal, provincial and Niagara Region governments.
Research team member and YWCA executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann says her organization has “always supported women who are in need of housing,” particularly as Niagara is going through a housing crisis.
“This joint research provides important information that verifies the importance of having an understanding of the housing needs of women and gender-diverse people and needs to be considered in any solutions that are developed,” says Zimmermann. “We are grateful for the report.”