A Feminist Housing Budget?

April 13, 2022

Budget 2022, referred to as “The Housing Budget,” committed over $14 billion dollars to housing – one-third of all new spending. The WNHHN celebrates all additional federal investments in affordable housing, including the significant re-investment in cooperative housing and an additional $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative. These investments will have an important impact on addressing some of the housing needs faced by women and gender-diverse persons. However, given the urgency of the housing crisis and the federal government’s commitment to act on the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, we must also ask: 

Will this Housing Budget improve housing conditions for women and gender-diverse persons across the country? 

Here are our 5 key takeaways on Budget 2022:

1. There are significant GBA+ gaps in Budget 2022’s housing commitments.  

Budget 2022 doesn’t reflect the very gendered nature of the housing crisis, the intersectionality of experiences, and its corresponding scale. 

Low-income and women-led households are experiencing the greatest housing need in Canada. 28% of women-led, single parent households are in core housing need, almost double that of men. 57% of renter households in core housing need are women-led families or single people. These disparities are even greater for Indigenous, Black, and racialized women, as well as women with disabilities. Women and gender-diverse people are also more likely to occupy inadequate housing and situations of hidden homelessness, making the gendered housing crisis larger than it may appear.

The Budget largely does not reflect these gendered realities, nor does the National Housing Strategy. Only one housing program – the Rapid Housing Initiative – has announced a gender-specific commitment (25%). The new $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund – almost half of additional spending on housing – has no equity targets or gender-specific commitments. 

By failing to focus on deep core housing need and gender equity, the NHS and Budget 2022 reflects a pattern of unintentional but systemic exclusion of marginalized women, girls, Two Spirit and gender-diverse people. If NHS funded programs continue to be designed in a way that does not support the creation and sustainability of deeply affordable housing, and expanding its targeted investments, those programs will continue to effectively exclude women and equity deserving groups who make up an extraordinary portion of core housing need. 

Fortunately, there is time for these programs to course correct, particularly within new programs such as the Housing Accelerator Fund. The federal government should take this opportunity to prioritize core housing need and embed rights-based, equity commitments across all spending on housing programs.

2. The focus on homeownership and stimulating market-based supply, rather than addressing deep core housing need, will not improve housing conditions for low-income women and gender-diverse people. 

What you see in this Budget is a major focus on increasing aggregate housing supply –  largely within the private market – based on the idea that “increasing our housing supply will be key to making housing more affordable for everyone.” But NHS spending has gone disproportionately to high-income supply. Aggregate supply programs that are not targeted will not end the housing crisis unless tied to the demand for deeply affordable housing. And that demand is gendered.

We fear that the Budget reflects a trickle-down economics approach to housing – an economic model that has never successfully addressed housing conditions in Canada and has failed women and gender-diverse people around the world. If federal housing programs continue to be designed in a way that does not support the creation and sustainability of deeply affordable housing, and expanding its targeted investments, those programs will effectively exclude women and equity deserving groups who make up an extraordinary portion of core housing need. 

Further, the new homeowner tax incentives and tax-free savings plan outlined in Budget 2022 will not benefit low-to-middle-income women who are trying to become homeowners. Women face greater financial barriers to becoming homeowners, including due to inequitable wages, higher care burdens, and inadequate social assistance. Budget 2022 fails to address the structures that make these groups lower-earners who pay more for their housing. Given the meager financial advantages of the new homeowner policies, this plan will only modestly benefit dual-income households that already have the means to access homeownership. Unless we develop meaningful pathways for poor women to access homeownership, these kinds of policies only further isolate low-income women from the financial autonomy and advantages that homeownership provides.

3. Further action needed on financialization, given its disproportionate impact on women. 

An issue of increasing urgency across Canada is the financialization of housing. At its core, financialization manipulates rental markets by squeezing low-income rentals from the market and making rental housing more inaccessible for low-middle income renters. As a result, loss of affordable housing outpaces investments in affordable housing, leading to a net loss of affordable housing. In the light of such circumstances, programs like Housing Accelerator Fund might risk reproducing  financialization, particularly if they utilize definitions of affordability that fail to serve the realities of women and gender-diverse peoples in housing need. 

Financialization has a disproportionately negative impact on women and gender-diverse persons because they make less money, often lack security of tenure, and face greater care burdens for children and others. Persons with disabilities face tremendous barriers in this regard, with a recent pan-Canadian survey indicating that 79% of women and gender-diverse persons experiencing homelessness identify as having a disability. For the Housing Accelerator Fund to be meaningful, It is critical that the fund: (1) stipulates progressive realization of the legislated right to housing; (2) commits to definitions of affordability that reflect the depth of poverty experienced by marginalized women and gender-diverse people; and (3) specifies clear targets for affordable housing units built as a result of this fund. While the commitment to study REITS as a step in the right direction, it is a far cry from the urgency that this issue needs right now. 

4. Inadequate investment in urban, rural, and northern Indigenous Housing is inconsistent with the federal government’s commitment to act on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Budget 2022 proposes to invest $300 million over five years through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to co-develop and launch an Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy. By almost any measure, this is deeply inadequate. The investments needed are closer to $1.5 to $2 billion per year according to Parliamentary committees, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and the CHRA’s Indigenous Caucus. 

The inadequacy of this investment is particularly vivid for Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirit, and gender-diverse persons. These groups experience the most egregious housing conditions in Canada and remain the most underserved in the homelessness and VAW sectors, as articulated in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. These experiences are grounded in historical and ongoing colonial practices and cultural genocide, of which patriarchy is but one component. While the Inquiry outlines powerful Calls to Justice in the area of housing, the Government of Canada’s commitment to act on these Calls is not reflected in Budget 2022. 

Advancing and protecting the distinct rights of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people should be a central focus in all federal housing investments. Progress on improved housing outcomes for these groups should be the measure by which we assess the success of the National Housing Strategy. We need to see urgent, substantial federal investments to facilitate this. 

5. Budget 2022 should pivot its housing investments to ensure substantive equality for women, as guaranteed under the NHSA and Canadian Charter. 

The WNHHN would like to remind the federal government that there is a constitutional obligation for the Budget to provide equal benefit to women, including in the area of housing. This is guaranteed under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s constitutional equality guarantee. Further, this is affirmed in the 2019 National Housing Strategy Act (NHSA), which guarantees the right to adequate housing to all. As it stands, there are significant gaps between these guarantees and Budget 2022 in the area of housing. 

One critical step the federal government could take is to revise the affordability criteria used in housing programs. How “affordable” gets defined has a huge impact on whether women are housed through federal investments. The definition of affordable housing needs to be income-based, not market-based. If you are a single mother on social assistance, your capacity to pay is not tied to the average rent of your neighbours. It is tied to your income and your expenses. 

Unfortunately, the affordability criteria in most NHS initiatives are market-based (e.g., 80% of average market rent), with research demonstrating this is failing to remove households from core housing need. Shockingly, only 3% of units funded through the Rental Housing Financing Initiative –  the largest program expenditure in the NHS – are affordable for low-income households (households which are disproportionately women-led). This means that unless we are trying affordability criteria to income and household need, our housing programs are going to fail low-income women in their diversity.