Recovery for All Campaign: Building towards housing justice for women in Canada

June 22, 2020

The Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network is endorsing the Recovery for All campaign, find out why.

By Kaitlin Schwan & Arlene Hache, Co-Chairs of the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness NEtwork

In Canada and many of parts of the world, it has become clear that women and girls are some of the hardest hit by COVID-19. Women are more likely to work many of the minimum-wage service jobs that have been eliminated because of the virus, making it even harder to pay the rent. We are disproportionately responsible for the care of children and older adults during the pandemic, often on less income and with fewer supports. We live in core housing need in greater numbers, and some of us remain trapped in violent relationships that become inescapable under public health orders to “stay home.” For those experiencing intersecting forms of marginalization – including anti-Black racism, transphobia, colonial violence, or ableism – these difficulties are much worse.

Canada can transform the collective understanding of crisis this pandemic created to build a more just society for all of us, but to do that gender equity must stand at the centre. And housing is a great place to start.

The  Recovery for All campaign provides a roadmap for addressing some of the housing challenges faced by women across the country. Here are six key reasons why we support it:

1. A national definition of homelessness that works for women and dedicated funding to respond

The Recovery for All campaign highlights the need for a national approach to homelessness that is inclusive of the unique ways women experience homelessness. Research shows that women’s homelessness is often more hidden. The greater visibility of men in the homelessness sector has contributed to a male-centric policy and service environment, creating the conditions for women’s homelessness to remain invisible. The campaign helps tackle this issue by proposing the adoption of a national definition of homelessness that accounts for women’s unique experiences. Such a definition can help guide policy and investment at the federal level to ensure diverse women’s housing needs are addressed. Further, the campaign is recommending a $75 million/year stream of funding to respond to homelessness for women. At this juncture there is little or no dedicated funding for women experiencing homelessness in Canada and this funding is desperately needed.

2. Breaking the link between women’s housing need and intergenerational homelessness

Adult homelessness often has its roots in childhood experiences of income insecurity, housing instability and violence. Women are more likely to experience poverty in Canada, and poverty rates are higher for racialized and Indigenous women. The Campaign’s proposal of national guaranteed income focused on lifting people out of poverty – which should be accompanied by an expanded social safety net – is critical to addressing the poverty that often underlies women’s homelessness and intergenerational homelessness.

3. A focus on the right to housing

Women’s experiences of homelessness are often linked to failures in systems like criminal justice, child welfare, healthcare, or education. These failures often involve inadequate, discriminatory, or harmful policies and practices that create pathways into homelessness. In such systems, seemingly benign bureaucratic processes that appear neutral, or even purport to advance social good, may result in violent and destructive outcomes for women and their children. A fully implemented right to housing will be critical to uncover and resolve these systemic barriers by creating oversight of federal housing policy and an official mechanism for women to raise systemic housing issues.

4. Measures to curtail financialization and stop the loss of affordable rental housing

Research shows that women are disproportionately impacted by housing need in Canada (nearly 30 percent of all women-led households in Canada are in core housing need; 55 percent of all households in core housing need in Canada). As such, women are highly vulnerable to changes in the housing market. According to a recent analysis, Canada lost over 322,000 affordable rental housing units in just five years between 2011 and 2016. These units were taken out of the affordable rental market by wealthy investors who either turned them into more expensive rental units (out of reach for women in need) or turned them into condominiums. Given indications that COVID-19 will accelerate speculative investment by financial actors, and thus result in further losses in rental affordable housing, it is critical that governments rapidly intervene to preserve affordable rental housing stock for women and their families.

5. A robustly resourced Urban and Rural Indigenous Housing and Homelessness Strategy

Indigenous women and girls experience the most profound forms of housing need in the country. Data indicates that Indigenous women are 15 times more likely to use a homeless shelter than non-Indigenous women over the course of a year. On First Nations, 44% of women and girls live in dwellings that are in need of major repairs. These housing challenges coincide with the disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit peoples. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019a) highlights that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other group of women in Canada (p. 55). Despite the disproportionate violence and housing need they experience, Indigenous women remain the most underserved within the housing, homelessness, and Violence Against Women sectors across the country. In particular, there are significant gaps in funding for Indigenous-led, Indigenous-owned housing, services, and supports for women. Given this, there is an urgent need for a robustly funded Indigenous-led Housing and Homelessness Strategy that meets the needs of Indigenous women in rural, urban, northern, and remote communities. Such a plan must grounded in Indigenous peoples’ collective right to self-determination and Indigenous peoples’ right to adequate housing.

6. A serious investment in permanently affordable and supportive housing

Research shows there is a profound lack of safe, affordable, adequate, and appropriate housing for women in communities across Canada. Given that women are more likely to live in poverty and core housing need, rapid investment in permanently affordable housing is critical for women to thrive post-pandemic. This is especially important given that the impending recession is likely to hit women-led families the hardest. As outlined in the Recovery for All campaign, expanding and deepening the Canada Housing Benefit will be a critical tool for addressing some of the housing challenges faced by women. In allocating the 300,000 units and rental supports, it will be crucial that governments employ an intersectional, gendered lens in order to address women’s unique experiences of housing exclusion. Recovery for All is also calling for disaggregated housing data, a GBA+ lens, and a race and ethnicity-based analysis of housing data which will be essential for better understanding housing need and homelessness for women.

Gender equity is critical to building a more just housing system in post-pandemic Canada. The Recovery for All campaign can help get us there. The WNHHN is committed to supporting governments in adopting this six-point plan and ensuring an inter-sectional, gendered analysis guides its implementation. Let’s prevent and end women’s homelessness once and for all. Join us.