| Left In the Cold: Women, Health and The Demise of Social Housing Policies
Rude, K. Thompson
As an appreciation for the significance of housing on health status has broadened over recent years (in a shift to population health and preventative health models), access to adequate housing for low income Canadians has nevertheless narrowed.
In the early 1990's federal and provincialdebt reduction strategies resulted in decreases in social program expenditures, and the federal government began systematically withdrawing from social housing responsibilities. Canada's total housing stock is approximately 660,000 units. One third of that amount is public housing, meaning it is directly or indirectly administered by some level of government. The government stock of public housing, is around 200,000 units, of these 164,000 were built before 1978. Very few new public housing initiatives have been built since the late 1970s; those that have been developed have been specifically for seniors and special needs groups (Geller, 2000; Wolfe, 1998).
The gap left by the federal government's withdrawal from housing has not been filled by others. The ability to pay has become a central factor in determining housing status, putting women at double disadvantage because they already have lower incomes than men do.
This report is designed to draw links between housing policies and women's health. Typically, housing research differentiates between different income levels (i.e. low-income and poverty measurements) but neglects to analyze the effect of gender on accessing and maintaining adequate housing. This report seeks to make connections between gender, housing and health by developing an explanatory theoretical model that is grounded in the experiences of women who have lived in and who are living in substandard housing.
While it is clear that women are, as a group, likely to face affordability and accessibility problems in housing and shelter, there is a lack of research on why this is and what consequences of recent changes in housing policies have on women's health. Answers to questions such s these will be strengthened through research that documents women's housing situations and how it has affected their well being.
The first part of the report provides a review of the literature available which examines the links between housing, health and gender, as well as an overview of housing policy and practice changes in Canada over the last decade.
The second part of the report examines the gender-related issues of housing and health in the cities of Regina, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba. The relationships among gender, health, income, education, employment and family history are explored in the context of the housing situations of women who have lived in social housing and also women who have rented low-cost housing in the private housing market. The authors interviewed thirteen women who were reached through community organizations that provide services to women (e.g. the YWCA, community health clinics). The women had first-hand experiences of difficulties in accessing or maintaining adequate housing.
In addition, the perspectives of eight professionals are included. They work in housing policy and social planning for government (provincially or municipally) or provide front-line services through a government-funded agency (such as the Health District). Others in the professional group are front-line service providers working with non-government or charitable organizations.
Broadly, the research was designed to address four main questions relative to women's health and housing.
How does sub-standard housing affect the lives and health of women?
What action needs to occur to address women's housing issues?
How can women, women's concerns and gender issues be included in the development of housing policy?
Among the findings from this research, certain key points arose:
Key recommendations fall into two categories:
The main recommendations are:
On gender-specific housing issues, the recommendations are:
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