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By: Brenda Parker, Catherine Leviten-Reid, and Isobel Araujo

How do national housing policies impact the lives of Canadians who need them most? The People, Policies, and Prospects research node investigates the outcomes of different housing policies and strategies across varied groups of low-income Canadians who experience critical housing needs, including women, LGBTQ2 youth, Indigenous groups, and other marginalized communities. This research node employs a gender-based analysis approach to assess the gendered and intersectional needs of diverse women and the potential impacts of policies upon them.

When we focus on gender, several urgent, compounding disparities become apparent that affect women’s housing vulnerability and needs. These are outlined in detail in our article, Pandemic Precarity and Everyday Disparity: Gendered Housing Needs in North America. Specifically,  women face heavy care-giving burdens when compared to men, as well as income inequality and increased likelihood of living in poverty. They are also at greater risk of intimate partner violence and workplace harassment. For certain women, such as Indigenous and disabled women, the situation is even more dire. These disparities often translate into poor housing quality and eviction vulnerability, and have hindered opportunities for social and economic advancement. [1] 

The pandemic has amplified theses longstanding intersectional disparities, putting many women further at risk of housing and economic instability. In this paper, we discuss the housing experiences and needs of diverse women, including their vulnerability to eviction. We emphasize the need for interdisciplinary interventions that rethink housing and care work while addressing intersectional oppressions.

National gender-based policy analysis and research programs (like the People, Policies, and Prospects initiative) are working to shed light on how systemic gender inequality has impacted the state of housing. However additional legwork must be undertaken in order to understand the compounding impacts of the pandemic on women in precarious housing, and eventually shift from immediate relief efforts to building a sustainable post-pandemic future focused on equitable and quality housing opportunities for all.

Gender disparities in housing need

Core housing need in Canada is defined as a household experiencing unsuitable, inadequate, or unaffordable housing. It is vitally important to employ a gender lens to this issue in Canada, as even before the pandemic, female-headed renter households were more likely to experience core housing need in Canada compared to any other household type. For single parent women who are renters and head of their households, 41.6% experience core housing need, compared to 29.7% for renter households headed by males.[2]  

Similarly, women are typically overburdened with caregiving responsibilities for children, elders, and community members. In Canada, 81% of single-parent households were headed by women in 2014.[3]

Women are not only more likely to be caregivers, but are also more likely to be spend more time providing care than male caregivers.[4] These burdens are intimately tied to precarious employment and wage disparity, as caregivers are often forced to miss work, reduce their hours, or leave work entirely, resulting in an estimated $220.5 million in lost wages between 2003-2008 for female caregivers in Canada, as compared to $116.3 million for male caregivers.[5] The specific housing needs of women caregivers, such as the need for larger units with additional bedrooms and the need to be located close to other social services or public transportation also contribute to the high rates of core housing need for women.

Precarious employment and wage disparity

On top of balancing paid and unpaid caregiving labors, lone-parent, women-headed households earn, on average, $6.34 less per hour than their male counterparts. While earning lower wages, employed single mothers are also more likely to work part-time than employed single fathers, most likely in order to be able to provide care for their dependents.[6] With school closings, increased childcare responsibilities for these single moms (and mothers in general) have caused what many are referring to as a “she-cession,” with high job loss in hospitality and service sectors that typically employ women, as well as impossible caregiving burdens for mothers attempting to work from home. In other words, women are already overrepresented in low-paying, part-time jobs in service sectors due to existing caregiving burdens. Nationwide job losses in sectors where women are overrepresented on top of added caregiving burdens due to the pandemic mean that low-income women have experienced sharper economic hardship during to the pandemic than men have. During the initial months of the pandemic, the average paid hours for women with young children fell by 26%, compared to a 16% loss for men. This loss of paid work is on top of the fact that women already worked less hours and get paid less for those hours. [7]

Gender disparities in IPV and domestic violence

In addition to wage disparity, and precarious housing and employment during the pandemic, women are also facing an increased threat of violence in the home during lockdown orders, which has severe implications across health, personal safety, and housing issues for women. In 2019, 99.9% of admissions to residential facilities for victims of abuse in Canada were women and women their children. Indigenous women were overrepresented in these facilities at 5 times higher rates in these facilities than in the general population.[8] During the pandemic, calls to service hotlines for victims have also seen increases- in some places up to triple the number of calls.[9] Women facing intimate partner violence are forced to choose between staying housed with an abuser or losing housing in order to escape violence- and too often shelters do not meet the accessibility, safety, and cultural needs of disabled, Indigenous, and LGBTQ2S+ populations seeking shelter.[10] 

Underrepresentation in leadership and housing policy decisions

In Canada, women and other marginalized groups are underrepresented in governance and housing policy leadership positions. Women make up only 18% of mayoral positions across Canada [11] and 30% of members of parliament.[12] Important to note is that although women are not represented in positions of political power, they do participate in political organizing in different ways than men,[13] even as traditional women-centered decision-making and governance structures have largely been displaced and disrupted by colonial and patriarchal policies.[14]   

A gender-inclusive post-pandemic housing future in Canada: Research and Action

Building on recommendations for immediate relief efforts from Canadian organizations like the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network, as well as intersectional critical analysis and recommendations for post-pandemic policy in North America,[15] several immediate actions can be prioritized. These include expanded rental assistance integrated with legal eviction prevention and childcare resources, as well as expanded IPV services and culturally safe, accessible, and inclusive shelter facilities. In addition, further research is needed to better understand the unique and geographical needs of diverse women and the kinds of long-term housing interventions that can meet them. As the research on this topic by the People, Places, and Prospects team continues to unfold, we will post updates and policy recommendations based on our findings about how to ensure that all Canadians have access to secure, stable, quality and affordable housing. 

[1] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation [CMHC]. (2016). Core housing need (2016) – Canada. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Housing Market Information Portal.

[2] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation [CMHC]. (2016). Core housing need (2016) – Canada. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Housing Market Information Portal.

[3] Statistics Canada.(2015). Lone Parent Families. Statistics Canada.

[4] Turcotte, M. (2013). Family caregiving: What are the consequences? Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada.

[5] Fast, J. (2015). Caregiving for older adults with disabilities: Present costs, future challenges. Montreal, Quebec. Institute for Research on Public Policy.

[6] Statistics Canada. (2015). Lone Parent Families. Statistics Canada.

[7] Labor Market Information Council (2021). Women in recessions: What makes COVID-19 different? LMI Insight Report no. 39.

[8] Moreau, G. (2019April 17). Canadian residential facilities for victims of abuse, 2017/2018. Statistics Canada.

[9] Bradley, N. L.DiPasquale, A. M.Dillabough, K., & Schneider, P. S. (2020). Health care practitioners’ responsibility to address intimate partner violence related to the COVID-19 pandemicCanadian Medical Association Journal, 192(22), E609E610

[10] Abramovich, A. (2016). Preventing, reducing and ending LGBTQ2S youth homelessness: The need for targeted strategiesHomelessness and Social Inclusion, 4(4), 8696

[11] Federation of Canadian Municipalities. (2020) Toward parity in municipal politics.

[12] Equal Voice. (September 18, 2021). Equal Voice releases final analysis of women elected with the highest number of women ever elected federally. [Press Release].

[13] Statistics Canada. (2018). Canadians and political activities: How do women and men engage in politics?

[14] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (2019). Reclaiming power and place: The final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, volume 1a.

[15] Parker, B., & Leviten-Reid, C. (2021). Pandemic precarity and everyday disparity: gendered housing needs in North America. Housing and Society, 1-28. Parker, B., & Smith, J. L. (2021). Policy Spotlight: Women’s Housing Precarity During and Beyond Covid-19. Available at SSRN 3896504.