Improving Safe and Affordable Housing for Women During and After the COVID‑19 Pandemic
The goal of the partnership between the Young Women’s Christian Association Niagara Region (YWCA) and Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory (NCO)’s Director Charles Conteh, is to raise awareness of the desperate need for increased safe and affordable housing for women in the Niagara region and to identify systemic barriers facing underrepresented women including those who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, newcomers, seniors, members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, low income or live with a disability. The partnership aims to undertake evidence-based research needed to advocate for policy change addressing the housing needs of women, and in particular vulnerable women, requiring emergency, transitional, and affordable housing.
The YWCA-Brock NCO partnership aligns with the YWCA Strategic Plan 2019-2024 to build community partnerships and advocate for affordable housing. The project’s method to conduct an intersectional gender analysis of housing needs also aligns with the YWCA Canada’s COVID‑19 post-pandemic economic recovery plan. The objectives of the research project are unique in Niagara as they unite public policy research with non-governmental, local government, public administration, and community-based sectors.
The current housing crisis of decreasing affordable housing stock despite increasing need, underlies the urgency in listening to the lived experiences of YWCA clients – underrepresented in housing policy development. Women are substantively underrepresented in both elected office and senior management in local government and their underrepresentation is even lower in Niagara. Furthermore, women that are Indigenous, Black, racialized, newcomers, seniors, members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, low income or live with a disability, and are most impacted by the COVID‑19 pandemic and affordable housing shortages, have historically been the least represented in policy processes.
The YWCA and NCO’s participatory action research partnership creates an opportunity for underrepresented women to contribute to discourse that will inform policies directly affecting them. The research is significant in its collaborative design that gives voice to underrepresented and vulnerable women. The research contributes to the literature on grassroots participatory research that generates questions and knowledge with real-world application where it can have a positive impact on the sector. The community-based research project focuses on “lived experiences” referring to women who have knowledge and experience about everyday life especially regarding issues of housing and face additional intersectional barriers. Following principles of inclusion that aim to shift the role of the person experiencing homelessness from a social services recipient to a housing policy advisor, advisory groups provide input for service delivery and system planning for housing services.
An Advisory Council, consisting of the YWCA Executive Director, the Co-Applicants of this research project, and members of the community representing marginalized, underrepresented women will be established, will guide the research project, and will contribute to the generation of research questions. Three focus groups will be conducted by the YWCA to include current clients, women in transitional housing, and community members who have accessed or are currently accessing affordable housing. The focus group data will inform the policy recommendations. Research outputs will include a policy brief and a three-minute video clip. Results will be presented in a YWCA-NCO community forum and used by the YWCA to educate policy makers of the intersectional barriers women face in accessing housing as well as to support housing policy recommendations based on women’s lived experiences.