Halifax’s new women’s advisory committee is making the lack of affordable and accessible housing for women one of its top priorities.
“It’s extremely urgent,” Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn, a member of the committee, said in an interview Tuesday.
“I don’t know if others have gone so far to say that it’s a crisis, but I certainly am saying it’s a crisis.”
The committee met on Nov. 5. It was the first meeting to discuss issues facing women since the committee was created last year.
The committee identified three priority areas it hopes to address, the first being housing security for women in the Halifax Regional Municipality, including homelessness and shelters.
Blackburn cited Halifax’s low vacancy rates as one reason for the lack of secure housing available for women.
“We have more people than we have housing at this point,” she said.
According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s 2019 Rental Market Report, Halifax has an overall vacancy rate of one per cent. The rate is even less for two-bedroom apartments, which have an average price of $1,202 a month.
Blackburn said it can be particularly tough for women with children to find appropriate housing.
“When women are unhoused or under housed, their safety and security is primary on their minds, and for many of them the safety and security of their children,” she said.
The Canadian Rental Housing Index defines affordable housing as costing 30 per cent or less of a person’s yearly income. In Halifax, however, HRM’s lowest income group — those making less than $23,284 a year — would spend 84 per cent of their yearly income on a two-bedroom apartment plus utilities, according to the index.
Blackburn said there are other factors affecting affordability, such as when housing is turned into short-term rentals or Airbnbs, limiting the housing stock and leading to “renovictions.” She’s also heard of tenants being pushed out of gentrifying neighbourhoods like Gottingen Street.
The women’s advisory committee is supposed to support the creation of a gender inclusive municipality and provide advice to council. The committee’s targets have not been established yet, Blackburn said, so it’s too early to say what it will do about these issues.
Housing currently falls under provincial jurisdiction, meaning the committee and regional council can’t make the call to freeze rent and evictions.
“Perhaps our job as a committee is to lobby the province and put pressure on the province to do those things,” Blackburn said.
Halifax regional council has already passed a bylaw allowing the construction of apartments in basements or yards in all areas of the HRM. It also created a framework of rules surrounding Airbnb and other short-term rentals.
Three priority areas
Blackburn has been working on getting the committee off the ground since she was first elected in 2016. Its creation was approved on Nov 26, 2019, as a permanent addition to council.
One of the other two priority areas is the engagement of women in municipal politics. Coming out of the recent municipal election, council now has gender parity, but the committee would still like to see increased engagement.
The third priority area is to update existing municipal policies using gender based analysis. This is an analytical process used to assess how women, men and gender diverse people experience policies and programs. This process considers the intersection of many other factors such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, class, and mental or physical disability.
With priorities identified, the next step for the committee is to meet in December to put together a work plan. A time frame for tackling the priority issues will follow.
With files from Anastasia Payne
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Nicola is from New Brunswick, currently living on unceded Mi'kmaw territory in K'jipuktuk (Halifax). She has a political science degree from...