The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the housing crisis for women

“Women find it difficult to have their rights respected. ”

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The pandemic has exacerbated a housing crisis in Montreal – a crisis that was already having a disproportionate effect on women, according to a report by the Table of Montreal Women’s Groups ( TGFM ) released on Wednesday.

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Almost 90% of groups that responded to an online questionnaire from the organization said women have had more difficulty finding affordable housing since the start of the pandemic. The report identifies as contributing factors rent increases, competition in the rental market, substandard housing that threatens the health and safety of women; a lack of accessible housing which limits the autonomy of women living with a disability; increased evictions; repossession of units by the owner; and harassment of landlords or neighbors.

Among the report’s many recommendations are that governments:

  • set up a public register to prevent abusive rent increases;
  • implement mandatory universal rent control instead of recommending rent increases; and
  • prohibit repossessions and evictions by homeowners when vacancy rates fall below three percent.

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The report also found that there has been an increase in intimate partner violence since the start of the pandemic. The lack of space in women’s shelters, already a problem before, only intensified when closures and curfews left many women trapped in abusive and violent situations or forced them to turn to resources that did not meet their needs, he said.

The TGFM interviewed 59 women’s groups and mixed organizations through focus groups, an online questionnaire and one-on-one meetings over the past year on the links between the pandemic, violence suffered by women, housing crisis and homelessness; he also analyzed publications and statistical data.

Closures during the pandemic exposed more households to mold and vermin and led to an increase in health problems such as anxiety and depression, according to the report. Yet many women do not raise these issues with their landlords because they fear eviction or their rents increased, according to the report. More than half of the groups that responded to the questionnaire reported that since the start of the pandemic, women have increasingly faced threats, evictions, harassment and repossessions by landlords.

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Many Montrealers are forced to buy unaffordable housing or accept rent increases because they fear they will not be able to find housing elsewhere and that unaffordable housing has major impacts on financial stability. Indigenous women, women living with disabilities, the elderly, sexual minorities, immigrant women or single-parent families and particularly affected as they are likely to have lower incomes, according to the report.

“Women are having difficulty enforcing their rights in the face of rent increases, substandard housing, repossessions, evictions and harassment from landlords or neighbors,” said Sally Richmond, Executive Director of Logifem, which offers refuge and care to women in Montreal. and their children in difficult circumstances which may include domestic violence, financial hardship and mental health issues.

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They can stay at Logifem , which is opening a second establishment in Montreal this week, for a period of up to a year. Stakeholders help them decide on the type of housing they want and help them fill out requests for social or community housing. “Our goal is for them to leave for affordable and adequate housing,” said Richmond.

Access to affordable housing is increasingly difficult, said Richmond, and it is not only housing but also services that are needed. With the pandemic and the housing crisis, the work of grassroots organizations has become more complex. Most organizations that provide social housing have noted an increase in demands since the pandemic. Waiting lists mean delays and “dense bureaucracy” involved in allocating social housing create additional hurdles, according to the report. The shortage is also increasing overcrowding in temporary housing and emergency shelters.

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The pandemic has made the job of grassroots community support workers more difficult, according to the report; her focus groups revealed the exhaustion, even distress, of community support workers; many took time off or quit.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure women’s right to housing in Montreal,” says the summary of the report. “The organizations on the ground have been working hard, especially over the past few months. Our governments must recognize the right to housing for all women in Montreal, starting by adopting concrete but ambitious measures to provide adequate housing and support to women in difficulty and increase the number of social and community housing. These efforts should allow Montrealers to choose the living environment that best suits their needs.

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    Julio V. Miller