A gender lens on affordable housing

Publication year


Publication Author

Gail Quets, Áine Duggan, Gail Cooper

The report lays out a brief history of affordable housing, and uses a gender lens to look at state and federal housing policy in the public and private sectors. Attention is especially focused on looking across the gender spectrum to show groups that are disproportionately unprotected by current housing policy: women who are poor or near poor, veterans, formerly incarcerated people and gender nonconforming youth. In addition, the report offers basic definitions of housing terminology and classifications and a selection of the different types of housing available in the U.S.

A goal of the report is to inspire researchers, policy thinkers, practitioners and advocates to reimagine how better housing policy can engage rather than gloss over inter-connected, enduring structural problems. By applying a full, intersectional gender lens, Re:Gender highlights intersections within the data to break down silos between issues, groups and problems and to reveal potential solutions that can only be seen when looking at the issue in a different way. A so-called “gender neutral” issue like affordable housing does in fact have specific, gender-based impact. For example, it is commonly understood that three-quarters (75 percent) of those living in affordable housing are women, and that the main driver is poverty. That same data can also help tell the story of discrimination against formerly incarcerated African American and Latino men (often from the same neighborhoods struggling with poverty) blocked from public housing because of a conviction, especially those convicted of felony crimes. Using an intersectional gender lens means taking a step back and looking at issues from many different vantage points in order to reveal what uncommon stories the data is telling and to show the structural mechanics are at work.

As a way forward, the data here points to breakdowns in the ability for current housing policy to serve everyone. Likewise, the report can be used to pose questions we all need to be asking about the role that policy is playing, purposely or not, in deciding who deserves a safe, clean, affordable home. Looking at the cycle of homelessness-to-incarceration-to-homelessness we should ask: Is providing supportive housing or opening public housing to formerly incarcerated people cheaper in the long-run than the administrative and social costs of the merry-go-round approach? Research contradicts assertions that supportive housing is prohibitively expensive or that formerly incarcerated people are a threat to public housing residents. Or how is it that housing policy has yet to catch up with the need from LGBT youth, half of whom are being kicked out of their homes specifically because of their gender identity or expression, even in this post-marriage equality, post-Caitlyn Jenner world? Re:Gender invites you to explore the data, to consider the intersections in an issue like housing and to create opportunities to make better policy that is using a full gender lens.