Gender Stat: affordable housing

Publication Author

Aine Duggan, Gail Cooper

The application of the full, intersectional gender lens in the new housing series makes visible four groups who are disproportionately impacted by the dearth of affordable housing: low-income women with children (by far women of color), LGBT youth, veterans who are men and formerly incarcerated men. The series provides information that a) prompts rethinking assumptions about gender and housing, and b) frames potential exploration of the relationship between gender and social policy – i.e. how gender norms shape policy and services and how those policies and services, in turn, reinforce gender stereotypes and perpetuate inequality.

Traditional gender analysis focuses solely on women. Citing that 3 in 4 public housing and Section 8 households are headed by women, with thousands more on waitlists, report and news headlines about women in need of housing strategically leverage gender stereotypes to put pressure on government to step up to its “provider and protector” role via stronger housing policy. And, to the limited extent that LGBT youth are discussed, it is within the same vulnerability frame. While women’s need is vast on this issue, data shows so too is the need of men, yet headlines don’t read, “men need more affordable housing.” That is because gender stereotypes dictate that women should be perceived as weak, vulnerable and in need of protection, and men as strong, self-sufficient, protectors and providers. Hence public attention that is elicited for men who are veterans or formerly incarcerated pivots on stereotypes of men. Sympathy for veterans is permissible because it is framed as an earned respect for the ultimate protector role that these individuals have performed, rather than care-taking of men who are experiencing a period of vulnerability. And, formerly incarcerated men tend to be excluded from those deemed to be worthy of home and housing, and, as the report demonstrates, are relegated to a vicious cycle of homelessness and incarceration.

Also, traditional gender analysis isolates data to tell singular stories, while the full, intersectional gender lens illuminates overlapping policies worthy of further study. For example, the fact that 75% of public housing and Section 8 households are female-headed is not just a story about women and poverty, it is also a story about men and incarceration. Teenage and adult men in public housing families in low-income communities, largely communities of color, are at greater risk of over policing, incarceration and felony histories which, in turn, bar them from public housing. This exclusion of men from home provides an opening for questioning policies that conspire to keep families apart at a time when family unification is heavily promoted in anti-poverty policy, and for potentially reframing matters like the absentee father phenomena which is often characterized as an individual male failing, and foregone conclusion, as in part a structural matter and consequence of failed policy. In this way the full gender lens makes visible the interplay of gender stereotyping amidst the overlap of policing, racial profiling, incarceration and housing policies.

Further, the full gender lens provides an opportunity for examining how some advancements in social policies may rest dangerously on holding gender stereotypes in place. The housing primer demonstrates that women are a growing segment of the military, and more recently combat units, and are the fastest growing segment of the US prison population. How will this trend impact the development of housing policy? Will an increase in formerly incarcerated women in need of housing change our understanding of the relationship between incarceration and housing policy, in a similar vein to the way women in the US military changed the conversation about sexual violence in the military? Sexual violence in the military long pre-dates women’s service but it was only when the stories of women being sexually violated while serving became public that the issue was inserted into public consciousness via documentaries, congressional debate, policy development and legislation. If an uptick in formerly incarcerated women in need of housing prompts a lifting of the public housing ban or otherwise soften social policy to adapt a caring stance for formerly incarcerated individuals trying to reintegrate into society, would it be progress or a reinforcement of gender stereotypes?

In this way, the housing series is a continuation of the analysis of the relationship between gender discrimination and policy/services, first surfaced at the Annual Summit and in the sexual violence report, and will be further continued in the occupational segregation series.