Let's Talk: Women and Housing in Montreal

November 24th, 2017
Bloc text

Open letter to Valérie Plante

As feminists from the academic and community sectors, we would like to extend our warmest congratulations to you on your election as Mayor of Montreal. While housing issues did not receive sufficient attention during the debates and electoral campaign, we note that new housing construction is among the five priorities of Projet Montreal's platform. We find it reasonable to hope that new housing initiatives will emerge over the course of your first term, considering the powers conferred by Montreal's new status as a metropolis. Furthermore, given your commitment to feminism, we expect that these initiatives will consider the lived experiences of Montreal women in all their diversity.

As we know, the gendered division of labour is still present in our society. Women spend more time doing domestic labour and caring for family members and loved ones. They work in sectors whose salaries are lower than those that are traditionally male-dominated. This results in a pay gap between women and men. This inequality directly affects housing conditions for women and children. Their reduced capacity to pay rent explains why so many women (especially women who are unpartnered, heads of households, immigrants, racialized, Indigenous, seniors, living with a disability or queer) find it difficult to secure housing that meets their needs. This means they end up in units that are too small, unsafe, sometimes far from the services they need and often unfit for occupation, affecting their physical and mental health.

While the home should be a place of physical and psychological safety, its walls often bear silent witness to various forms of violence, threats and sexual harassment. A survey conducted by the Centre d’éducation et d’action des femmes offers a snapshot of the conditions experienced by numerous female renters. For many of them, housing is a place for closeness and sometimes of undesired proximity to an aggressor (often a landlord, superintendent or someone with whom they share a space.) Or worse yet, they are solicited for sexual acts in order to meet their needs, which can drive women to homelessness and can occur in both social and private housing. We note that this violence, linked directly to both gender and socio-economic status, remains invisible and stigmatized.

Social housing offers adequate and accessible apartments to thousands of women. But if Montreal does not invest more seriously in the construction of new social housing and does not act to maintain existing units, part of the social housing stock could be lost to privatization in the medium-term.

While housing is considered a social and economic right by numerous international treaties, legal recognition of the right to housing remains murky and is nearly non-existent in Canada and Quebec. As a result of this gender-based inequality, we can't rightfully say that Montreal women have a right to housing. The community movement, of which we are a part, is currently making efforts to improve its understanding of women's housing needs. However, with the flagrant lack of social and public housing units that are adapted to the experiences of Montreal women and that meet the standards of universal accessibility, we lack sufficient resources or power to respond to their needs.

Madam Mayor, we are taking this opportunity, during your first few days in office, to highlight how important the construction of social housing is in fighting against poverty and socio-economic and gender-based inequality. We are therefore asking for a major investment in social housing that takes the specific needs of women into consideration. Furthermore, we are adding our voice to that of housing-rights groups to demand the development of a land bank that will allow for better urban planning in our city's boroughs. Lastly, we demand that the issue of violence experienced by women tenants, residents of housing cooperatives or lodgers be taken into consideration in future pubic policies to prevent and fight against these aggressions.

This call to action is signed by the Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal as well as activists, researchers, and feminist groups and collectives fighting for the right to housing!

Complete list of signatories:
Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal
Table régionale des centres de femmes Montréal métropolitain Laval
Centre d’éducation et d’action des femmes
Réseau québécois des OSBL d'habitation
Fédération des coopératives d'habitation intermunicipale du Montréal métropolitain
Regroupement des comités logements et associations de locataires du Québec
Anne Latendresse, Professor of Geography, UQAM
Marie-Neige Lapperière, Professor of Law, UQO
Marie-Eve Desroches, PhD student in Urban Studies, INRS