Making Vancouver affordable for elderly women

Photo by Rebecca Pasch

On a drizzly night in Vancouver’s West End, the Gordon Neighborhood House community room is packed with over fifty women, as former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth introduces the Women Transforming Cities (WTC) cafe on seniors and housing.  

There are young women as well as seniors, university professors as well as long-time local activists and artists, a Farsi language table, one very debonair and slightly out-of-place looking young man, and a palpable buzz of energy -- the kind of strong political feeling that is quickly transformed into political will.

The event is called “Squeezed Out of Homes and Communities: Confronting the Affordable Housing Crisis for Women and Girls,” the second half of the Cafe on affordable housing hosted by the initiative Women Transforming Cities, Designing an Ideal City for Women and Girls.

We’re not talking about painting the lobbies of high-end condos pink.  WTC has been hosting events, from City Hall forums to community centre cafes that foster dialogue between women scholars, policy makers, architects, city planners, activists and community members around gender equity in cities.  

Holding the City accountable 

The group’s intention is to hold the city’s feet to the fire on their commitments to women, ensuring that an inter-sectional analysis and gender lens is applied to city planning, budgeting, and design, with respect to food security, safety, young women and leadership, housing, transportation and childcare.

A panel of local scholars and activists unleashes a series of rapid-fire presentations, including UBC associate law professor Margot Young, who speaks on leveraging Charter rights and agreements made with the United Nations Human Rights Council to show how Canada is not holding up its obligations to women most effected by the affordable housing crisis.

It would chafe against the moral fibres of most Charter abiding Vancouverites to picture elderly women being forced from homes they’ve been in for years by sudden and dramatic rent increases.

It would go against the grain of what many people believe it means to be Canadian to imagine a single elderly woman being uprooted from safe, affordable housing and not be able to advocate for herself.  And yet it is happening.

Older women adding value to communities

One of the dominant narratives around older women and housing is that women are a drain on the system because we live longer, and apparently have more costly health needs as they age.

Ingrid Kolsteren, a retiree and member of city's Women's Advisory committee, argues that it costs less to allow women to age in place than it does to facilitate frequent moves.  This misinformation hides the ways in which women, especially when they are in stable housing and are able to age in place, add value to communities and to social life.

We break into six tables, each one hosted by one of the speakers. After half an hour of furious note-taking, our table has produced three pages of recommendations, including:

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