Action Alerts

The U.S. Housing Crisis is a Women’s Issue

May 9, 2024

What is the Current State of Housing Inequality in the United States?

Housing inequality represents a form of economic inequality where individuals do not have equal opportunities to live in safe environments free from harm, threats, or obstacles that prevent their prosperity. The escalating cost of living, compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has exacerbated housing insecurity for millions. A national survey conducted in August 2021 revealed that 3.7 million respondents indicated they were either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to be evicted in the following two months. Furthermore, 7.7 million individuals were reported to be delinquent on their rent payments. Before the pandemic, housing insecurity was widespread among many Americans.

Data from a 2019 survey showed that 37.1 million households (both renters and homeowners) were identified as “cost-burdened,” meaning they spent over 30% of their income on housing expenses. Among these, 17.6 million households were considered severely cost-burdened, allocating more than 50% of their income toward housing. Those allocating 30% or more of their income to housing costs have minimal monthly resources for other essential needs like food, clothing, utilities, and healthcare.

What Constitutes Housing Insecurity and How Do People Experience It?

The notion that housing insecurity solely equates to homelessness is a misconception held by many. The reality of housing insecurity encompasses a broad spectrum of issues:

  • The struggle to find and maintain affordable, safe housing
  • Constantly facing the risk of eviction
  • Resorting to temporary living arrangements such as hotels, shelters, or couch-surfing
  • The financial strain of affording rent or utilities
  • Reliance on credit for essential housing expenses
  • Feeling trapped in unsafe living conditions due to limited alternatives
  • The ultimate consequence of losing one’s home or residence

While housing insecurity can affect anyone, it disproportionately impacts marginalized groups, including non-white working-class individuals, victims of domestic violence, disabled persons, former foster youth, LGBTQIA+ community members, single parents, migrants, people with low credit scores, ex-incarcerated individuals, those with chronic health conditions, and others who discriminatory practices have systematically marginalized. This disparity arises from societal systems and institutions that operate with bias based on these characteristics.

For many, an unforeseen expense or emergency is all it takes to tip into housing insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic exemplified this vulnerability, catching numerous individuals unprepared and leading to unforeseen housing challenges. The economic fallout from job losses during the pandemic forced some survivors into situations where they felt compelled to exchange sex for necessities or to continue living with their abusers. Beyond the risk of sexual violence, people have faced overcrowding, the necessity to move frequently, and the pressures of gentrification. Additionally, the pandemic saw instances where landlords exploited the situation by demanding sex from vulnerable women as a form of rent payment.

How Does Housing Insecurity Affect Women?

Housing insecurity is deeply intertwined with issues of racism and gender norms, hitting hardest those who are marginalized by both racial and gender discrimination. This multifaceted inequality manifests in various ways, including discriminatory lending practices by banks, harassment from landlords, wage disparities, and a greater likelihood of financial dependence stemming from domestic violence. Safe, affordable housing remains out of reach for many due to these systemic barriers and insufficient social safety nets. Instances of sexual violence can lead to displacement from family homes, significantly impacting women and former foster youth. In contrast, rejection by families affects LGBTQ+ individuals disproportionately, often hindering their ability to secure stable housing.

The gender pay gap exacerbates these issues, with women, particularly those of color, earning significantly less than their male counterparts for the same work. This discrepancy is highlighted by data from the National Women’s Law Center, which shows that women, on average, earn 82 cents to every dollar earned by men, with even wider gaps for women of color. Women’s overrepresentation in low-wage jobs further limits their housing options and increases their vulnerability to lending discrimination. Studies have shown that gay and bisexual men earn less than heterosexual men, and transgender women face substantial wage reductions post-transition, diminishing their financial capacity for securing housing.

Moreover, individuals within the LGBTQ+ spectrum are at a higher risk of violence in situations of homelessness, with a significant portion of transgender individuals experiencing sexual assault in shelters. These dire circumstances often trap victims in unsafe living conditions, exploitative employment, or on the streets without adequate shelter. The fear of losing custody of children can paralyze single parents from seeking help. At the same time, the stress from these conditions takes a significant toll on physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

What can we do?

As we navigate through the complexities of the U.S. housing crisis, it becomes evident that this issue is deeply interwoven with the fabric of gender and racial inequality. The stark realities faced by women, particularly those from marginalized communities, underline the urgent need for comprehensive reform and targeted support. The disproportionate impact on women and LGBTQ+ individuals not only challenges our societal norms but also calls into question the effectiveness of our current housing policies and support systems.

Therefore, it is imperative for all of us—policymakers, community leaders, activists, and citizens—to advocate for inclusive and equitable housing solutions. This includes pushing for policy reforms that address the root causes of housing insecurity, such as the gender pay gap, discriminatory lending and housing practices, and the lack of affordable housing options. We must also work towards strengthening social safety nets and support systems for those affected by domestic violence, homelessness, and discrimination.

Your voice is crucial in this fight for housing justice. Engage with local and national housing advocacy groups, support policies that promote fair housing practices, and raise awareness about the gendered dimensions of housing insecurity. Together, we can strive towards a future where everyone can access safe, affordable, and equitable housing. This fundamental right should not be compromised by one’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Let us not be bystanders in this crisis. It is time to take action, advocate for change, and support initiatives to dismantle the barriers to housing equality. The path toward resolving the housing crisis is long and fraught with challenges. Still, we can pave the way for a more just and inclusive society with collective effort and unwavering commitment.

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