The exterior of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council’s new low-income housing project in Whistle Bend is seen on Oct. 27, 2017. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse’s housing woes are a feminist issue

The rent is too damn high. Especially when women are paid 26 per cent less than men

Lori Fox | Special to the News

Earlier this month, Maclean’s ran an issue with two separate covers, one listing a price for women, $6.99 plus tax, and the other a price for men that was 26 per cent higher, at $8.81 plus tax.

This was designed to draw attention to the pay gap that still exists between men and women in this country and abroad. As the Maclean’s cover story reports, the numbers on the pay gap vary widely depending on whom you ask, but the most comprehensive and reliable numbers from Statistics Canada comparing men and women working full time show men make 26 per cent more on average. The gap is even higher among women of colour, Indigenous women and trans women.

Writer Catherine McIntyre acknowledged the stunt was merely “a cheeky way to draw attention to a gap that has barely budged in decades.” The women who are most affected by wage inequality are those who who exist in the lower income brackets to begin with, and they frankly don’t really need a copy of Maclean’s. What they need is food, clothing and decent housing. You know, things otherwise known as the essentials of basic human dignity.

Here in the Yukon, that last need — housing — has been in the news a lot lately. Anecdotally, anyone who has tried to find a place to live in this territory will likely tell you how hard it is, and for some people it can take months, especially if you have children or a pet.

There simply are not enough apartments to go around. The most recent numbers from the Yukon Bureau of Statistics lists the vacancy rate at 3.2 per cent, as of October 2017. The same survey lists the median cost of an apartment at $1,000 a month, before utilities, or 73 hours worth of labour, before taxes and deductions, for a worker on minimum wage in the Yukon.

But not only are there virtually no apartments available, that median price is artificially lowered by renters who have lived in the same apartment for years and are thus locked in to a lower rental rate. Neither the pricing nor the vacancy rates account for the fact that many hard-working, honest people, both non-government professionals and those from service and other unskilled trades, must live with one or two roommates just to be able to afford housing at all. The “real” price of finding a place to live is actually much higher.

Let’s examine this practically. If you’re a single woman, without a partner, you need a one-bedroom apartment, right? Assuming the price of around $1,000 a month, you would reasonably need first and last, plus a damage deposit — let’s say a nominal, one-time fee of half a month’s rent. On paper, then, you’d need $2,500, cash in hand, just to be eligible to rent this imaginary apartment.

Taking into account the pay gap of 26 per cent less earning power, that number becomes $3,150 if you’re a woman — $650 more than a man pays in terms of real-world time and dollars.

That’s all before before utilities, food and other monthly costs, such as a car, if you’re renting in the suburbs and need to get to work on the weekends, or child care if you’re a parent.

This is a problem which not only affects single women, but makes women in relationships even more vulnerable to abusive situations. A woman, especially one with children, is much more likely to stay in a situation where their partner mistreats them if they know leaving him means needing $3,150 in cash just to have somewhere stable to go. For some women, this is flatly impossible, forcing them to remain in intolerable or dangerous situations.

Resources and temporary housing are available at the Kaushee’s Place and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, and women fleeing violence are given priority on housing waitlists, but funding is limited and it can still take months to get into a place. For women fleeing these situations, whose lives have already been torn apart and are who are often dealing with tremendous stress and emotional trauma, the uncertainty of trying to find a home is dire.

As the News reported late last year, the Yukon and federal governments allocated $40,000 to various non-profits in the territory to go towards helping people fleeing violent situations find shelter, and the costs associated with that. If you assume the documented median rent of $1,000, that amounts to 40 months worth of rent — not even enough to provide seven women with a safe place to live for six months.

Given that, year after year, the territories, Yukon included, have among the highest rates of sexual and domestic violence in the country according to Statistics Canada, that doesn’t seem like a lot.

All of these above scenarios naturally assume you can even find a place to rent in Whitehorse. With vacancy rates what they are, it’s becoming something of a snipe hunt to find any place to live whether you can pay for it or not, regardless of your gender. With mining on the upswing again, the problem is only going to get worse. The people it’s going to hit hardest are not the well-to-do families eyeballing new lots in Whistle Bend or the government worker making six figures and renting a condo. It’s the women who work part time for minimum wage, the mothers and daughters and sisters who make your coffee and serve your beer and run you through the cash at the grocery store.

When you consider that, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 70 per cent of part-time workers and 60 per cent of minimum wage earners in Canada are women, that’s a lot more people in your community than you might think.

This problem has two component parts: a lack of housing and a lack of equality for women. These aren’t problems that are going to just go away. If the past has taught women anything, it’s that we’re going to have to shout loud — very, very loud — if we want men and the government to hear us.

Lori Fox is the News’ former city hall reporter. She currently lives in Montreal.

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