Dimensions of Housing Insecurity for Older Women Living with a Low Income

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O’Neil, Kelly
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Dimensions of Housing Insecurity for Older Women Living with a Low-Income Housing is recognized as an important social determinant of health, and the links between secure housing and health are well established. Limited attention in the current housing literature is given to the experiences of insecure housing among older women living with a low income, who, evidence suggests, are especially at risk. A feminist perspective, applied in this study, attributes the marginalized presence of older women in the literature to a pervasive invalidation of aging women within ageist and sexist social contexts. This qualitative study contributes to knowledge about the interrelationships of housing insecurity, health, and wellbeing among older women (age 50+) living with a low income in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). The overarching questions influencing this study were, “What are older low income women’s perceptions of their experiences of insecure housing? How do they understand the relationship between their housing and their health?” The research questions were explored through a cross-sectional study employing semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 11 older women and a thematic analysis of the collected data. The findings from this study point to an array of factors influencing women’s experiences of housing insecurity that are inseparable from the fundamental problem of living in housing they cannot afford. These factors encompass the quality of relationships they experience with those in close proximity to their housing—especially relationships with male partners, landlords and neighbours. Also influencing women’s perceptions of housing insecurity are their emotional responses to the places where they live, which sometimes stand in apparent contrast to perceived levels of housing precarity. A lack of privacy, autonomy, limited housing options, or access to information about housing supports may also help perpetuate housing precarity. Safety and comfort emerge as important concepts in being securely housed, as do the strategies women use to help them feel safe and comfortable within environments that may be perceived as less than secure. Also arising in the discussion of housing and health was the function of neighborhoods as extensions of the home that can support women’s wellbeing through meaningful community attachment. Other insights to emerge in this research described women’s understanding of the ways in which other social determinants of health like income, gender, and childhood experiences may influence their experience of housing precarity. Conversations with women in this study also helped problematize constructs of “resilience” as a means of deflecting attention from systemic barriers in place for older women in accessing secure housing. The findings presented here can help fill current knowledge gaps about the experience of housing precarity among older socioeconomically disadvantaged women. Creating space for women to talk about their experiences has the potential to create greater awareness of the broader social contexts within which housing insecurity occurs. The research also provides deeper insight for health and housing service providers and policy makers into the lived realities, influencing factors, and effects of insecure housing on the health and wellbeing of older women.
Housing security, older women, Nova Scotia