Expanding housing options for survivors of intimate partner violence: Five key findings
By: Alissa Klingbaum, Research and Policy Coordinator, WomanACT
WomanACT is a policy and planning body that works collaboratively to end violence against women and advance gender equity through community mobilization, coordination, research, policy, and education.
What do most of the housing options for women experiencing intimate partner violence have in common?
They require women to leave home in order to reach safety. As a result, survivors often face housing instability, homelessness, and significant life disruptions when separating from an abusive relationship.
A critical shift: Enabling survivors to remain at home
Safe at Home housing models are an evidence-based approach to address these issues. Using a combination of legal orders, home security measures, and wraparound support services, they enable women fleeing violence to remain in their home with the perpetrator removed, or move directly to independent housing.
Safe at Home is a core housing option for survivors in places like Australia and the United Kingdom, where it has been found to improve women’s safety and wellbeing, prevent women’s homelessness, and reduce incidents of intimate partner violence.
The model also represents an important shift toward holding perpetrators accountable for violence, changing expectations that survivors should leave home, and recognizing women’s right to housing.
To advance the implementation of Safe at Home in Canada, WomanACT conducted new research with survivors to understand their housing experiences and preferences when fleeing violence.
Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, we gathered rich data that can inform the housing options we offer survivors.
Five key findings from the research
- Relocation when separating from an abusive relationship is a common experience.
80% of survey participants reported first accessing a housing option that involved relocating from their home. The most common destinations were emergency shelters and staying with family or friends.
Relocation had significant impacts on survivors’ everyday lives. More than half of participants experienced a loss of control over their housing options, disruptions to their family and social relationships, and interruptions to service and amenity access.
- Affordability was the main barrier for survivors to access the housing of their choice.
When leaving violence, survivors had limited housing options available to them. They were most restricted in their housing search by financial barriers. Survivors faced a range of economic challenges, such as insufficient social assistance rates, financial abuse that affected their credit scores or eligibility for income supports, and the inability to work due to trauma and harassment carrying over into the workplace.
This was reflected in the leading concern that survivors had about the Safe at Home housing model: 66% of participants worried that it would be unaffordable to pay housing costs on their own.
- Survivors are often included in the tenancy or homeownership agreements of the shared home.
Most survivors surveyed were living with their partner in the private rental market, where 78% of participants were the sole or joint leaseholder of the unit. Among the smaller share of survivors who were living in owned homes with their partner, 38% were the sole or joint homeowner (compared to 25% whose partner was the sole owner).
This finding is good news for implementing Safe at Home programs: the significant proportion of survivors that have a legal entitlement to their shared home means greater potential for realizing their right to remain there as a housing option.
- Justice system interventions are a core component of feeling safe in independent housing.
The Safe at Home supports survivors rated as most important for their safety were legal orders to prevent their partner from coming to the home and legal orders to prevent abuse or contact. These were prioritized over other desired program components like home security measures, case management, or perpetrator supports.
Survivors also shared many ideas for the role of justice system in Safe at Home, such as stricter consequences for violating restraining orders and police using GPS tracking to monitor the location of the perpetrator.
- Survivors want Safe at Home as a housing option.
With the right supports in place, survivors expressed overwhelming support for Safe at Home. 76% of participants reported that a Safe at Home program would be their preferred housing option when separating from an abusive relationship, with moving to a new home (in the private market or through a housing program) comprising 60% of responses.
Among large group of participants who did not have Safe at Home available to them at the time of separation, 86% reported that they would have wanted it as an option to choose from.
Next steps to put survivors first
Taken together, these findings highlight the need to expand the housing options that we offer survivors. Our research demonstrates a clear interest in Safe at Home programs that promote independent and stable housing. However, there are still barriers that need to be addressed – including housing affordability and availability and justice system responses to intimate partner violence.
WomanACT will continue its work on Safe at Home over the next two years, to evaluate and strengthen the foundation of public policies, funding streams, and social norms that can facilitate successful implementation.
We look forward to working with housing champions and community members across Canada to put survivors first and realize their right to safe and affordable housing.
You can find the full set of findings in our research report, “A Place of My Own”: Survivors’ Perspectives on the Safe at Home Housing Model.