California Politics: Why the housing crisis is a women’s issue

A woman and her toddler daughter look up at the Assembly Gallery
Freshman Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and her daughter, Josephine, 2, look at the Assembly Gallery during the Legislative session Dec. 3, 2018, in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
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Add the cost of rent to women’s list of burdens.

While California’s housing crisis has impacted most of us, a report by the nonpartisan Gender Equity Policy Institute found that women, particularly women of color and single mothers, are more likely to spend more than a third of their income on housing.

That is beyond the threshold that many economists and financial advisors consider too much in order to make other ends meet.

The new data, commissioned by the State Assembly, shine a light on how systemic inequities have led to women being especially crunched in California’s housing affordability problem.


Women “are less likely to own their own homes. When they do, they are more likely to be shouldering unaffordable housing costs. They are more likely than men to have extremely low income,” the report states. “The greater difficulty women face in securing affordable housing is deeply intertwined with systemic gender inequality in the broader society.”

How we got here

Statewide, 49% of women are “rent burdened,” compared with 43% of men, according to the report. Twenty-five percent of California women are “severely rent burdened,” spending more than half their income on housing costs, compared with 20% of men.

In Los Angeles County, the numbers are worse: 53% of women are considered rent burdened. One in three Black women who rent spend more than half their income on housing in the L.A. area.

A slew of factors have contributed to the problem, according to the report, including lower pay than men, discrimination in the housing market, domestic violence and the time suck of caregiving duties.

For Nancy Cohen, president of the Gender Equity Policy Institute, what was most striking about the data is how women’s responsibilities impact their housing affordability.

For example: Unlike some Californians who have been able to move to cheaper parts of the state when they get priced out, women may not have the time for long daily commutes if they are also disproportionately in charge of caring for children or other family members.

“The way that the housing crisis converges with gender inequality in the division of household and caregiving labor is really stunning,” she said. “We knew this was a big factor in lower wages and workforce participation, but it also means that women can’t take advantage of the option that many people are using to deal with the housing crisis, which is moving far away from where they work.”


Because women are more burdened by housing, they are also increasingly exposed to homelessness, according to the report. Women are more likely to experience domestic violence, which can lead to an array of financial and housing insecurity. Plus, women face higher rates of eviction.

The COVID-19 “shecession” has worsened housing security, said Betsy Butler, executive director of the California Women’s Law Center.

Women left the workforce in droves to care for their children while schools were closed, with limited child-care options otherwise. Women were also disproportionately affected by pandemic layoffs in in-person service industry jobs.

Butler helps women to secure housing and know their rights as tenants. Many women in the state are facing housings costs at “unsafe levels” and are on the edge of being homeless because they can’t make rent, she said.

“Women are disadvantaged and discriminated against our entire lives, and it all adds up,” Butler said. “What can you afford if you’re not getting paid what you’re worth? You certainly can’t afford to live in Los Angeles, let alone raise a family in a healthy manner.”

Who is most impacted

Women living alone are especially struggling: 66% of women who live alone are rent burdened, according to the report.


That includes the elderly. A majority of Californians 65 and older are women, and 13% live below the poverty line. About a third of elderly Black and Latina American women living alone are living below the federal poverty line.

Another concern is single mothers. More than 70% of single mothers are rent burdened, compared with 56% of single fathers.

Women-headed households are five times as likely as married households to be “extremely low income,” the report states.

Nationally, women make up 83% of Section 8 housing voucher recipients, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Tisha Janigian is an Encino-based broker who gives a portion of her sales at She is Hope Realty to a nonprofit she founded to support single mothers.

As a single mom, she has passed on full-time jobs because the cost of child care would not be worth it.


She now works to provide financial literacy and support services for single moms, and housing has become her No. 1 focus.

“I get these calls every day. They’re in survival mode,” she said. “It’s very expensive to live in California, but they can’t just leave. We need to get these women affordable housing so they can breathe.”

What now?

The report calls on state leaders to use California’s record high budget surplus to attack the issue by providing more financial assistance to both renters and homeowners and to incentivize the creation of more affordable housing in urban centers.

Among the recommendations is a plan to better target housing assistance for extremely low-income Californians, single parents and elderly people living alone.

A “gender-lens” in housing policymaking also needs to emerge, with state agencies tracking data by race and gender, per the report.

“Gender equity has never been a consideration for real estate developers; it has rarely been one for policymakers,” the report states. “The moment is ripe for adopting a gender responsive approach to housing policymaking that will benefit all Californians.”


Assembly member Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland,) chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, called the results of the study “a rallying cry for action.”

“The greater difficulty women face in securing affordable housing is deeply intertwined [with] systemic gender inequality in our broader society,” Wicks said. “Unless lawmakers act on reforms now to unlock a wave of new affordable housing construction and access, we now know in shocking detail which women will be left behind.”

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California politics lightning round

— State lawmakers approved legislation that would allow some Californians with criminal convictions to have records sealed, a move cheered by criminal justice reform advocates and harshly criticized by law enforcement.

— A bill that would have granted electronic benefit transfer cards to low-income schoolchildren to cover meals during the summers quietly failed in the state Legislature.

A second effort to force Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón into a recall election fizzled out after officials determined that the campaign to boot him from office failed to gain enough valid signatures.


— COVID-19 hit public transit employees disproportionately harder than other workers, according to a new study by the California Department of Public Health.

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