Today is International Women’s Day and March, Women’s History Month. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the women and girls in our lives and celebrate the achievements of women here at home and around the world in pushing for a more equal and just world. At the same time, however, it’s crucial to acknowledge the many challenges women, girls, and gender diverse individuals continue to face. Housing is one clear example of this here in a part of the country that is one of the most impacted by Canada’s housing affordability crisis. Women and gender-diverse individuals are impacted by housing instability and homeless in challenging and nuanced ways. Their ability to find stable, safe and secure housing is impacted by sexism, gender-based discrimination, and other interrelated social, economic, and political barriers.  

The 2023 Homeless Count for Greater Vancouver identified 4,821 people experiencing homelessness, up 32% compared to the last count in 2020. Of that number, 718 individuals (or 28%) identified as women. This gender proportion is relatively consistent with the previous Point-in-Time count. However, the survey’s methodology overrepresents men as a proportion of the population experiencing homelessness, as men are more likely to be observed and “found” experiencing homelessness and therefore included in the count. For example, people who identify as male, white, and heterosexual and fall within the adult age range are more likely to be included in these results than those who do not identify as one or more of these aspects of identity, because they are less likely to be experiencing hidden homelessness. 

The 2023 Indigenous Homeless Count found that of Indigenous respondents, 62% identified as male and 24% identified as female. Of the non-Indigenous respondents, 72% identified as male and 25% identified as female. 

This data shows what we already know: we need to address the critical gap in housing and wraparound services for women and gender-diverse people. That’s why we were excited when Soroptimist International of Vancouver approached us as they looked to build a new housing development exclusively designed for and by women, at West 13th Avenue and Cambie Street in Vancouver.  

The focus of this housing project is to close the gap in the housing needs of women and gender-diverse individuals by providing affordable, long-term housing for workforce women, single mothers and their children, and senior women. Soroptimist is bringing a gender-based approach to all key areas of development design and delivering this project with an interdisciplinary team of experienced industry-leading women. 

“Our innovative project that we are building will empower women economically through holding a lease in their name and support stability and families in achieving financial independence”, said Carla Busnardo, Board Member of Soroptimist International of Vancouver. “The connection between housing and well-being is known, and the Vancouver Soroptimists are further assisting women to be their best by providing more affordable housing." 

When completed, this project will provide 13 storeys (135 units, ranging in size from studios to three-bedroom suites) of affordable rental housing options, replacing the current aging 2-storey rental building. It will also feature a shared garden and outdoor space, meeting and event space, and car and bicycle parking. After five years in the making, the project officially broke ground in December 2023, and construction is expected to be completed in 2026. 

VCF is honoured to have played an early role in this incredible by women, for women housing project. In 2019, the Vancity Affordable Community Housing Program helped speed things along with $37,000 in grants to support visioning and business planning, and in 2021 we were proud to deepen our support with $375,000 in low-cost pre-development loans. 

“Like so much of our work, this project began with a simple email. A board member of Soroptimist reaching out to see how we could help flesh out an idea: housing for women, by women”, said Genesa Greening, CEO of Vancity Community Foundation. “This project is such a perfect example of what happens when we all come together to support the community housing sector. A community organization with land and ambition finds early grants and loans when they’re needed most, so they can secure the backing of the Province of BC to build 135 homes that women and children in our community urgently need.” 

Vancity Community Foundation aims to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the resources they need to live fulfilled and dignified lives. We are honoured to be able to support innovative, women-centred organizations and projects that are creating long-term impact, and we look forward to continuing this work into the future.