Housing experiences of single mothers in Kelowna's rental housing market.

Author:Jones, Amanda


This exploratory study examines the housing experiences of single mothers in the rental housing market of Kelowna, British Columbia, a fast growing mid-size city with high housing costs. We draw on data from a survey of 30 low income single mothers and semi-structured interviews with 11 key informants to elaborate on the numerous barriers that some single mothers face in this rental housing market. Of these, the most cited issues are affordability, finding housing that is adequate in size, and discrimination. The single mothers' coping strategies reflect difficult trade-offs, typically sacrificing sleeping space and privacy for safety, convenient location, and play space. Both the survey respondents and key informants called on senior governments to fund more affordable housing; and remedies such as centralised housing services and government partnerships are discussed.

Keywords: single mothers, affordable housing, rental housing, Kelowna


Cette etude examine les experiences de logement de meres monoparentales au sein du marche immobilier de la ville de Kelowna en Colombie-Britannique. Kelowna est une ville de taille moyenne qui a subi une croissance rapide associe avec une hausse eleve du cout de logement. L'etude est basee sur des donnees provenant d'un sondage de trente (30) meres monoparentales a faible revenue et de onze (11) entrevues semistructures. Ces entrevues ont permit d'identifier les nombreux obstacles que certaines meres monoparentales font face concernant le marche immobilier. La plupart des interviews ont mentionne les enjeux suivant : la difficulte de trouver un loyer a un prix abordable et de taille adequate et la discrimination envers les meres monoparentales. Celle-ci ont adoptees des strategies d'adaptation qui reflete des compromis difficiles, tel que sacrifier leur espace pour dormir et privee pour la securite, habite dans un logement non-centralise, soit loin de leurs activites, travail et lieux de recreation pour leurs enfants. Tant les repondants et les interviews-cles en ont appele aux instances gouvernementales pour le financement de logement abordable et le recours a des services de logement centralise.

Mots cles: monoparentales, logement abordable, marche de la location, Kelowna


Access to affordable, adequate, and suitable housing is a key component of integration into a community (Teixeira 2009; 2010) and is important to the overall health and well-being of residents, particularly families with children (Gagne and Ferrer 2006; Gifford and Lacombe 2006). This study explores the housing issues faced by low income single mothers living in Kelowna, a mid-size city situated in the central Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, and discusses their remedies.

Kelowna is the fourth fastest growing city in Canada (Press 2012) and the main economic engine of the Valley. The population of the City of Kelowna was 117,312 in 2011, a 21.8% increase over the previous decade (Statistics Canada 2007; 2013a). Kelowna's population is also aging, with a median age older than that of the Province (Statistics Canada 2013a). As a growing city, with strong tourism, education and health care sectors, it is important to attract and maintain younger generations to supply the labour necessary for a healthy economy. Single mothers are an important part of this population.

Population growth has added pressure to the local housing market and is an important contributor to the rising cost of housing (see McEwan and Teixeira 2012; Teixeira 2009; 2010; 2011). Kelowna has one of the most expensive housing markets in Canada and is considered "severely unaffordable" (Demographia 2012). Because high housing costs can have the negative effect of pricing families, and particularly single mothers, out of affordable, adequate and suitable housing, local governments, planners, and policy makers should be concerned with this issue.

The cost of rental housing is a barrier for many families with lower incomes. Kelowna has some of the highest average rents when compared to other cities in British Columbia with populations over 10,000 people (CMHC 2012a). More than half (51.1%) of renters in Kelowna are spending 30% or more of their income on housing, a higher proportion than for the Province (45.3%). Of even greater concern, a greater proportion of Kelowna's renters are "in core housing need" (i.e., paying 50% or more of their income on housing) when compared to the Province, 15.6% compared to 13.4% (SPARC BC 2014, p. 79). Housing that costs 30% or more of a household's gross income is considered unaffordable, while housing that costs more than 50% puts a household at risk of becoming homeless (CMHC 2010). The high level of these indicators of housing affordability problems, along with low vacancy rates in the last decade (City of Kelowna 2011; CMHC 2012a; Teixeira 2011), are similar to those in Canada's largest cities. Clearly, many Kelowna residents are struggling to find affordable housing, and an increase in homelessness has been observed in Kelowna in the past few years (SPARC BC 2014; Moore 2007).

In the absence of any significant amount of social housing development, Kelowna's secondary housing market (e.g., accessory and basement suites and investor-owned condominiums) has become its main source of new rental housing in recent years. These housing forms are becoming increasingly popular as homeowners rely on them to offset mortgage costs; in turn, these types of less costly accommodation are popular among young people, including single parents.

Along with the rest of the population, the population of single mothers residing in Kelowna is growing, having increased by 14.4% between 2001 and 2011 (Statistics Canada 2007; 2013a) to constitute 15.4% of all private household census families (Statistics Canada 2013a), most of which (78.8%) were headed by women. The proportion of single parents in the Province is similar, 15.3% of all households in British Columbia in 2011 (Statistics Canada 2013a). As a growing family type in Kelowna, the housing needs of single parent families warrant study.

Single mother families tend to have significantly lower incomes than those of single fathers or couples (Statistics Canada 2010a). This population sub-group may face particular hardships in the rental housing market due to their dependence on a single income, lower average earnings, and possibly due to discrimination based on family status stereotypes (see Lauster and Easterbrook 2011). It is well-documented that the incidence of 'core housing need' is greater among single parent households than any other family type nation-wide (CMHC 2012b), but the role of discrimination in potentially exacerbating the problem is not well-studied in Canada.

Relatively little is known about the housing experiences of single mothers in midsize Canadian cities, specifically how low income single mothers cope in a high-cost housing market in a medium size city. In this study, we have focused on the barriers single mothers face during the housing search process, their housing difficulties once housing is obtained, and the strategies they employ to cope with these barriers and challenges.

Literature Review

Scholars have recognized that gender remains a barrier to equal treatment in Canada's housing market (Novae et al. 2004; Ray and Rose 2013). Studies conducted in large Canadian cities suggest that single mothers are at a disadvantage in both the rental and homeownership markets (CMHC 2012b; Lauster and Easterbrook 2011; Russell, Harris and Gockel 2008a).

Single custodial mothers often have increased financial burdens on becoming divorced. In trying to maintain their housing and living standards, some divorced women borrow money from family and friends, accept roommates/ boarders, increase their debt load, and move to smaller dwellings and/or to new neighbourhoods (Stewart 1991).

Low income single mothers are at risk of exclusion, marginalization, poverty and even homelessness. Gurstein and Vilches (2010) found that single mothers living in conditions of extreme poverty in Vancouver were excluded from community engagement and pushed into substandard housing which worsened their children's health problems. A multi-city study identified several causes of family homelessness: the lack of affordable housing (exemplified by the growing waiting lists for subsidized housing), a growing gap between incomes and the cost of housing, family violence, and inadequate funding for social programs (CMHC 2003). Regarding the last factor, Russell, Harris, and Gockel (2008a) noted that government transfers to lone mothers in Canada are the second-lowest as a percentage of median income among Western nations. Yet when available, the provision of government-subsidized housing reduces financial strain and reliance on food banks among single mothers living in poverty (Russell, Harris, and Gockel, 2008b).

Although cost is a highly determinative factor in housing decisions, other aspects are also prominent concerns when low income mothers relocate: available neighbourhood amenities and services, including daycare; nearby social supports; and a safe environment (MacArther 2006; Wort 2005). Resident-managed co-operative housing stands out as a solution that addresses all these requirements within an organizational structure that fosters mutual support, especially among mothers (Wort 2005).

The search for affordable housing appropriate for raising children can be stressful for low or moderate income single mothers, and made more so by various forms of discrimination and negative stereotyping by landlords, building managers, real estate agents, neighbours, and private and/or public agencies. Housing discrimination can include the denial of access to housing as well as charging higher prices or rents, applying more stringent or inappropriate screening criteria, or treating certain residents differently (Novae et al. 2002). Families with children may be excluded from...

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