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Safe and affordable housing

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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For many survivors of violence, and particularly in cases of domestic violence, “housing is not a peripheral issue, or an issue that can be postponed for resolution later on. Rather, for women who fear for their safety and for their lives, housing is an immediate and pivotal issue on which the question of escape itself rests" (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 2006).

Access to longer-term housing that is safe and affordable for women and their children is a critical part of empowering survivors to recover from their experiences with violence. When women are ready to leave the shelter, support for quick access to new safe and affordable housing can help to:

  • Decrease the burden of economic hardship, housing instability, and uncertainty as they focus on safety for themselves and their children, and other essential needs (i.e. employment, health, legal issues).
  • Create alternatives to remaining in abusive homes.
  • Reduce the risks of being re-victimised by abusers (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2011).

Supporting women to find and access new housing in a timely manner may involve:

  • Facilitating women to assess the risks associated and if safe, remain or return to their own home.
  • Accessing transitional forms of shelter that offer extended timeframes for services and protection while women address longer-term issues and prepare to live independently in the community.
  • Assisting them to access financial supports (e.g. to pay affordable rental rates while they are not working, provide required security deposits, etc.), which may be needed as women secure employment, find a roommate, etc.
  • Assistance to quickly find new housing when they are ready to leave shelter and live in the community.
  • Providing information about available safe and affordable housing options, and supporting women to access these options. These might include rapid re-housing schemes or housing subsidies (public or private) in circumstances where a woman can safely relocate to a new home without the need for reinforced security infrastructure or services.

Considerations for establishing a housing programme for survivors include:

  • Women and girls should have access to protection and services in shelter facilities for the length of time needed. In many communities, emergency shelters are only available, offering accommodation for a short period of time (i.e. a few weeks to a few months). Such timeframes are inadequate for many women, who require a longer stay in shelter than is available through emergency facilities. Shelters can assist women to access safe shelter options for the longer period needed to address the various issues resulting from the abuse (e.g. legal and health issues) and establish employment or other economic means to sustain independent housing.
  • Shelter advocates should be familiar with the local government subsidies and mechanisms available for accessing affordable housing, which many women leaving situations of abuse will require. Government subsidies and assistance available to survivors varies greatly. Shelters can support women by being aware of the requirements and criteria for these initiatives and help women identify relevant options to meet their housing and security needs.


What is Adequate Housing?

Adequate housing requires the availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, including access to water and sanitation; heating, cooling, and lighting; energy; washing facilities; food storage and refuse disposal; as well as emergency services.

Adequate housing requires thoughtful location to allow access to employment options, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities.

Adequate housing must be affordable. Since affordability will differ for women and men in many contexts, it is important to take into account the gender disparity in income and access to financial resources, and to prioritize the allocation of social or public housing to those who are unable to meet the cost of housing.

Adequate housing requires accessibility to all groups of women.  Housing law, policy and programmes must reflect the needs of women who may be especially disadvantaged and who encounter intersectional discrimination, including widows, elderly women, lesbians, homeless women, migrant women, women with disabilities, women who may be single mothers or single heads of households, women living with or otherwise affected by chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and mental health disorders, women belonging to racial/ethnic/linguistic minorities, domestic workers, sex workers, illiterate women and women who have been displaced.

Adequate housing requires that women have security of tenure through legal protection against forced eviction, harassment or threats.

Source: extracted and slightly adapted from United Nations General Assembly (A/HR/C/19/53). 2011. Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.


Rapid Re-housing Programmes

Women may be able to avoid staying in shelters where there are rapid re-housing programmes which locate housing in the community for individuals or families at-risk of homelessness and assist in the negotiation with landlords, in order to promote housing retention and link individuals and families with needed services in their community. Rapid re-housing strategies have been used in rural, suburban and urban communities, and in areas with limited shelter resources, but are only suitable where there is low risk for perpetrators to retaliate or commit further abuse.

Important elements of practice in such programmes are:

  • Assisting with the search for housing.
  • Reaching out to landlords to facilitate the availability and maintenance of affordable housing options for women through:
    • Strategies that educate and inform landlords in the community about the services available to families.
    • Dispel myths about the abused women and homelessness.
    • Provide support to the family and the landlord in order to encourage successful tenancy.
    • Build and maintain the trust of landlords through support and outreach services to the individual or family living in their property.
  • Depending on the availability of funding, rapid re-housing programmes may offer some financial assistance to help families pay for housing. Housing assistance varies across communities and may include paying for the security deposit and first month’s rent; providing a two year rent subsidy; providing a subsidy up to a maximum amount; or providing varying levels and types of subsidy tailored to meet the needs of families.

Women's shelters may work with rapid re-housing programmes in the community to advocate for women's access to housing, support women in communicating their housing needs and making application for housing, and providing outreach services to support women exiting the shelter, in a manner that is informed by the issues surrounding violence, as well as the woman's specific needs (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2008).



In 2008, New Destiny Housing, launched Project Safe Home in New York City to match domestic violence survivors with re-rental housing before they left the shelter. In partnership with domestic violence shelters, property managers, and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), the initiative placed 122 families in permanent housing reserved for homeless families over a 3 year period. The initiative addressed common challenged faced by survivors in accessing housing following a stay in a shelter and conducted individual counseling for survivors alongside group workshops to help them understand their options to access available apartments and prepare for the application process. (New Destiny Housing, 2011).

See the full evaluation report 


In the State of Oregon, the Volunteers of America Home Free SHARE project, funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provided rapid-re-housing support (using both emergency hotel vouchers and subsidized housing assistance) to women and their children, alongside employment assistance and other protection measures, as an alternative to emergency shelter. The programme resulted in a high-rate of housing stability for domestic violence survivors 18-months after receiving services and has demonstrated outcomes related to well-being similar to those experienced by women who received shelter services (Niolon et al., 2009).

Watch a webinar on the programme.

See the programme evaluation.



For Landlords, Under Your Roof: What to Do about Domestic Violence. (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence). This 2-page brochure provides an example of information provided for landlords to understand their rights and responsibilities and how to access support when renting to women victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Available in English.

Housing Help: Protections Available for Survivors of Domestic Violence. (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. n.d.). This 2-page brochure provides an example of information helpful for survivors wishing to terminate a lease, changing locks and get legal help. Available in English.

Domestic Violence and Housing: A Manual for California Advocates. (National Housing Law Project, 2009). This resource provides examples of homelessness prevention assistance, victim relocation assistance options, and affordable housing subsidies provided in California, United States. Available in English.