|Role of Women in the Execution of Low-income Housing Projects (Habitat)|
Access to low-income housing projects: One of the first stages in the execution of a low-income housing project is the formulation of eligibility criteria. At this stage, the authorities decide which kind of people should benefit from the project. In this respect, two issues are particularly important for women's participation.
If income is selected as the main criterion, the poorest of the poor are often excluded from access to such projects. Since women-headed households are generally poorer than male-headed households, it is often more difficult for women to obtain a plot in a low-income housing scheme.
Project authorities often also fail to understand the differences between men-headed and women-headed households when it comes to formulating secondary criteria for defining the target group. It is often difficult for women to meet these criteria, as they have been formulated for male-headed households.
Income: Sites-and-services projects aim to provide shelter for those people who are too poor to afford 'conventional' housing but not so poor that they will be unable to make regular repayments for land, housing and services. Usually, eligible families need to have an income greater than that of the poorest 10 per cent of the population.
Women do mainly unskilled work and are not organized; they are domestic servants or are involved in petty commercial activities. They have e lower income than men and are generally not protected by social security. As a result, women are frequently excluded from the target group of sites-and services projects.
Moreover, the estimates of household income often are based on earnings alone. Transfer income (e.g., the economic support a household receives from friends and relatives, loans of food and clothing etc.) which often forms an important portion of the total income of women-headed households is usually discounted. Also, the calculations do not take into account the disposable income for basic household needs or a family's willingness to pay for housing.
Ecuador: The Solanda sites-and-services scheme in Quito was an integrated project providing housing, community facilities and social programmes to around 6,000 low-income families. One of its aims was the improvement of the position of women.
Women-headed households made up 30 per cent of the total number of applicants, but 46 per cent of these women did not qualify for access to the scheme because their incomes were too low. Eligibility criteria stipulated that monthly earnings had to be a minimum of 7890 sucres (US$131 at the 1983 rate of exchange) and maximum 10,716 sucres (US$178), on the basis that not more than 25 per cent of household income should be spent on housing (Blayney and Lycette).
Lowering the minimum-income requirement to compensate for the economic difficulties of women is not enough to improve women's access to housing projects. The result would merely be that a greater number of low-income male-headed families gain access to housing. In fact, this was exactly what happened in Solanda.
There should be mechanisms for protecting women-headed households in target-group selection. If there are large numbers of women-headed households, it may be necessary to allocate a certain number of plots in the project to households headed by women, to avoid male-headed families taking advantage of broadened eligibility criteria.
Willingness to pay: Authorities often base the selection of beneficiaries for low-income housing projects merely on the income of the household concerned. However, the willingness to pay and the priority a family at taches to the improvement of its housing conditions are at least as important as the capacity to pay.
Economic resources are frequently distributed more evenly in households headed by women than by men.
In the latter, husbands and fathers often spend a considerable portion of their income for themselves rather than for the household (Fernando; Singh).
Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that women are more willing to spend money on housing than men, as they give a high priority to good housing conditions.
Regularity of employment: Families with stable income in fixed employment are generally given preference in low-income housing projects because beneficiaries have to be able to make regular payments. Women often have irregular jobs, particularly in the informal sector, with no legal status or protection.
Consequently, secondary criteria requesting proof and stability of employment, discriminate against women-headed households.
In this way, female participation has frequently been blocked in projects, as in the case of Santa Ana (El Salvador) and Dakar (Senegal) where women had considerable difficulty proving their income from informal sources. In Brazil, retired women were also at a disadvantage, because most of them had not paid social security during their working lives and thus did not receive a pension afterwards.
Brazil: A programme of sites-and-services projects financed by the Brazilian National Housing Bank in 1975 had a number of employment related eligibility criteria which excluded women. Families had to earn one to three times the minimum wage to be eligible for a plot. In 1977, 43 per cent of the women-headed households in Brazil earned less than half the minimum wage.
In Acude I, a project in Volta Redonda, eligibility criteria specified that preference would be given to persons with formal employment on the basis that formal-sector work would be regular, long-term and readily verified (Machado).
Family structure Another difficult eligibility criterion is family structure. In Boa Vista (Brazil) applicants were required to be fathers. This illustrates how most project authorities assume that the head of household will be male and that households will conform to the Western nuclear model.
In Mexico City, a sites-and-services scheme organized by a co-operative (USCOVI), drew up eligibility criteria specifying that applicants had to have a partner - although not necessarily be married to them (Arredondo et al).
In a housing project in Dakar (Senegal) the rules for selecting applicants stipulated that only one plot would be allocated per family, on the assumption that the family consisted of a man and all his wives, regardless of whether or not they were __ facto dependents. This denied women married to polygamous males the right of independent access to shelter for themselves and their children.
In a sites-and-services programme in Honduras, however, one set of eligibility criteria merely required that the household consist of a minimum of three persons who had lived together for at least a year prior to the housing application. It did not stipulate the gender of the head of the household (Resources for Action, 1982a).
Income: Income requirements appear to be the main obstacle to the participation of women-headed households in low-cost housing projects, especially if the emphasis is on earned income and gross income. When formulating eligibility criteria, project staff must take into account the difficulties women face in urban labour markets and they must recognize that women's responsibilities in the household often prevent them from taking full-time, formal sector jobs.
Means of solving the problems faced by women in gaining access to shelter include: a) Including transfer income in the estimate of the total household income. b) Utilizing per-capita-income-within-the-family as a means of assessing accurately the ability of households to pay. c) Taking into account differences in willingness to pay for housing between men and women.
Employment: Projects need to find alternative methods of asses sing the paying capacity of beneficiaries. Many poor, and in particular women-headed-households face enormous problems in proving the regularity of their income, as their members are either self employed or work in the informal sector.
Should some kind of proof of employment be nevertheless required, project authorities may overcome the problem of verification by: a) Going to the places of work of a sample of women-headed households to assess their income earning ability; and/or b) Examining estimates of weekly net income over a period of days or weeks in order to assess the nature and viability of the employment as well as the average income, (this may also prove useful in later stages of the project when repayment terms are calculated).
Family structure Project authorities responsible for formulating eligibility criteria must recognize that not all families conform to the Western nuclear model or are headed by men.
In order to improve access to low-income housing projects for women, authorities should: a) Avoid making any stipulations concerning the gender of the head of the household or the household composition; and b) Apply some degree of positive discrimination for women, to counteract the potentially harmful effects of extending the definition of income-eligibility criteria.
Shelter alternatives: The problem of women-headed households' access to shelter in sites-and-service schemes may be in part solved by upgrading women's present shelter rather than by resettling them in new, expensive sites (Sorock et al).
a) Fieldwork Assignments
1) What percentage of the total number of house holds in your
city are headed by women?
2) Which jobs tend to be done by women in your city?
3) Do women-headed households tend to be poorer than male-headed households?
b) Questions for Discussion
1) What is the principal eligibility criterion in your project? How far is income the determining factor of entry into the scheme?
2) What are the secondary criteria?
3) How would you change the eligibility criteria in order to assist women-headed households to gain access to the project?