Are neighbourhoods built to keep out single women?

Are neighbourhoods built to keep out single women?

Posted On

Jul 2, 2019

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Did you know that there used to be laws preventing groups of non-related women from living together? The Walrus shares this important history and raises important concerns in How Neighbourhoods Are Built to Keep Out Single Women. The piece points out that even without those laws in place, the urban planning process continues to leave out the voices of this demographic and many other under-served groups.

Here’s an excerpt:
The focus on developing single-family housing led to policies that discriminated against women. The case of “family” zoning in North York serves as an example. Beginning in 1946, the township of North York explicitly zoned for “families.” This bylaw defined “family” as a household whose residents were related to one another. This was a particularly gendered policy considering that single women with lower incomes often had to live in groups with other unrelated, single women.

In 1971, the Globe and Mail reported on a high-profile case that ultimately challenged this bylaw. That year, after five weeks of searching, four women rented a $300-per-month basement apartment in a house on Walwyn Avenue, just north of Weston. Their tenure violated the zoning bylaw, which only permitted families to live in the area.

Within a month, a North York bylaw inspector warned the women that they had to move out or face a court case. The women immediately began to lobby North York to change the bylaw. One of the tenants, a teacher named Barbara Greene, was elected as North York’s first female councillor on the heels of her popular fight against the bylaw. In office, she pushed to have the Ontario Municipal Board review the bylaw. In 1974, Greene celebrated after the discriminatory bylaw was overturned.

(Read the full essay here)

The piece argues that “to ensure women’s rights to affordable housing, we need to redesign the community-planning consultation process.” Luckily, there are many groups locally and nationally who are advocating for that kind of change.

Here are three CSI members doing this crucial work:

Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
CERA works to advance housing security and human rights in housing for tenants, and to promote the human right to housing across Ontario. They defend housing rights and human rights by:

  • providing direct services to marginalized Ontarians;
  • educating individuals and communities; and,
  • advancing progressive and inclusive housing law and policy.

To strengthen their impact, they work in partnership with many groups across Ontario and have consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Civic Hall Toronto
Civic Hall Toronto is a hub for those working to strengthen civic innovation in Canada’s largest city. They build relationships between government innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and residents, and help them collaboratively address civic challenges using technology and design. Their programs include training, events, project support and collaboration space for government teams and the local civic tech community. At Civic Hall you can learn, share, and collaborate.

The ThinkFresh Group
The ThinkFresh Group is focused on the intersection of urban design and the human experience. They are passionate about cities and how humans experience them. Since 2012 they have consulted for public, private and non-profits clients on projects and public consultation around local economic development, micro-retail, affordable housing and transit. They help their clients facilitate engaging conversations, dream big, plan for the future and create urban human experiences that make cities more enjoyable, usable, and equitable.


Do you have an idea to make cities work better for everyone? Bring that idea to CSI, and let us accelerate your impact!

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash