Investments in this strategy aim to reduce barriers to housing that disproportionately impact women and LGBTQ individuals, ensuring affordable access to safe housing. The below high-level overview and associated metrics pack are intended as a gender lens complement to the Navigating Impact Affordable Housing theme.

What

Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What is the problem the investment is trying to address? For the people experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Women who live below or near the poverty line, as well as gender and sexual minorities (GSM), are among the populations most vulnerable to homelessness or housing insecurity. Among the various contributions to this vulnerability are economic disempowerment resulting from inequalities in professional opportunity, limited access to or control over economic resources, and disproportionate exposure to gender-based violence.

The association between gender-based violence and homelessness is well-documented, with domestic or intimate-partner violence accepted as one of the leading causes of homelessness or housing insecurity for women (1). While global homeless populations are mostly male, women, adolescent girls, and GSM are affected by and driven to homelessness in different ways than men. As a result, their housing and housing-stability needs differ from the general homeless population. Investments in affordable and adequate housing can:

  • increase the number of vulnerable women and GSM who can access stable housing; and
  • increase support for these populations to improve their welfare as tenants and improve their likelihood of remaining in safe and secure homes.

What is the scale of the problem?

Rates of homelessness vary by country. Some illustrative statistics include the following:

  • In Australia, women comprise 44% of the homeless population (2). In France, 40% of homeless persons are women (3).
  • Just under 40% of the homeless population in the United States—including both those who are unsheltered and those in temporary or emergency shelter—are women (4). The fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is women and families, and 84% of homeless families are headed by single women (5).
  • More than 80% of homeless women with children have faced domestic or intimate-partner violence (6).
  • Nineteen percent of transgender individuals in the United States have experienced discrimination based on their gender identity when trying to buy a home or apartment, and 11% have been evicted (7).

Country-specific definitions of homelessness and hidden populations not captured by studies mean that the size of the female and GSM homeless population is likely underreported. Experienced policymakers and practitioners note that safety concerns make women less likely to “sleep rough”—that is, sleep in open air or in places not intended for habitation—and their resulting movement between temporary locations makes them harder to track (8). Moreover, women and GSM are especially vulnerable while homeless, as they are regularly subjected to sexual and physical violence and other forms of crime and exploitation.

Who

Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who/What is helped through this strategy?

Women: Women are disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity. Experiencing sexual and reproductive health challenges while homeless or insecurely housed can exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities, challenges that can include lack of access to menstrual products, clean water, maternal healthcare, or childcare. Domestic violence is also a substantial problem for homeless women. An estimated 63% of homeless women have experienced intimate partner violence as adults, and 25% of homeless women report that family violence of any type is the main reason for their current homelessness (9,10). Projects with integrated support that reduces barriers to housing stability—including flexible payment schedules, childcare services, and services for victims of domestic abuse—can improve outcomes for women.


Veteran Women: An increasing percentage of homeless veterans in the United States are women (11). Many experienced sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment while serving in the military and feel betrayed by the institution and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). Consequently, they do not seek services and support that may be available to them as veterans (12). Investments in housing linked to supportive services can address female veterans’ specific needs—including physical and mental health care, counseling, and employment services.


Transgender and Other LGBQ Individuals: Transgender individuals face extreme rates of homelessness and housing instability. Rejection by families means LGBTQ youth, for example, comprise 20–40% of all homeless youth in the United States (7). Housing projects linked with supportive services—such as tailored physical and mental healthcare and policies and procedures prohibiting and actively preventing LGBTQ discrimination—can greatly improve outcomes for these individuals.

What are the geographic attributes of those who benefit?

Homeless and insecurely housed populations live everywhere around the world. The most recent global housing-focused survey, conducted by the United Nations in 2005, estimated a worldwide homeless population of 100 million, with up to 1.6 billion people occupying inadequate housing (2). Therefore, investments in any geography can adopt a gender lens to address homelessness and housing insecurity.

Contribution

Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

Is the investment’s contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How Much and Who?

Investments in projects that specifically consider and address the needs of women and GSM in a particular context, putting in place the policies required to reduce housing instability and ensure equal access, will likely be significantly better than what would happen otherwise. In some cases, the resulting new or supportive housing could be the difference between life and death.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many can receive the outcome through this strategy?

Given the typical share in developed countries of women and GSM in the total homeless population, roughly 40–50% of homeless populations could experience positive change from investments in accessible and affordable housing projects implemented with a gender lens.

How much change can beneficiaries experience through this strategy?

The following are examples of change experienced by women and GSM through projects aligned with this strategy:

  • St Mungo’s, a British nonprofit supporting homeless men and women through emergency, hostel, and supportive housing projects; advice services; specialist physical health; mental health; and skills and employment support, has been worked to tailor its services for women’s unique needs (13). Run by Resonance in partnership with St Mungo’s, the Real Lettings Property Fund is using social investment totaling GBP 36 million to buy properties to address homelessness in London (14). According to Big Society Capital, all of its clients have maintained tenancy for more than six months, 94% are now engaged in work, education, or training, and 67% have been able to find new networks or connections (14).
  • Refuge, which provides services, including assistance with housing applications, for women and children who have experienced violence, serves roughly 6,000 clients every day. After completing their interaction with Refuge, 96% of their clients report feeling safer, 92% say their quality of life has improved, and 76% say they no longer expect to face physical abuse (15).

Risk

Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What risks do investments in this strategy run in terms of either people/planet experiencing impact or society as a whole? What is the probability that those risks happen?

Evidence Risk: The effective application of a gender lens to investments in housing to reduce homelessness requires an analysis of homelessness in the target geographic area disaggregated by gender. This analysis may be difficult to conduct for an inexperienced gender-lens investor, even assuming that sufficient information, accurate data, and statistics are available. Partnering with an existing, local organization dedicated to addressing the homelessness of women and GSM may help investors to overcome these risks.

Execution Risk: Commitment to understanding and incorporating a gender lens is critical to the success of this strategy. Straying from a gender-specific approach will lead to general impact in the housing or homelessness sector instead of addressing the specifically gendered dynamics of homelessness. Such investments could even perpetuate some of the persistent gender-based inequities present in homeless populations. Overcoming execution risk requires social impact investors to recognize and prioritize the value of understanding how gender dynamics affect homelessness trends.

What are likely consequences of these risk factors?

Failure to adequately address these risks could dilute positive impact and potentially lead to negative impact by not responding to the actual needs of clients and/or target beneficiaries or not considering potential unintended consequences of the intervention.

Illustrative Investment

Have an illustrative investment we should consider? Let us know!

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.