In my role with Housing Alternatives, I have been contacted by a few builders – all men – who see themselves as providing low cost accommodation for women. Some are clearly genuine, and really do want to help and some are – well – seeing this as another way of rorting government dodges to make massive profits.
But whichever group they belong to, I have found it almost impossible to communicate what I think women want – and need – and why these things are a fundamental right that we should not give away for expediency.
The most frequent design I have presented to me is straight rows of small or tiny houses, similar to caravan parks, with no fencing and no concept of private space. Sometimes they are refurbished motels on busy major highways with no consideration to ongoing living needs.
When I give them my checklist, they tell me that we cannot afford this. In other words, they are telling me that women who have spent a lifetime in service to our communities do not deserve basic safe housing. I think we do! It costs very little more to replace bad design with good design and this is what we are proposing.
Here is a list of what I think women – homemakers – want.
- Safety. This is more than having a lock on your door. It’s about feeling safe when outside as well as inside. It includes not being exposed to routine sexist behaviour, such as being leered at or listening rude comments, or otherwise harassed, near your home.
- Ability to keep animals. This can be critical for solo women without family, whose animal companion IS their family.
- Sense of community. Women are increasingly choosing, where they have the option, to live in a private space but as part of the broader community. Some choose to live with only women, and some prefer a mixed demographic, but the sense of being part of a community is essential.
- Adaptable to age-in-place considerations. This means that bathrooms should be wet rooms, steps should be replaceable by suitable ramps, etc.
Environmental and social sustainability
- High environmental rating of buildings.
- Solar passive orientation and solar power generation. Both of these keep ongoing living costs down and add to environmental sustainability.
- Water collection. This is either for watering grounds or as chemical free drinking water depending on safety of local rainwater.
- Common building for meetings and other community ventures, including localised businesses suitable for the residents of the community.
- Common vegetable gardens.
- Common orchard trees.
- Close to all essential services. Easy access to medical services is critical for some.
- Walking distance or with easy to access public transport for basic shopping. There will come a time for all of us when our old car finally dies and we cannot replace it, or when health issues mean we should not be driving. So public transport to a decent shopping centre is a critical factor in choosing a location.
- Storage space. There must be room to store items that are used seasonally or occasionally.
- Room for a carer or overnight guests. There should be private space for guests to stay overnight.
- Split system heating and cooling. This can be a cost effective option particularly if the houses are generating their own power.
- Dishwasher. This is only necessary for a small part of the demographic, but might also be a useful water conservation tool.
- Space for washing machine in bathroom or garage. There can also be a laundry area in the community building for those who want to use it, but older or disabled people cannot be expected to cart their laundry from their home to a central facility.
- Spacious “wet room” bathrooms. These need to either start as or be adaptable to age-in-place requirements. The sole internal access to bathroom is never from a bedroom.
- High ceilings, good ventilation. This is particularly important with small rooms.
- Safe and private outside space. Safe and private go together. Women do not like to sit outside where they can either be watched, or forced to engage with passers by, so some kind of private outside space is required out of line of sight of any other residents. They also require private space to dry laundry. A well designed inside/outside space is ideal.
- Protection for car from weather extremes. This can be a car port, but if safety is an issue in the location, it needs to be a garage with direct access to the house. A garage can double as storage space.
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