Report: Designing Common Spaces for Women-Centered Supportive Housing

A Practical Application of Intersectional Feminist Analysis

April 2017

Erika Sagert
Professional Planning Project
UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP)


Executive Summary

Non-profit supportive housing plays a critical role in the housing spectrum by providing resources and shelter for those who may struggle to thrive in the private market either long term or temporarily. To ensure the viability of the supportive housing model over the life of a building, housing providers need to contend with the complexity of current and future residents and develop housing that supports diversity and ever-changing needs.

This report delivers insights into the development of women-centered supportive housing through an investigation into the livability of one of Atira Women’s Resource Society’s buildings in Downtown Vancouver called Sorella. Specifically, this report focuses on the ability of Sorella’s common spaces to support the women and children who live there.
Drawing on one of Atira’s primary values, inclusive feminism, this report applies intersectional feminist analysis to an examination of the building’s design. Intersectionality is the recognition that race, class, and gender produce complex sites of marginalization that lead individuals to experience the world around them in distinct ways, something which can and should be applied to the world of design.

Ultimately, this report offers recommendations for designing women-centered supportive housing that can be taken into consideration by other housing providers looking to apply intersectionality to their supportive housing project. By combining a literature review with lessons learned from the lived experiences of women in supportive housing, the following recommendations were developed:

  1. Ensure common spaces are flexible. Allowing common spaces to be changed at will, depending on the user’s needs, will guarantee that they stay useable over the long term.
  2. Make use of different forms of privacy creators. Users require different levels of engagement will social spaces. Privacy can be created in supportive housing by providing functional private rooms/units which offer necessary privacy from the common spaces.
  3. For the accommodation of children, allow for accidental supervision of play spaces and ensure play equipment provides play stimulation for a variety of ages. Mothers are more likely to let their children use the play spaces when they perceive them as passively watched and age-appropriate.
  4. Confirm that play spaces are protected from outside harms such as strangers or traffic. This will also increase the likelihood of their use.
  5. Bring nature into the common spaces. Natural elements have proven to have real physical and emotional benefits for individuals in many different life circumstances. This means facilitating access to both ‘tailored’ and ‘raw’ nature.
  6. Design natural elements to be taken in actively and passively. Not all residents will be able to or want to engage with nature in the same way but passive contact with nature can still be beneficial. Those with mobility issues benefit from spaces easily accessible within/from the building.