Applying a gender impact assessment to an affordable housing program

Name of initiative: Affordable rental housing scheme

Policy/program/service: Program

New or up for review: New

Sector: Housing

This case study has been drawn from real examples, however the narrative is fictional.


The Victorian Government has announced an affordable rental housing scheme to provide rental homes for low-income people across Victoria. Sigrid and her team are developing the new rental application program for these homes and need to ensure this process meets an allocated budget. The team must undertake a gender impact assessment (GIA) to ensure the rental housing is allocated fairly, and that it meets the needs of women, men, and gender-diverse people. Sigrid knows the GIA will take several months to complete as this is a significant program which impacts vulnerable people, but she understands it will help the team create systems that offer all people fairer access to housing resources.

Step 1: Define the issues and challenge assumptions

Sigrid knows that the GIA will be most effective if it incorporates the perspectives of her entire team. She brings the team together for a meeting to begin work on the GIA.

Together, they seek to identify the issue(s) that the project aims to address by:

  • applying a gender lens to the planning, community engagement and implementation of the application process
  • thinking about the different impacts that housing insecurity and the program have on women, men, and gender-diverse people.

The team uses the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector’s (the Commission) Gender Impact Assessment Toolkit (The Equality Institute, 2021) to help guide its thinking.

What is the issue the program is trying to address?

The program is part of a state government plan to reduce housing insecurity in Victoria. It aims to increase the number of affordable rental homes for low-income households in Victoria.

Sigrid and her team are responsible for designing a new rental application program. They want to ensure homes are allocated to those who need them the most.

Challenging assumptions

Sigrid and her team come to the program assuming that:

  • the housing crisis impacts people on low incomes in a standard way
  • income is the main determinate as to whether and how a person experiences housing stress
  • rental housing is usually a temporary measure, and most people are on the path to home ownership.

The team knows that preconceived attitudes and impressions, stereotypes and social perceptions can lead to unconscious bias when making decisions (Victorian Public Sector Commission, 2022).

The team discuss how gender might influence people's experiences of housing, and realise there may be differences in:

  • how people of different genders experience housing insecurity
  • how the gendered nature of care, family violence and economic inequality can shape the needs of different people
  • how identity factors, like gender, indigeneity, age, sexuality, disability, regionality, ethnicity, immigration status (etc.), and systems of power intersect and influence experiences of housing
  • how people's different social roles and responsibilities affect the way they might access and use this program.

By approaching the project with a gendered lens, the team can make its own biases visible, and understand how these might impact the program. These conversations also help the team understand the power dynamics within the working group, the program, and relationships with communities. 

Broadening the issues with a gendered lens

The team has started noticing that gender influences of every part of the program – from the make-up of the team, to the way it works with community and develops the rental application program.

The team discuss the influence of gender, and consider:

  • The Australian housing system as a whole – whose needs are being met with the existing systems of home ownership and renting, and why?
  • The type of rental homes that the program is offering – do different people have diverse needs when it comes to the design and location of housing? How might the program consider and meet these needs?
  • How to decide if people can apply for the program – might the program’s eligibility criteria impact different people in diverse ways? Can the team select criteria that reflect the gendered and intersectional nature of people’s needs?
  • Project communications – can project communications reflects the diversity of experience in the community and avoid stereotypes of perpetuating inequities?
  • The gendered make-up of the team itself – does a gendered lens reveal something about the leadership and structure of the team? What might this mean for the team when it interacts with community members?
  • Community engagement – what power dynamics might influence the team’s community engagement processes? How could community engagement processes reach people who are often neglected or under-served?

These considerations help the team identify where it needs to do more research to ensure the program has a positive gender impact.  By recognising the intersectional and gendered nature of the program, the team believes qualitative data can help it understand the needs of people of different genders.

Step 2: Collecting evidence – data, research and consultation  

To start their research, Sigrid and her team think about three questions:

  • Who is likely to be affected?
  • What is the lived experience of diverse groups?
  • What are the impacts to different people or groups?

The team knows it can find some of this information from internal sources and cross-departmental collaboration. The team members also plan to conduct desktop research, community consultation and engagement with stakeholders.

Conducting research helps the team understand:

  • why the housing crisis and the program might impact women, men, and gender diverse people differently
  • why people have diverse housing and social support needs
  • towards whom the team needs to target its work to make the program equitable, inclusive, accessible and responsive to need.

Using internal data

The internal data that Sigrid and her team can access includes gender-disaggregated data collected by their organisation. To access some of this information, they must communicate with other departments within their organisation. They do this during all-staff meetings and meetings with department leaders.

Other internal data that the team can use to build the GIA includes:

  • previous housing policy reports
  • research on affordable housing that the organisation has commissioned
  • evaluation reports of previous housing projects
  • enquiries and complaints data from previous teams working in affordable housing
  • survey and census findings
  • customer/client data, including social media data
  • consultation and policy submissions.

This information helps the team understand whether existing work has met the community's needs. It also helps the team recognise its limitations and opportunities for gender equality in its work, and where more research is needed.

Data, statistics, and desktop research

The team’s desktop research begins on the Commission’s website. The team finds general advice about how to conduct a GIA (Gender Equality Commission, 2023) as well as data sources and information about intersectionality (Gender Equality Commission, 2023). These resources help the team tailor the approach of the project and ensure it is gender responsive and accessible.

The team then expands its research to other resources, including:

  • Australia Bureau of Statistics census data (2021)
  • The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (University of Melbourne, 2022)
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare housing data dashboard (2023)
  • Australian Government Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Status of Women Report Card (2023)
  • Australian and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (2023)
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIWH) National Indigenous Australians Agency Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (2023)
  • research work by Per Capita’s Centre for Equitable Housing (2023)
  • Victorian Women’s Health Atlas (Women’s Health Victoria, 2023).

Sigrid and her team read open-source journal articles and research papers, websites and resources of organisations working in the housing space. They also look for submissions and reports by non-profit groups advocating for affordable housing.

The team also wishes to understand the gendered experiences of people impacted by the housing crisis. So, they search for research made by and for people who have been impacted by housing insecurity, or who have experienced renting or searching for affordable housing.

Consultation with community and advocacy groups

The team also understand that it needs to speak to people impacted by housing insecurity. It decides that an effective way to reach these people is through existing community organisations, such as:

  • housing non-profits, action groups
  • tenancy support groups and public housing tenancy bodies
  • homelessness organisations and support services
  • organisations that support people experiencing poverty
  • regional women’s health organisations
  • family violence organisations and women’s shelters
  • LGBTIQ+ groups
  • Indigenous groups, community-controlled organisations and Elders
  • disability services and advocacy groups
  • older people’s advocacy groups
  • youth services and advocacy groups.

The team understands the importance of engaging with these stakeholders in ways that are accessible and inclusive. The team decides to ask these groups how they would like to participate, so that engagement processes are based on the needs of the groups and individuals involved.

The team decides to use several different engagement methods to connect with stakeholders – via an online survey; and via face-to-face community engagement sessions.

Online survey

The online survey gathers feedback from participants on their housing needs and experiences and asks participants to complete demographic fields so Sigrid and her team can disaggregate the data. The survey consists of multiple-choice questions, and opportunities for longer-form responses.

The team receives a moderate number of responses to this online survey from people who need housing support, and many responses from community organisations supporting people who are experiencing housing insecurity. Several organisations highlight that some community members have difficulty accessing the internet to complete the survey, and so the face-to-face engagement sessions would be important to allow these people to have a say.

In-person conversations

Listening to these experiences, Sigrid and her team to focus on how they might make the community engagement sessions as accessible as possible. The team contacts organisations that commented on the survey and collaborates on a series of drop-in conversations across metropolitan and regional communities.

Because the team now understands that social roles and caring responsibilities can determine when and how many people, particularly women, access in-person events, the team runs sessions during various times of the day. It organises sessions in community spaces like libraries and Neighbourhood Houses and tries to ensure these sessions can be accessed via public transport. Where public transport is not available, they plan to support the transport costs of community members if they need support. The team also offers community members access to a translator, Auslan interpreter or other support to participate.

The team finds that tapping into the networks of trust that have been built by the participating community organisations means the information about these community conversations reaches people who did not otherwise know about their program.

Evidence collected by Sigrid and her team

The team’s research adds depth and context to the program planning, as well as challenging some of the team’s initial assumptions.

Returning to their previous three questions, Sigrid and her team feel there have been particularly significant learnings about the gendered and intersectional experiences of housing accessibility and affordability between diverse cohorts of people.

Step 3: Evaluate options

With this information, the team can consider how to design the application program. The team produces two options and considers how each might impact people of different genders, while meeting the budget that has been allocated. By doing this, the team will determine which option is more equitable, and ensure rental homes are allocated based on need.

Step 4: Finalise recommendations

The team understands that while option 1 may more easily come in under the allocated budget, option 2 will have a more positive gender impact. So, the team recommends option 2, with a few changes to ensure it meets the budget.

The team recommends the following actions:

  • Develop a human rights-centred online application process, with some in-person support and in-language options. Concentrating in-person support in priority areas will help to reduce costs.
  • Train some existing local organisations to offer in-person support. The team recommends these be located across metropolitan and regional areas. The number of support agencies could be increased if the budget allows.
  • Train department staff to deliver this process.

Preparing for progress reporting to the Commission

Every two years, Sigrid’s organisation must submit progress reports to the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public sector. These reports must include:

  • detail of the policies, programs and services that were subject to a GIA
  • the actions taken as a result of the GIA.

All of Sigrid’s recommendations were approved, and the team is proud of their work to promote gender equality. Sigrid files her approved GIA template in a central shared drive for use in progress reporting. Other teams may also access this template when completing their GIAs.

Summary of actions taken

Some of these actions will take longer to implement than others, but since they have been approved, the team records the following actions taken:

  • The application process will be changed to include a range of information to help decision-makers understand applicants’ needs based on their gendered circumstances and intersecting factors. This information will also help decision-makers consider the program's impact on applicants.
  • Applicants will be able to provide additional details regarding their circumstances so their unique needs can be considered for the application. However, to ensure all applicants are comfortable when applying, this will not be a requirement.
  • An online application will be created with in-language options, and local organisations in priority areas will be trained to provide in-person support.
  • Internal staff and representatives from local organisations will be trained in this application process, as well as gender equity, to provide comprehensive support.