Plans approved for Britain’s first women’s-only tower block

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Planners have approved designs for what is believed to be Britain’s first women’s-only tower block.

The scheme for 102 flats to be rented to single women is to be built in west London by a housing association founded in 1920 as part of the suffragette movement.

Each home will have a deep balcony and will be designed specifically for women. Details could include slightly lower kitchen work surfaces and careful attention to ventilation to ensure comfort for menopausal women, said Women’s Pioneer Housing (WPH), the landlord.

The 15-storey tower in Ealing will offer homes for low social rents to women who face inequality, abuse and disadvantages in the housing market. Tenants are likely to include victims of domestic abuse and black and minority ethnic women who face a significant pay gap, making housing less affordable.

The person taking the tenancy must be a single woman, and men will only be able to live in the tower block if they become a tenant’s partner. The only way a tenant could be male is if they are the adult child of a female tenant and inherit the tenancy. Transgender women, including people intending to undergo gender reassignment, will be allowed, but men who cross-dress, transgender men, and anyone with a known history of male violence against women or children will not.

Artist's impression of the women's-only tower in Ealing
Men will only be able to live in the tower block if they become a tenant’s partner. Photograph: GRID Architects

“The benefit is security,” said one woman who has lived in a current WPH property on the site since she was a previously homeless student 20 years ago. “We’re not dealing with different types of people moving up and down [the stairs] all the time. I feel comfortable because I am around women only.”

But the project is proving controversial with some of the current tenants who face years living elsewhere before returning to the tower or not being practically able to come back because their households are now too large. Several legal cases are under way arising from disputes over rehousing, residents have said.

A woman who has lived in the complex for 40 years after a private landlord threatened her with rape said: “The benefit for me is there is more safety.” But she said she feared a high-rise could bring with it social problems seen in other tower blocks.

The scheme also attracted opposition from some locals, who argued such a high concentration of women “will put the women at risk” and that “single women would find a high-rise very unpleasant”.

“It’s a very 1950s attitude that if a women goes up three flights of stairs they might faint,” said Colin Veitch, the director of GRID Architects, which has designed the tower. “It’s ridiculous.”

More people supported the scheme saying “we need cheaper housing especially for women” and “affordable housing is good. Nimbys are bad”. One person responding to the planning consultation said: “WPH rescued me from abusive and controlling relationships. Happier and more confident now. Without this housing, women like me face an almost impossible challenge.”

WPH’s latest annual review said: “There is no region in England where a single woman on an average woman’s salary can afford to rent a private-sector home of her own. The gender pay gap builds up over a lifetime and older women are particularly impacted.”

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The same landlord is also planning to build another low-rise women’s-only complex in Shepherd’s Bush, in west London. It operates as a cooperative and community benefit society.

The tower design features red brick and reconstituted stone walls, a roof garden and a green roof. Veitch said there were few differences in the design process compared with a mixed block, but there was “more focus on security and a feeling of safety”. Particular attention will be paid to lighting the surrounding areas so residents feel safe at night.

The scheme is being developed in partnership with L&Q, one of London’s largest housing associations.

Tracey Downie, the WPH chief executive, said the block would be home to women who “have been unable to afford good affordable housing themselves because of their level of income or vulnerability”. That may be because they have been sexually harassed by a private landlord, are full-time mothers relying on income from a partner from whom they are now separated, or have been the victim of domestic violence.

She said the idea was to create homes where people could rebuild their lives. “We try to build in desirable locations where people can feel safe – Ealing is a leafy suburb.”

She said the women would benefit from having a shared understanding of security they might not get in mixed blocks where men might leave doors on the latch.

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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