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UN Special Rapporteur on Housing underscores imperative of NHS to legislate right to housing

After being cited by Parliamentary Secretary, Adam Vaughan, and Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation President, Evan Siddall, for her endorsement of the forthcoming National Housing Strategy (NHS), UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, Leilani Farha, issued an open letter clarifying her position that "it is impossible to have a human rights based housing strategy that does not recognize the primacy of the right to housing as a legal right subject to effective remedies". Her support of the strategy, she asserts, was based on the understanding that the government had committed to recognize the right to housing, and that it would ensure effective remedies and accountability for systemic violations of the right by way of a Housing Advocate, a Housing Council and Community Initiatives.

The letter came after comments by Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Siddall that the NHS need not recognize the right to housing in legislation or provide for effective remedies, suggesting that to do so would not help people access housing at all, but would simply engage them in expensive legal battles. These comments bely either a serious misunderstanding or grave misrepresentation of what the right to housing would mean for the estimated 1.7 million people in housing need and the 25,000 chronically homeless across Canada.

The letter outlines five consensus points adopted by civil society groups and other stakeholders with respect to the development of the NHS, supported by the UN Special Rapporteur:

  1. Explicit recognition in the legislation – and not just in preambular text – of the right to adequate housing as defined in international law and of the obligation of governments to progressively implement the right within a reasonable period of time.
  2. A commitment to address systemic inequality on the basis of race, gender, disability, and other grounds, the impacts of colonization, and the rights of Indigenous communities, including those in urban centres.
  3. Prioritization of those in most urgent housing need and a commitment to eliminate homelessness by 2030 as Canada has agreed to under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  4. An accessible process through which systemic issues are subject to public hearings, adjudication and remedies.
  5. Independent monitoring of progress and accountability based on human rights-based goals and timelines.

Ms Farha further notes that these proposals would provide for hearings and remedies for systemic issues affecting the progressive
realization of the right to housing, by way of a Housing Advocate and Housing Council and would not rely on individual claims before courts.

"It is inappropriate, therefore, for the government to continue to state that recognizing the right to housing and ensuring effective remedies in the NHS legislation would require individuals to “prosecute their way into housing” using lawyers and courts."

To read the full text of the letter, please click here.

See also, UN watchdog chides Liberals for watering down rights in housing strategy