On April 8, 2019 the Government of Canada introduced a legislated Right to Housing.
The Right to Housing means all people have the “right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity,” according to the United Nations. It requires government to implement reasonable policies and programs to ensure the right to housing for all within the shortest possible time.
It also means priority must be given to vulnerable groups and those in greatest need of housing. Across Canada, 1.7 million people are in housing need, living in homes that are inadequate or unaffordable and 25,000 Canadians are chronically homeless.
On August 14, 2018 advocates released an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau urging him to make good on his commitment to the Right to Housing by enshrining that right in National Housing Strategy legislation. Since then, a diverse community of over 1,100 individuals and organizations from across Canada joined the call.
WHO WE ARE:
- Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing
- Campaign 2000: End Child & Family Poverty in Canada
- Amnesty International Canada
- Canada Without Poverty
- Canadian Medical Association
- Canadian Nurses Association
- Canadian Housing and Renewal Association
- Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness
- Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
- Lived Experience of Homelessness Network
- ACORN Canada
- Native Women’s Association of Canada
- Egale Canada Human Rights Trust
- + 1,100 more individuals and organizations
WHAT WE CALLED FOR:
On August 14, 2018, we wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, signed by over 170 organizations and prominent Canadians at the time, urging him to make good on his commitment to the Right to Housing by enshrining that right in National Housing Strategy legislation.
We called for the meaningful legislation of the right to housing in Canada—before the next federal election—to include these core elements:
- Accountability to the progressive realization of the right to housing consistent with international human rights (i.e. not just an affirmation of a government commitment to the right to housing).
- Targets, timelines, and independent monitoring consistent with human rights obligations (e.g. not just reducing homeless by half by 2030 but eliminating homelessness in the shortest possible time).
- An independent Housing Advocate to assess compliance with the progressive realization of the right to housing (i.e. not just to “report” on systemic issues).
- A procedure for affected groups to submit petitions (i.e. not just consultations with affected groups but a rights-claiming mechanism for meaningful participation and accountability).
- Referral of selective systemic issues for hearings before a specialized panel of the Human Rights Tribunal with participation in the hearings by those affected (Accessible hearings before a human rights body are essential to a rights-based approach).
- Meaningful and timely response by government to findings and remedial recommendations (i.e. not just receiving reports or policy recommendations but responding to human rights remedies recommended by an authoritative body).
- Inclusive rights-based community initiatives (i.e. not just tenants’ organizations, but all communities affected, including those who are homeless).
- Consistency with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (including the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising the right to housing).
CANADIAN RIGHT TO HOUSING
In Bill C-97 (Budget Implementation Act, 2019) tabled Monday, April 8, Canada took a major step forward to enshrining the right to housing in federal legislation for the first time in its history. The National Housing Strategy Act reflects many of the recommendations made by housing rights advocates. However, more needs to be done to ensure that key accountability mechanisms are included in the legislation.
What the government got right:
- A commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing consistent with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- The creation of an independent Housing Advocate.
- The creation of a Housing Council with explicit inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness and inadequate housing.
- Clear and extensive involvement of affected communities.
However, we will be seeking amendments to improve the bill.
As it’s written, the proposed National Housing Strategy Act lacks important elements of a workable, rights-based accountability framework that would ensure that the housing strategy is effective and bring Canada in line with international standards, including:
- Establishing a monitoring role for the Housing Council, so that it not only provides advice, but tracks progress on the goals of the National Housing Strategy.
- Empowering the Housing Advocate to assess compliance with the stated commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing, including through federal investments and policies, and to make recommendations which the government can’t just ignore.
- A procedure for the Housing Advocate to refer important systemic issues to the Human Rights Tribunal for public hearings, ensuring affected groups have a voice.
- Specifying the requirement for housing strategies to identify and address the distinctive barriers, needs and rights of Indigenous peoples, including urban Indigenous Peoples consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
FAQ ON THE RIGHT TO HOUSING
Does the right to housing mean the government will have to buy everyone a house?
The Right to Housing means all people have the “right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity,” according to the United Nations. It doesn’t mean governments must provide a home for all, but it does require them to implement reasonable policies and programs to ensure the right to housing for all within the shortest possible time.
It means priority must be given to vulnerable groups and those in greatest need of housing. Across Canada, 1.7 million people are in housing need, living in homes that are inadequate or unaffordable.
How does this help people who are homeless or living in inadequate or unaffordable housing?
This helps people in several important ways:
It requires the federal government to maintain a National Housing Strategy (remember, federal withdrawal from housing leadership precipitated Canada’s housing crisis)
- It requires the government to implement reasonable policies and programs to ensure the right to housing for all within the shortest possible time.
- It means priority in housing policy must be given to vulnerable groups and those in greatest need of housing.
- It gives affected groups a voice and a role in the policy process and a means to appeal if their right to housing is violated
- It creates accountability and independent oversight for the National Housing Strategy
What does adequate housing mean?
“Adequate” housing means more than four walls and a roof. Overall, the right to housing entitles everyone to live in peace, security and dignity. The UN has also stated that a number of conditions must be met before housing can be considered adequate.
- Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: including safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and affordable heating.
- Security of tenure: including legal protection against forced evictions, harassment and other threats.
- Affordability: such that the cost of adequate housing does not threaten or compromise your enjoyment of your human rights.
- Habitability: such that housing must provide a safe, healthy and secure environment in which to thrive.
- Accessibility: so that housing meets the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups including persons with any form of disability.
- Location: housing must provide access to employment opportunities, education, health-care, and social services.
- Cultural adequacy: housing must respect and take into account the expression of cultural identity.
What are the costs and savings expected with a legislated right to housing?
- Costs of homelessness vs cost of housing people.
- Homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion annually.
- Benefits of reduced social inequality (e.g. as outlined by Pickett & Wilkinson in The Spirit Level)
Have other countries legislated the right to housing?
Most countries recognize the right to housing. Many as a constitutional right or through legislation, others by recognizing housing as a component of the right to life. Here are some of the countries that a constitutional right to housing:
- Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Seychelles, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka.
Why do we need to legislate the right to housing in Canada?
A legislated right to housing is important for several reasons:
- Canada’s failure to recognize a right to housing has created a housing crisis over the last 30 years.
- Across Canada, 1.7 million people are in housing need, living in homes that are inadequate or unaffordable and another 25,000 are chronically homeless.
- 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night, and at least 235,000 people experience homelessness in a year. Mass homelessness in Canada emerged in the 1980s, following a massive divestment in affordable housing, structural shifts in the economy and reduced spending on social supports.
- Homelessness costs us up $7 billion annually—without addressing the root causes of emergency spending. It costs far less to provide housing and social services.
- Homelessness and inadequate housing disproportionately affect people with disabilities, women-headed households, and members of racialized and immigrant communities.
- Between 28-34% of the shelter population is disproportionately Indigenous as Indigenous Peoples comprise 4.3% of the Canadian population.
- On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because of domestic abuse.