Open letter – universal design and accessible housing

Dear Minister Fraser and Minister Khera,

I am writing regarding the announcement on December 12, 2023, that, to help address Canada’s housing crisis, the Government would develop a catalogue of pre-approved blueprint designs for homebuilders.

As you are aware, Canada does not currently have an adequate supply of accessible or easily adaptable housing. I am urging the Government of Canada to ensure that these housing blueprints incorporate the principles of universal design and meet people’s accessibility needs. This is essential to ensure that all people in Canada have access to a range of housing options that meet their needs and that allow them to age in place.

I know we all value non-market housing. I view the proposed blueprints as a timely tool for non-market housing providers and builders to provide housing that is suitable for everyone at all income levels. The federal government must prioritize the development and acquisition of non-market housing supply that is permanently affordable, accessible or adaptable and provides community value.

The lack of accessible housing options is forcing many seniors and people with disabilities to live in long-term care when they could otherwise live independently. Long-term care beds are in high demand, costly, and should be reserved for people with complex care needs.

Many homes currently being built will require renovations — some of which are extensive, expensive, disruptive and time consuming, if they are even possible at all. This situation is expected to create additional barriers for Canada’s aging population, regardless of people’s socio-economic position, with those most disadvantaged being most deeply affected.

The Government of Canada has funded Accessibility Standards Canada to develop a technical Standard on Accessible Dwellings in partnership with Canadian Standards Association (CSA/ASC – B652). This standard, the Accessibility Standard for the Built Environment (CSA/ASC - B651), and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation Universal Design Guide for designers, builders and developers of multi-unit residential buildings must be incorporated in the catalogue of blueprints to ensure newly built homes are accessible or adaptable by default and meet people’s evolving needs.

In addition, the National Building Code should be amended to ensure accessibility or adaptability within individual housing units, and accessibility of common areas of buildings. The bar needs to be raised so that the Code doesn’t perpetuate barriers or prevent people from accessing housing options that meet their needs. The Government introduced the Accessible Canada Act to build a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Now is the time to show federal leadership in identifying, removing, and preventing new housing barriers.

I call on the Government of Canada to ensure that all the options provided to builders in the catalogue of blueprints are based on universal design principles and are either accessible or adaptable.

I also call on the Government of Canada to expand the accessibility and adaptability requirements in the National Building Code so that all future dwellings are built without barriers.

Collectively, we have an incredible opportunity to build inclusively from the start, which will make a real difference in peoples’ lives. The federal government must act on this issue now to achieve the Accessible Canada Act’s goal of a barrier-free Canada and to realize the human right to adequate housing enshrined in the National Housing Strategy Act and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


Marie-Josée Houle
Federal Housing Advocate

c.c.: Stephanie Cadieux, Chief Accessibility Officer

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