Date and Time: November 17th, 2022 1:30-3PM EST
Organized by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate & the National Right to Housing Network
Having a safe, secure, affordable, and accessible place to call home is a fundamental human right, and is essential to building healthy, sustainable and successful communities across Canada.
On November 17, 2022, ahead of National Housing Day, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate and the National Right to Housing Network held a joint panel discussion to highlight the urgent need to overhaul Canada's National Housing Strategy with a human rights-based lens. The panel was moderated by the Federal Housing Advocate and the discussion provided an opportunity for participants to hear from people with lived expertise of homelessness and precarious housing, as well as advocates for a human rights-based approach to address the current housing crisis.
Governments at all levels must recognize and assume responsibility, using all appropriate means and the maximum available resources, to advance the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing for all. The Federal Housing Advocate sees an urgent need to improve the National Housing Strategy (NHS) to meet the needs of people in Canada and uphold Canada's human rights obligations—particularly for people who are most marginalized and vulnerable who bear the brunt of the housing and homelessness crisis. We need to accelerate access to long-term supports and adequate housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness and people facing housing affordability issues while prioritizing First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, equity-seeking groups including women, Black and other racialized groups, and people with disabilities.
Katlia Lafferty, Co-Chair of the National Indigenous Housting Network and member of the Yellownife Dene First Nation
- Inadequate housing across the board in Northern communities
- NHS does not factor in For Indigenous, By Indigenous-led housing that aligns with principles for living culturally and in alignment with nature
- NHS did not leverage substantial experience of urban, rural, and Northern housing providers
- Improper infrastructure leading to coastal erosion, devastating impacts on environment, entire communities having to move
- Infrastructure still not factoring in the climate emergency
- NHS is not funding health data indicators in housing in remote communities to track mould inhalation, morbidity and cancer rates and their links to poor housing
- Need for separate urban, rural, and northern strategy that addresses unique circumstances of these communities experiencing the worst housing conditions in Canada
- Not allowing Indigenous communities to set up and control harnessing of their own green energy systems or utilities to avoid design of inadequate housing
- Families can't stay because the rent gets jacked up, people are not able to fulfill their obligations to their families and communities
- Rent gets raised the second Indigenous people start making more money, keeps them in poverty
- Reporting income and having to show bank statements is an intrusion of privacy
- People are dying in debt and passing that onto their children
- Power corporations are hand-in-hand with housing corporations, turning people's power off when they can't pay, which is illegal
- No capacity in communities to maintain housing and waitlists are long, but impossible to fix when it wasn't properly built to begin with
- Lifetimes of boil-water advisories
- Indian Act bands don't have enough resources to address these problems and can't make their own policies because their hands are tied by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)
- Lack of safety/security in housing, major mental health crisis playing into both inadequate housing and the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls crisis (MMIWG)
- The National Housing Strategy Act mentions the word “Indigenous” only once
Aditya Rao, Senior Research Officer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) National
- We have a National Housing Strategy but need a National Right to Housing Strategy
- National Housing Strategy is not even meeting its own affordability criteria
- Conventional wisdom right now is that demand for housing is outpacing supply, but not all supply is good supply
- Significant problems with the definitions being used for what is considered affordable housing
- A right to housing approach would require affordability measures to be tied to incomes, not the market
- Can't use the market to solve problems that the market is creating
- Rent cap in New Brunswick expiring this year, tenants being hit with significant rent increases
- Growing consensus that biggest threat to housing affordability is the financialization of housing
- Some consider it a normal feature of the rental market – this idea of charging rents “as much as the market can bear”
- Housing is a basic need - people will even choose to go hungry and sacrifice on medications, rather than lose their home
- People with disabilities are applying for medical assistance in dying so that they don't have to face homelessness
- Non-profit and co-operative housing provide long term guaranteed affordability
- We already have proven solutions: use public money in the public interest, non-profit and cooperative housing
- Create national guidelines for provinces on minimum standards for tenant protections
- Use federal spending powers to require provincial legislative compliance
- It is not enough to legislate the right to adequate housing federally if you can have wildly different experiences with your housing situation depending on where you live
Maya Roy, member of the National Housing Council
- The National Housing Council Working Group on the National Housing Strategy undertook an analysis of key NHS programs which included a research report, literature review and a series of engagement sessions
- We know we can't build our way out of this crisis
- It is critical to unpack what community members with lived experience have shared over the years
- Engagement on bottlenecks/solutions – lack of affordable housing in the North is an emergency
- Disaggregated data – who in our community is experiencing the most vulnerability, and how do we make sure resources are getting to those who need it the most?
- Rural municipalities may not even have the capacity to apply for NHS funds
- Lack of coordination between supports and housing supply/demand, how to provide more wrap-around housing supports
- The NHS is resulting in limited provision of deeply affordable housing
- The supply of existing affordable rental housing is eroding due to purchase by private investors and real estate investment trusts (REITs) that result in rising rents above affordable levels and dispossession of tenants
- Housing costs are detached from the income reality of many households and high inflation rates are accelerating the housing affordability gap
- Without ongoing expenditures, the supply of existing community housing, much of which offers deep affordability, is at risk
- The NHS is not addressing issues of systemic inequality in housing on the basis of disability, gender, race, gender identity, and age, prioritizing those most in need
- NHS's target to remove 530,000 families from housing need is insufficient in demonstrating progress towards long term goals of reducing core need
- There is a lack of coordination between housing supply/demand and housing support services, including income assistance and health supports
- There is a lack of data and monitoring to evaluate progress in the provision of housing the prioritizes those most in need
- NHS program delivery processes are hindering uptake and limiting efficiency and effectiveness
How do we bridge advocacy with actions taken by CMHC to build inclusive, integrated housing for people on social assistance and low to moderate income?
Maya Roy: Key performance indicators are needed to guide $70B NHS fund and also for equity/equity-seeking communities.
Aditya Rao: Coordination, governments should be meeting – get serious about Federal-Provincial-Territorial ministerial tables to implement human rights obligations.
Katlia Lafferty: We can create situations where tenants are not expected to pay rent, live within their means and save for future, pay off their loans, pay for an education. Extreme problems require extreme solutions. Incorporate technology into new/existing infrastructures, combine tradition and technology, follow the lead of Indigenous Peoples. Right of first refusal when municipalities are putting up land for sale.
What advice would you offer the people tasked with revising the NHS to ensure human rights-based approaches are fully integrated and Indigenous rights are recognized/enforced?
Katlia Lafferty: Educate yourself, review the submissions made to Office of the Federal Housing Advocate (OFHA), rescind policies within your organizations if you have the power to do so, push corporations to the table for negotiations, be an ally and stand behind Indigenous Peoples. Research has already been done, it's just going to sit on the shelf. We know what the problem is. If we continue to fund research, we're paying researchers, we're not actually solving the problem. We need to put this money into mobilizing against this housing situation we're in and actually housing people. Using the word “unsheltered” instead of homeless – we all have a home, the land is our home. People are unsheltered.
Maya Roy: Importance of having Indigenous housing providers to define a new way to consider housing in Canada and the autonomy to administer their own policies. Without that, Canada won't be aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Jesse Thistle, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, continuously going back to these teachings.
Aditya Rao: Rethinking stakeholder consultations. People are quick to call on market actors, think about their ulterior motives. Non-market sector is the only sector that does not have ulterior motives. Not there to make money, there to provide long-lasting, affordable housing. Understanding that these are binding obligations. Supreme Court decision in Nevsun case stating that international legal norms are “moral imperatives.” Federalism cannot be used as an excuse under international jurisprudence.
What strategies can rights-holders use to ensure accountability of the different orders of government?
Katlia Lafferty: If government continues to ignore what we have to say, put together a class action on behalf of MMIWG. Another huge issue in society is the sex trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, a direct violation that has come out of inadequate housing.
Maya Roy: Connecting with OFHA, the Secretariat, review panels. People with lived experience having to always hold governments accountable puts the onus back on communities. Fundamentally, disaster has already happened, or is happening. Frontline workers sharing how many people have passed away from the opioid crisis just this week. In terms of the work done by the National Housing Council, how can we be proactive in holding ourselves/governments accountable.
Aditya Rao: We have to organize and show the people in power that it's actually us who hold the levers of power.
Discussion in the chat
- Long-term sustainability of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units is not guaranteed and requires ongoing government subsidies. Non-profits that have recently had their operating agreement/subsidy expire are now raising rents or selling their properties to the private sector and we are losing RGI units. In addition to calling for supporting RGI housing owned by non-profits and co-ops (with appropriate supports in place to ensure the long-term sustainability of RGI units), we must also call for more RGI housing owned by the public sector and operated by non-profits.
- Concerns about the location of housing are not taken seriously by governments
- We hear about supply-side solutions (provide more affordable housing) but what about a national strategy to reinforce and improve tenants' rights?
- Right to housing for disabled parents, to have affordable homes that are fully accessible (for them to parent) and in communities where they have access to other necessities is critical (transportation, health, employment, community and extended family, etc)
- Need for visitable and wheelchair accessible housing, especially given our aging population and the desire that many people have to not live in nursing homes as their physical needs change
- Requirement to first have insurance preventing people from getting housing
- How to interfere with/move away from the market model, e.g. advocating for change to our most expensive housing program, tax-free capital gains
- Both basic income and affordable housing needed to solve the housing crisis
The National Right to Housing Network call to action
The National Right to Housing Network (NRHN) has organized an online letter-writing campaign where you can write to your MPs and call on the federal government to urgently revise the National Housing Strategy using a human rights-based lens. The editable letter offers a series of recommendations which prioritize access to safe, adequate, and permanently affordable housing for all—particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized. You can write to your MP using the National Right to Housing Network form.
- This campaign reflects the vision, urgency, and hunger for justice and real, systemic change that rights-claimants, leaders, and partners from across the Network and housing sector are expressing.
- We know that there are people at every level of this housing system who are ready and willing to meaningfully implement the human right to housing if we gave them the resources and opportunity. All that's missing is the political will from our governments.
- To build that political will, and with the support of partners across our Network, we have assembled a letter with 14 recommendations to begin addressing the systemic drivers of homelessness and inadequate housing once and for all. This letter will be sent to your local MP, the Minister of Housing, and many other relevant MPs who have influence over the National Housing Strategy (like the federal Finance Committee and Finance Minster).
If you have questions, comments, or any proposed changes to the recommendations and letter-writing campaign, you can contact the National Right to Housing Network.