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A brief history of right to housing in Canada

The right to adequate housing is a human right for everyone in Canada. The human right to adequate housing means that all people are equally entitled to live in dignity in a safe and secure home. Everyone should be able to access housing that meets their needs without discrimination or harassment.

Having an affordable, suitable and safe place to live helps people and families succeed and thrive. Housing as a human right is an important precondition for several other human rights, including the rights to life, work, health, social security, vote, and education.

The human right to adequate housing is not a new concept. It is a fundamental human right that is recognized under international law, as early as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada committed to the progressive realization of the right to housing and an adequate standard of living in 1976 when its signature on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into force.

Canada’s commitment to the human right to adequate housing was reaffirmed in 2019 when Parliament passed the National Housing Strategy Act. The Act recognizes housing as a human right and commits the federal government to further the progressive realization of the human right to adequate housing.

The Act establishes accountability tools to help promote and monitor the right to housing in Canada, including:

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About the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

The Federal Housing Advocate is an independent, nonpartisan watchdog, empowered to drive meaningful action to address inadequate housing and homelessness in Canada.

The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, housed at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, supports the Advocate in carrying out their mandate.

Together, we promote and protect the human right to housing in Canada, including the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing.

The goal of the Advocate’s work is to drive change on key systemic housing issues and advance the right to housing for all in Canada. The Advocate does this by receiving public submissions, by amplifying the voices of affected communities, by making recommendations to improve Canada’s housing laws, policies and programs, and by holding government to account on its human rights obligations related to housing and homelessness.

The Advocate’s mandate is guided by a human rights-based approach, which values participation, accountability, non-discrimination, equity, transparency, empowerment, accessibility, respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples, and respect for human rights laws and obligations.

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About the Advocate

Marie-Josée Houle (she/her) was appointed as Canada’s first Federal Housing Advocate in February 2022, marking a new chapter in a career defined by her work in the affordable housing and homelessness sector.

Ms. Houle is an experienced leader who is recognized for her community activism, expertise in human rights, and extensive knowledge of the housing and homelessness system.

Prior to her appointment as Canada’s first Federal Housing Advocate, Ms. Houle has held a number of roles that inform her broad experience, including frontline work in housing co-ops, consulting and project management for affordable housing development, by-law review, housing-related research projects, developing educational programs for housing co-ops and non-profits, and senior leadership roles.

Ms. Houle has been actively involved in advocacy work at a national, provincial and community level. She has advocated for tenant rights and the non-profit housing sector at all three levels of government. She has worked with diverse partners in the sector to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, improve efficiencies, influence key opinion leaders, leverage strategic partnerships, and address gaps and human rights violations related to housing and access to housing. Building a sense of community among diverse partners is particularly important to her.

A supporter and amplifier of marginalized voices, Ms. Houle promotes respectful and inclusive dialogue, creating a space for disadvantaged people to be heard, and applies an intersectional and anti-racism lens to her advocacy work. She has liaised with Indigenous housing providers, developers and tenant support organizations to devise ways to be a better ally, support their work and amplify their voices.

Born in Val D’Or, Québec, and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, she holds a Master of Arts in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Dalhousie University and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences from the University of Alberta. Ms. Houle is fluently bilingual in English and French.