This report provides an overview of many violations of the right to housing in Canada, and recommends a number of solutions. In the first year of the Advocate’s mandate, it has become clear that it is not enough to identify barriers to the right to housing and recommend solutions. Canada’s housing and homelessness emergency will only be effectively addressed when governments commit to meaningful, effective action.
The final recommendations contained in the sections below are focused on the mechanisms through which governments can demonstrate accountability and implement effective measures to address the many other recommendations in this report that the Advocate made throughout the 2022–2023 year.
The National Housing Strategy Act recognized the right to adequate housing in domestic law for the first time. To make this right real, governments must be accountable for its implementation. The Advocate’s final set of recommendations are focused on the mechanisms through which governments can demonstrate accountability and implement effective measures to address the many other recommendations in this report.
Recommendations to the Government of Canada
The Advocate calls on the Prime Minister, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Finance Minister, other members of Cabinet, and all Parliamentarians to recognize and implement the human right to adequate housing, as legislated in the National Housing Strategy Act.
In 2023, the Government of Canada should:
- Establish a Cabinet working table to develop an all-of-government action plan on implementing the human right to adequate housing in accordance with the National Housing Strategy Act. The table should include the Ministers whose portfolios interact with housing, such as Health, Mental Health and Addictions, Justice, Indigenous Services, Crown Indigenous Relations, Veterans’ Affairs, Intergovernmental Affairs, Employment and Disability Inclusion, Families and Social Development, Immigration, Women and Gender Equality, and Seniors.
Key elements of the action plan should include:
- Taking an all-of-government approach in responding to the housing and homelessness crisis, recognizing the crucial links between access to adequate housing and all key areas of Canada’s economic and social policy, include health, justice, and immigration.
- Developing a mechanism similar to Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) to apply the requirements of progressive realization of the right to housing in all budgets, laws, policy and program development that affect housing and homelessness, such as through Treasury Board Submissions and Memoranda to Cabinet. These requirements include:
- Taking effective, concrete measures;
- Using all available resources;
- Employing all appropriate means, including regulation;
- Moving towards full realization of the right to housing as quickly as possible;
- Giving priority to those in greatest need; and
- Fulfilling human rights obligations of immediate effect, such as non-discrimination and avoiding retrogression.
- Making a commitment by Cabinet officials to acknowledge, and raise awareness about, the human right to housing.
- Center the right in speaking lines. For example, replace “everyone in Canada deserves a safe and affordable place to call home” with “everyone in Canada has a right to a safe and affordable place to call home” in communications about housing and homelessness.
- Launch a communications campaign across traditional and social media to inform people in Canada about their human right to adequate housing.
Recommendations to the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion
The National Housing Strategy Act sets out the Minister’s accountability to respond to recommendations from the Federal Housing Advocate, National Housing Council, and Review Panels. As Canada’s Minister for Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, he must take a leadership role in the recognition and implementation of the human right to adequate housing.
The Advocate calls on the Minister to take the following specific, concrete steps in 2023 to respond to the Advocate’s recommendations on the National Housing Strategy, encampments, financialization and housing supply.
- By June 2023, provide a detailed response to the Advocate’s calls to action on the National Housing Strategy, issued on National Housing Day 2022.
- In 2023, establish and lead a working table to re-design the National Housing Strategy in alignment with the human rights obligations of the National Housing Strategy Act. Membership should include the Federal Housing Advocate along with the Deputy Ministers of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Infrastructure Canada.
- In 2023, direct the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure to work with other implicated Deputy Ministers (such as Health, Public Health, Indigenous Services Canada, Women and Gender Equality, and Employment and Social Development Canada) to establish and lead a working table to implement Canada’s commitment to end homelessness by 2030, with an immediate focus on addressing encampments using a human rights-based approach.
- In 2023, direct the CEO of CMHC to work with the Deputy Minister of Finance to develop and implement measures to address the financialization of housing in Canada, and implement a human rights-based approach to Canada’s housing supply plan. This working table would initially receive and implement the recommendations from the upcoming National Housing Council’s Review Panel and the study by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) the on financialization of housing, and monitor the effectiveness of those measures. It would also expand and refine CMHC’s Housing Supply model, using a human rights-based approach focused on housing supply for those in greatest need.
Potential objectives for this work could include:
- Work with Statistics Canada and use administrative data from provinces, territories and municipalities to create detailed model of housing supply, housing need, and housing margins, and to collect and analyze disaggregated data on homelessness and the right to adequate housing;
- To expand Canada’s Housing Supply plan in alignment with a human rights-based approach, prioritizing the housing needs of households in core housing need, those experiencing homelessness, and members of National Housing Strategy priority groups;
- To expand the definition of Core Housing Need to better reflect all components of the right to housing; and
- To develop and implement a single, rights-based definition of “affordable housing” to be applied to all National Housing Strategy programs and other CMHC programs such as the MLI Select mortgage insurance program.
These three working tables should take an all-of government approach, bringing together implicated federal departments, along with Provincial, Territorial and Municipal counterparts, National Indigenous Organizations, and representatives of communities directly affected by inadequate housing and homelessness. In keeping with a human rights-based approach, they should conduct meaningful engagement with communities directly affected, members of disadvantaged groups, civil society, the community housing sector, and industry stakeholders. Finally, they should operate with rapid timelines to implement urgent changes and use the National Housing Strategy to its greatest potential to address the housing and homelessness crisis.
Recommendations to provinces, territories, and municipalities
The National Housing Strategy Act recognizes housing as a human right for everyone in Canada, and makes the progressive realization of this right the basis for all housing policy.
All orders of government, including provinces, territories, and municipalities, have an obligation to protect, respect, and fulfill the human right to housing within their areas of jurisdiction. They must implement effective measures, using the maximum of available resources and employing all appropriate means, to realize the right to adequate housing in the shortest possible time, giving priority to those in greatest need.
For provinces and territories, this means:
- Providing the housing, health, and social services people require to transition out of homelessness into permanent, accessible housing;
- Protecting tenants’ rights and preserve the affordability of rental housing by regulating rent increases; and
- Ensuring that income security programs provide sufficient benefits to enable people with disabilities, lone-parent families, and other low-income households to afford adequate housing and to live in peace, security, and dignity.
For municipalities, this means:
- Respecting the rights and dignity of people experiencing homelessness, including those in informal dwellings, unsheltered homelessness, and encampments, and ensuring that they have the services they require as a basic precondition to life and health, such as water, sanitation, and fire prevention;
- Reallocating investments away from policing as a means of responding to homelessness, mental health crises, and intimate partner violence, and instead fund community-based crisis response services and social infrastructure that foster community safety;
- Using planning and zoning powers to prioritize the development and preservation of housing that is affordable and accessible for those in greatest need.
In the coming year, the Federal Housing Advocate will continue to work with provinces, territories, and municipalities to support them in advancing the right to housing, and to ensure that the federal government is providing the resources and powers sub-national governments need in order to uphold their human rights obligations.