The National Housing Strategy Act became the law of Canada when Bill C-97 received royal assent on June 21, 2019. We are all celebrating this housing milestone, but what does the right to housing mean on the ground for people?
Let’s discuss what is included in the National Housing Strategy Act.
Recognition of rights
Canada committed to the United Nations that we would “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living… including adequate food, clothing and housing.” Now Canadian law recognizes that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right. It recognizes that housing is essential to people’s inherent dignity and well-being, and is essential to building sustainable and inclusive communities.
This law will be a yard-stick used to measure government housing-related decisions and may be used as a legal interpretative tool for other housing laws and regulations.
National Housing Strategy
The Federal government is now required to develop and maintain a national housing strategy that takes into account a human rights-based approach to housing. This involves setting out a long-term vision for housing, establishing national goals on housing and homelessness, focusing solutions on those in greatest need and including the public in the process, especially those with lived experience of homelessness or precarious housing. This will be a public document that outlines targets, timelines and initiatives by the federal government to address housing needs in Canada. We can use it to track the government’s progress in meeting its targets and sticking to its objectives.
How do we know the government will set proper targets and meet them?
It will be up to the people we elect to Parliament to makes sure that the right to housing will mean that housing needs of the most vulnerable are met. The Parliament will receive reports and recommendations by the newly formed Federal Housing Advocate role, and the government must respond to them. The Federal Housing Advocate is part of a National Housing Council, a new organization created by the Act, that will:
- give advice to the government
- monitor how the government is doing at implementing the housing policy
- measure the impact on priority groups
- monitor progress in meeting goals and timelines
- conduct studies on housing issues
- consult and receive submissions from the public about housing issues
It is this last point that may be the most important for us housing activists.
The Advocate offers a new opportunity to participate in making the right to housing a reality for disadvantaged people. The Advocate can initiate studies of systemic housing issues, such as an increase in renovictions, and ask for public input. People can write to the Advocate and ask that particular housing issues be reviewed. The Advocate, working with the National Housing Council, can then establish a 3-person review panel to hold public hearings to examine these housing issues. They can involve affected communities and experts in the process. A report of these hearings would then go to the Minister and ultimately to Parliament to respond with proposed solutions.
The right to housing will only be realized if Canadians get involved. Consultations, submissions and hearings to the Federal Housing Advocate will create the opportunities for us to force our governments to face the consequences of failed housing policies.
Here are some questions they might be called on to answer:
- Why does Canada give housing money to provinces, cities and developers with no guarantee that those in the greatest need will benefit?
- Why do immigration rules allow temporary foreign agricultural workers to be housed in substandard accommodations?
- Why are disabled members of the Canadian Armed Forces discharged into homelessness?
- Why are residential landlords not paying their fair share of income tax?
- Why is the work on the Indigenous Housing Strategy still incomplete?
- Is the influence of the financial sector getting in the way of realizing the right to adequate housing?
- Why do the guarantees of equality and security of the person in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms not apply to housing?
- Why do conditions in shelters fall below the minimums set by international standards?
The housing problems that you and your community face may benefit from the study and exposure that the Federal Housing Advocate can offer.
We were able to dream big when we demanded that the right to housing be recognized in law. Now is the time to dream big about making use of what this new law offers us.