Four ways to advance the right to housing in 2021

January 4, 2021

We’re ringing in the new year on a much different note. As several provinces have recently gone into another round of lockdowns, more people will join the thousands who are still reeling from the loss of their jobs or incomes last year, struggling to make ends meet and maintain stable housing.  

Despite the many challenges that 2020 brought, we are still several steps ahead than we were a year ago. As we look forward, here are 4 key developments that we’re looking out for that will advance the right to housing in Canada in 2021. 

1. Stepping up government support for renters during the pandemic

While little support was earmarked for renters in 2020, the need for relief only continues to intensify. One of the most critical and immediate measures needed right now during the current wave of lockdowns and as more people lose their jobs and incomes is a moratorium on evictions, which provinces across the country have so far failed to reinstate.

In particular, we are keeping an eye on Premier Doug Ford to sign an executive order to implement the moratorium which was unanimously recommended with full-party support in a motion passed by the Ontario Legislature on December 8th. [UPDATE: A temporary pause on evictions in Ontario was put in place on January 13, 2021. Read more.]

Along with the moratorium, we will also continue to decry the serious human rights and justice issues at Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board until they come to an end.

If provinces continue to be complacent in the face of the rising evictions crisis, we will be looking to municipalities and the federal government to act with the urgency that this crisis demands. Although housing laws are under provincial jurisdiction, governments at the municipal and federal levels can also step up to support tenants in different ways. For instance, the federal government could provide provinces with conditional funding that is locked into eviction prevention measures. Or, municipalities could expand their own services to support renters directly, like Toronto’s Rent Bank and Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) programs.

2021 is a crucial year for governments to throw their full weight behind renters, especially at these critical moments of the pandemic.

2. Meeting the first Federal Housing Advocate with a strong background in the right to housing

Once again this year, we continue to monitor how the federal government is advancing the National Housing Strategy, and its commitment to progressively realize the right to housing across the country. In 2020, the government made some important progress by appointing the National Housing Council, and committed to expedite the creation of 3,000 new affordable housing units by March 2021 in response to the urgency of the housing crisis made worse by the pandemic.

One area where we expect some movement in 2021 is the appointment of Canada’s first Federal Housing Advocate, as the recruitment process is currently underway. Most importantly, we are interested in who the government appoints to assume this key position.

The Housing Advocate will carry out an important mandate to advance the right to housing, and it is crucial that the chosen candidate has a strong background in the right to housing so that this individual is well-positioned to carry out the functions of the role through a rights-based approach. Stay tuned in the months to come for the announcement and our reaction to who will assume this role.

3. Establishing the Office of the Housing Commissioner in Toronto

As the only municipality in Canada so far to have made a commitment to progressively realize the right to housing, we continue keeping a watchful eye on how Toronto will move forward, in particular by establishing the Office of the Housing Commissioner.

In September 2020, the City of Toronto released its HousingTO Implementation Plan 2020-2030 with details on how it intends to address affordable housing and homelessness over the next ten years. While the City has outlined some laudable goals, we have yet to see any movement to establish the Office of the Housing Commissioner which was a cornerstone of the City’s commitment.

The Housing Commissioner is key to hold the City accountable and to ensure that it implements a housing policy with the correct measures and targets in place, that are truly grounded in a rights-based approach. The Commissioner would also play a key role in making recommendations that guide the City toward sustainable and effective housing policies going forward.

Not only will we be closely watching how and when the City will move this item forward, we will also be taking every opportunity to provide our recommendations to establish this office in a way that ensures it can operate with independence and adequate resources so that it can effectively carry out its mandate.

In light of the worsening housing crisis in Toronto, we will remain expectant to see this office take shape in 2021.

4. Expanding the implementation of the right to housing across Canada

One thing we can be sure of in 2021 is that – through our project with the National Right to Housing Network – community leaders, lived experts and policy advocates will continue to work together to identify systemic violations of the right to housing, propose solutions to claim the right to housing and influence systemic change.

This year, we will bring together leaders, experts and advocates from across the country to dive deeper into the mechanisms available under the National Housing Strategy Act that can be used to claim the right to housing.

Stay tuned for opportunities to join this work in 2021 by subscribing to our newsletter.

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