Monday, July 13, 2020

Housing is a Human Right

Regent Park, built in the 1940 to provide affordable housing, is undergoing a massive revitalization and will be transformed into a mixed income community. Despite the doubling of the resident population, no additional public housing units will be built. Yet there are over 100,000 on the waiting list for affordable housing in Toronto.

According to Homelessness Hub, approximately 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness nightly. Additionally, a significant number of Canadians, especially Indigenous people, live in substandard homes that are overcrowded and/or dilapidated. Even Canadians that are lucky enough to have housing struggle to afford their homes and are at risk of becoming homeless if they lose their jobs. This situation is exacerbated by an expensive housing and rental market and insufficient access to affordable housing.

Although Canada has signed on to many international treaties that signify access to adequate housing as a human right, this is still a major issue in our country. This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that Canada has no federal, provincial or local laws to ensure everyone has access to adequate housing.

But what is the standard for adequate housing? Emily Paradis, an educator, researcher, and housing and homelessness advocate interviewed by Regent Park TV, believes that we as Canadians should look to our universal healthcare standards where the level of treatment provided is to be the same decent standard no matter your financial situation.

So what is being done about this issue and what can we as Canadians do to ensure everyone as adequate housing?

Paradis believes that in order to change the current access issues in this area we need to rework the way we think about housing. As Paradis highlights, we tend to think of housing as a “private commodity rather than as a social good or collective good, something that everyone should be entitled too.” Much of this thinking is a result of the housing market in Canada that remains largely private. The focus of private developers is on building equity and profit for themselves. It’s no surprise then that for them housing is viewed as an investment and issues of affordability and accessibility are not on their radar.

Another way we need to reframe our thinking is in the types of human rights that we protect. Currently the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom recognizes our civil and political rights but, as Paradis points out, these protections are not typically extended to our social and economic rights. This is a problem because, Paradis, and many other human rights advocates note, access to adequate housing is imperative for Canadians to realize their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of person. However so far courts in Canada have been resistant to reading social/economic rights into the Charter and tend to refer these types of issues back to the legislature to deal with. Ironically Canada has already shown that it is possible to protect social and economic rights through programs such as universal health care, and universal education. Paradis believes “if we begin to think of housing in the same way that we think about education or about health, we can quickly recognize how things could be different”.  

While much work needs to be done towards protecting access to housing, Canada has recently passed a law called the National Housing Strategy Act, which for the first time legally recognizes adequate housing as a fundamental human right. What this means in practice is that when policies affecting housing are made they must be looked at through the framework of ensuring human rights are protected. Nevertheless Canada still has a long way to go before access to adequate housing is protected on the same level as universal health care. Hopefully with this new law, together with reframed ideas about housing and legal recognition of housing as a human right, Canada can be on its way to addressing homelessness and housing affordability.

By Adaku Huggins-Warner (Adaku is a volunteer writer with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).

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