January 25, 2019
Hon. Steve Clark
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
College Park 17th Flr
777 Bay St
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
Dear Minister Clark,
I trust this letter finds you well. I am writing today to provide the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) perspective on the government’s consultation on increasing the housing supply in Ontario. The OHRC is committed to bringing a human rights perspective to government strategies aimed at addressing poverty, homelessness and hunger. To that end, the OHRC calls on the government to make sure that its efforts to increase the housing supply result in safe and affordable housing for marginalized and vulnerable people across the province.
Ontario must progressively realize the right to housing
The right to housing has been recognized by Canada since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. By ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) over 40 years ago, Canada further committed to recognize and take steps to progressively realize this right, to the maximum of its available resources, including through legislation. All levels of government—federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal—are bound by Canada’s international human rights obligations.
The right to housing is affirmed in myriad international human rights treaties to which Canada is a party. Moreover, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada recently adopted and has committed to implement, affirms that Indigenous peoples have a right to be actively involved in developing, determining and administering housing programs that affect them.
Ontario’s housing crisis demands a rights-based approach
Despite these binding legal commitments, Ontario’s legal protection of rights related to housing is a patchwork and includes tenant protection, health and safety, human rights and many other laws, regulations and programs.
It is clear that a new approach is needed to ensure the rights of Ontarians to adequate housing. Despite its relative wealth, Ontario is in the midst of a severe housing and homelessness crisis, especially in relation to affordable rental units. Between 2011 and 2016, the rate of Ontario households in need of core housing increased from 13.4% to 15.3%.
The persistence and worsening of these problems is evidence of Ontario’s failure to progressively realize the right to housing as protected in international law. This situation is especially concerning from a human rights perspective because people who identify with Human Rights Code (Code) grounds are disproportionately under-housed, homeless or living in poverty in Ontario. In almost every city, First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit peoples are over-represented in the homeless population. Persons with mental health disabilities and/or addictions, women, older persons, children and youth (especially LGBTQ youth), transgender people and racialized communities face unique discrimination and marginalization that impacts their ability to secure safe and affordable housing.
The OHRC has produced the following guidance on applying a rights-based approach to housing-related issues:
- Letter re recommendations to strengthen the National Housing Strategy (2018)
- Letter re proposed regulation on inclusionary zoning (2018)
- Submission to Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy Update (2015)
- Submission to Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee (2009)
- Policy on human rights and rental housing (2009)
- Right at home: Report on the consultation on human rights and rental housing in Ontario (2008)
Human rights perspective on housing supply
The OHRC supports government efforts to increase the housing supply. Under the Planning Act, Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement on land use planning recognizes that planning decisions must be consistent with the Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also recognizes that sustainable healthy, liveable and safe communities must include a range and mix of residential housing. To achieve the appropriate mix, Ontario can set and implement targets for affordable housing, and identify, prevent and remove barriers to accessible housing.
The OHRC has identified a number of human rights principles related to housing supply in its guideline, In the Zone: housing, human rights and municipal planning. The OHRC calls on the government to apply these principles to streamline approval processes and increase the supply and mix of stable, secure and affordable housing in Ontario.
In particular, the OHRC calls on the government to make sure that:
- Everyone has the right to live in the community of their choice without discrimination
- Communities integrate a mix of housing for different people and groups of all income levels (i.e. including affordable housing), and decisions about housing increase the mix and availability of affordable, accessible and supportive housing across neighbourhoods and communities, including secondary units and other forms of alternative housing
- Housing is accessible, visitable and adaptable for people with disabilities, families with small children and older persons
- People do not face discrimination in terms of participating in decision-making around housing
- Decisions about housing do not adversely target or impact Code protected groups and individuals experiencing poverty (i.e. do not result in eviction into homelessness, create new barriers, further limit housing supply, or allow time expiry on affordable units)
- Decisions about housing disrepair, demolition, conversion and renovation projects monitor for potential adverse impacts, protect housing tenure rights, and protect other economic, social and cultural rights of existing residents as much as possible.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
Renu J. Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.
Ontario Human Rights Commission
cc: Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General (Ontario)