Alyssa Brierley – Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation

A photo of a woman smiling. Her name is Alyssa Brierley from the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation. The quoted text reads: The time is now to come together – those impacted by the housing crisis, advocates, and decision-makers – to solve our growing housing problems and to claim housing as a human right."
What does the right to housing mean to you?

Housing is a human right, and every person should have a place to call home where they are able to live with dignity and contribute to the decision-making processes of the community that they are part of. Housing must be safe, adequate, accessible, and affordable to all, and Canada has committed to advance the right to housing. Yet, too many people are unable to access housing that’s affordable, well-maintained and safe. The time is now to come together – those impacted by the housing crisis, advocates, and decision-makers – to solve our growing housing problems and to claim housing as a human right.

What is the #1 thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing next year?

The City of Toronto committed to a rights-based 10-year housing plan. The City must engage with impacted communities, stakeholders, and communities across the city on various issues that will work toward achieving its goal to realize the right to housing for all. It must introduce housing policies that will preserve the affordable housing we already have, and to make these homes safe and habitable places to live. It must also work toward increasing the affordable housing stock for people with low to moderate incomes, and increasing non-profit housing solutions to curb the growing financialization of housing. These policies must be planned, developed, and executed through open, transparent, and participatory processes. We need the City of Toronto to commit to these solutions now more than ever as Toronto’s housing situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and further exposed the increasing inequities in our communities.

David Meyers – Centre for Independent Living in Toronto

A quote from David Meyers, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto: " The right to housing means that governments must not violate our human rights by investing public dollars in housing that discriminates against people with disabilities."

What does the right to housing mean to you?

For me, the right to housing means that people across Canada have full access to affordable and accessible housing that meets their needs, as a protected human right, and adequately funded by all levels of government.

Twenty-two percent of Canadians have a disability. As a disability advocate, the right to housing also means that our governments do not violate our human rights codes and international agreements by investing public dollars in housing that discriminates against people with disabilities. Municipalities like Toronto would not be funding multi-unit housing developments in which 80% of homes are not built to universal design standards, preventing people of all abilities to safely live and age in place. Yet they are, as there is still no law in Canada requiring that housing be accessible. Meanwhile, most of Toronto’s over 400,000 residents with disabilities are disproportionately poor and live in public or private rental homes that are mostly inaccessible and deeply unaffordable.

What is the #1 thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing next year?

Toronto City Council must vote for a much higher percentage of universal design (UD) units than the 20% percent outlined in its 2020-2030 housing plan. With our senior population set to double by 2041, 20% simply kicks housing accessibility further down the road.

Actions already recommended by disability stakeholders, such as the Accessible Housing Network, include the City setting a high minimum accessible unit standard, creating incentives that financially reward developer bids that exceed it, and favoring universal design excellence and innovation. The City must also actively engage with other jurisdictions that are proving that it is cost effective to build multi-unit housing with high UD standards. Engaging meaningfully with disability stakeholders with accessibility expertise is critical to inclusive solutions, and establishing the new Accessible Housing Working Group as part of the City’s Housing Secretariat is a small step among giant steps yet to take.

Regini David – West Scarborough Community Legal Services

An image of Regini David, from West Scarborough Community Legal Services. The image includes the following quote: "The right to housing means that people should have access to affordable, safe homes and live freely in their community without any discrimination."

What does the right to housing mean to you?

The right to housing means that people should have access to affordable, safe homes and live freely in their community without any discrimination. Policies and regulations should be designed by using a human rights lens to treat all tenants equally. Housing policies from the municipal, provincial and federal levels should help to prevent eviction and provide support to the most vulnerable tenants to prevent homelessness and reduce poverty.

What is the #1 thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing this year?

The City must legalize Multi-Tenant Housing (rooming houses) and protect all tenants equally throughout the city.

Toronto has an affordable housing crisis; hidden homelessness and rooming houses are increasing in our neighbourhoods and across the city. We need affordable rooms in every part of the city, and the people who live in rooms outside of the downtown core deserve the same legal protections as their downtown counterparts, where rooming houses are legal.

It is a good step that the City has been working on its HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan. However, this housing plan will take time to implement. It has not addressed the immediate needs of vulnerable tenants, and many of the housing projects are not deeply affordable for low-income individuals. The City should not only create more deeply affordable homes; it should preserve the deeply affordable homes that already exist to address the current needs and realities of low-income individuals and to prevent homelessness. The City has heard from the community on the importance of legalizing multi-tenant houses as this matter has gone through multiple studies and consultations in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2020 and 2021.

It is time for the City to address and prioritize the concerns of unsafe and unprotected conditions that lower income tenants are living in. All tenants should have access to affordable homes and to freely choose to live near their community, temples, churches and mosques without any barriers. In addition, decision-makers should recognize privilege and power to balance the needs of all when working with residents and in their projects.

Toronto City Council finally votes for Inclusionary Zoning

Following nearly three years of consultations, Toronto City Council has voted for the adoption of an Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) policy. This means that new housing developments near major transit areas in Toronto will be required to have a specific percentage of affordable units, whether it be condominiums or rental buildings. It is a welcome decision to see Toronto join nearly 500 other North American municipalities in adopting IZ.

Toronto’s IZ is mandatory which demonstrates the commitment to ensuring that developers participate in making our city more affordable for residents. We are glad to see that the period of affordability has been extended to 99 years, essentially making the housing developed affordable for many years to come. The definition of affordability is also based on a household’s income, ensuring that they do not spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

While we applaud the passing of IZ in Toronto, we want to acknowledge that this policy could have been bolder. The policy passed requires a much lower set-aside rate and a slower phase-in period than what some studies had shown to be feasible. What this means for our residents is the loss of an opportunity to build a higher number of affordable housing our residents need.

We hope that by passing IZ, City Council will now have the policy tool it needs to build more affordable homes and to review this policy in a timely manner so it becomes stronger and more effective in increasing affordable housing choices. We also hope that the integrity of the policy will be upheld over the long haul, where such reviews will be grounded in a rights-based framework, similar to that recognized in the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan.

City Council lacks support from councillors to legalize Multi-Tenant Housing framework yet again

City Councillors in Toronto had an opportunity twice this year to approve a framework to permit and regulate multi-tenant homes (MTH) across the city that would protect the residents of unregulated MTH, and preserve these deeply affordable housing options for residents. Both times, City Council failed to get enough votes to pass this crucial policy and instead chose to defer the proposed MTH regulatory framework. The Mayor, while deferring the vote for a second time, asked City staff to reconsider several aspects of the proposed framework such as parking spaces, and increasing the number of enforcement workers.

MTH offers some of the most affordable housing options for Toronto’s residents and they exist in almost every neighbourhood across the city, whether or not some people choose to recognize them. These are the housing options for many students, newcomers, seniors and people living on fixed incomes. The failure of passing the new regulatory framework means that many of these residents will continue to live in the shadows, in often unsafe and inadequate homes. As their homes remain illegal in many parts of Toronto, these residents live with the fear of losing their home if they raise their housing concerns with City authorities, and are left without legal protections to improve their living conditions.

The City of Toronto made a commitment to advance the right to housing in its HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan. This implies that the City adopts policies that help all residents access safe, adequate and affordable homes. The City of Toronto’s Housing Charter and a human rights approach to housing recognizes that “all residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination”. The current regulatory framework of the City’s multi-tenant homes is discriminatory and in conflict with the City’s Housing Charter commitments to uphold people’s right to housing.

Our City is once again allowing a dangerous and discriminatory status-quo to continue by deferring its vote on the new regulatory framework. We call on Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council to end the ongoing discirmination against tenants living in MTH by approving and implementing the new regulatory framework. Protecting these residents and ensuring their safety is of paramount importance.

Magda Barrera – Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)

What does the right to housing mean to you?

Having a safe, secure, and affordable home is the building block upon which everything else follows. The right to housing is absolutely essential to people’s inherent dignity and well-being and it is the foundation for ensuring our communities are sustainable and inclusive. The pandemic has made the need for governments to address the lack of adequate housing even clearer. We’ve seen vulnerable populations experience soaring levels of housing insecurity and unaffordability. There must be a commitment from leadership and all levels of government to implement the right to housing effectively, which will be critical for the post-pandemic recovery.

What is the number one thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing this year?

Toronto City Council needs to do everything it can to preserve the existing affordable housing stock in the city, which includes protecting tenants from evictions and displacement. All across the city, tenants are faced with large rent increases, evictions, and displacement. While many of the regulations for rental housing fall under provincial jurisdiction, it is still important for the City to provide support for tenants through mechanisms such as the EPIC Program and Rent Bank. They also need to improve the enforcement of maintenance standards and repairs (like through RentSafeTO), and consider innovative ways to address key challenges – like renovictions – that are driving the affordable housing crisis.

We also need the City to invest in more robust data collection and analysis that can inform efforts to protect renters and safeguard affordable housing. Two areas of focus should be data on evictions and above-guidelines rent increases, which would allow policy makers and advocates to better understand where tenants face the most pressure and intervene effectively.

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Geordie Dent – Executive Director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations

What does the right to housing mean to you?

The Right to Housing means looking at housing the way we look at other infrastructure: systems and facilities which develop our city and make it more prosperous. While infrastructure sometimes has a small user fee attached, most in Toronto expect to be able to access water, hospitals, schools, parks, roads and other public services without major obstacles.

Unfortunately, housing doesn’t currently work this way…but it should. Many residents have been priced out of the ownership market and are leaving the city, while a large portion of the population has been priced out of the rental market altogether ending up entrenched in homelessness on the streets. We wouldn’t expect people to be turned away at a hospital, park or water fountain due to cost, and the same principle should apply in a city operating under the principle of the right to housing.

What is the number one thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing this year?

The City has to immediately legalize rooming houses across the city. While they are violating their own right to housing policies in breaking up city encampments, residents in those encampments have no current options to find affordable housing off the streets. Safe and legal rooming houses would be a straightforward way to allow the creation of affordable housing options for the City’s low-income residents, currently forced to live in unsafe housing options.

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Anna-Kay Brown – Organizer with the Jane Finch Housing Coalition

An image of Anna-Kay Brown, from the Jane Finch Housing Coalition, with a quote: The right to housing is a human right and needs to be adopted universally. Housing should not determine an individual’s worth or humanity but enhance it.

What does the right to housing mean to you?

The right to housing means so many different things to me because it affects every aspect of my life, from stability, safety, family, community, health, and happiness. Housing has always been a major factor that impacts my life from birth to present. My family’s housing needs became even more prevalent once we moved to Canada, and because of this it fuels the work I do. The right to housing is a human right and needs to be adopted universally. Housing should not determine an individual’s worth or humanity but enhance it.

What is the number one thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing this year?

Toronto City Council needs to strengthen their affordable housing policies. The City needs to be authentic and intentional with how they address housing needs, especially when working with diverse and marginalized communities. This work needs to be conducted through an equity and anti-displacement lens because we cannot police our way out of the crisis we continue to face. Utilizing tools like Inclusionary Zoning, requiring a minimum of 30% of affordable units in all new developments, and creating more deeply affordable and rent-geared-to-income units are a few solutions. Overall City Council needs to listen, implement, and work with communities to address housing needs because band-aid solutions will not continue to work.


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Addressing homelessness in the city

Nearly a year ago, in September 2020, the Right to Housing Toronto (R2HTO) provided the City with a set of rights-based recommendations to uphold its commitment to realize the right to housing for all residents living in encampments.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, encampments have increased across the city, many of which are as a result of unsafe conditions in shelters and the lack of access to adequate and affordable homes.  

Ahead of Toronto City Council’s meeting on June 8 and 9, 2021, R2HTO joined 20 organizations and groups who signed a joint statement urging the City to act in compliance with human rights legislation at the provincial, national, and international levels by enacting a rights-based approach to engage with encampment residents and people experiencing homelessness.

At the Council meeting, Councillor Mike Layton introduced a motion asking for the City to reiterate its commitment to a human rights approach to housing for those experiencing homelessness, as well as to ensure that City staff develop and implement a response that is consistent with the Jury’s recommendations from the Faulkner Inquest, as it specifically relates to the health and safety of those living in encampments. The motion passed with near unanimous support, which was a welcome development and is a crucial approach to addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto.

A core aspect of a rights-based approach to addressing serious human rights issues like homelessness is to meaningfully engage impacted communities. At this same council meeting, Councillor Layton’s introduced a motion to meaningfully engage encampment residents and people with lived experience of homelessness in developing a strategy to provide them with housing opportunities. Unfortunately, this motion failed to gain support from a majority of City Councillors.

On July 21, following the City’s clearing of several encampments, advocates including R2HTO once again urged the City to take a rights-based approach by consulting encampment residents in their efforts to find them adequate and safe housing. We supported a set of rights-based recommendations laid out in A Path Forward which was presented to Mayor John Tory.

We will continue to urge the City to address homelessness by upholding its obligations and implementing rights-based recommendations in all areas of its housing policies and practices. 

R2HTO Statement on the City deferring the new multi-tenant housing framework

The City of Toronto made a commitment to advance the right to housing in its 10-year HousingTO Action Plan, through its housing policy. This commitment means the City adopts policies that help all residents in the city access adequate and affordable homes. Today, City Councillors in Toronto had an opportunity to pass a policy to permit and regulate multi-tenant homes across the city that would recognize Toronto’s deeply affordable housing options and to ensure that tenants with lower incomes can live in safe and adequate homes. We are disappointed that Toronto’s City Council didn’t have the votes to pass this important framework and instead had to defer passing the proposed multi-tenant housing regulatory framework.

Multi-tenant homes provide an important affordable rental option for many low-income Torontonians. These homes can be found across the entire city but are unfortunately not permitted in many parts of the city. This has forced many residents to live in the shadows, oftentimes in unsafe and inadequate conditions, with the fear of losing their homes if they raise their housing concerns with City authorities.

The City of Toronto’s Housing Charter and a human rights approach to housing recognizes that “all residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination”. The current regulatory framework of the City’s multi-tenant homes is discriminatory. Failing to harmonize the regulatory regime across Toronto is in conflict with the City’s Housing Charter commitments and violates people’s human rights.

Leaving many multi-tenant homes to operate in an unregulated regime is to pretend that these homes and their residents do not exist and don’t matter. How long will the City of Toronto let the residents of multi-tenant homes be left without legal protections and living in potentially unsafe homes?

Today the City not only failed to protect its lower income residents, but it also failed to acknowledge that multi-tenant houses are an important part of its affordable rental housing stock. It also lost a crucial opportunity to implement a more cost-effective way of increasing the affordable housing stock that Toronto desperately needs. City Council has an opportunity to right their wrong in September, and protect the right to housing in Toronto. This is our chance to do better. Let’s not lose our chance to do so.