Effie Vlachoyannacos, Maytree

Profile photo of Effie Vlachoyannacos from Maytree who says, "Everyone has the right to live in a home that enables them to live healthy, happy, and thriving lives."
What does the right to housing mean to you?

Everyone has the right to live in a home that enables them to live healthy, happy, and thriving lives. However, far too many in this prosperous city – particularly Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour (BIPOC), as well as people with disabilities and those who are unhoused – are kept out of particular housing and neighbourhoods because they are told implicitly (and explicitly) that they don’t fit in.

Recognizing the human right to housing creates a new standard for housing planning, programs, and services that takes action on the idea of “deserving” versus “undeserving.” It places equity at the centre and prioritizes people who often face the greatest challenges in accessing adequate housing. The human right to housing not only means that everyone can live in a home in good repair that they can afford, but it also ensures that it is accessible, culturally appropriate, and located in communities that have the services and supports that people need to live. It ensures that there are tailored housing options available for people who are often marginalized by our housing systems and can access the housing they need, including BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ youth, women fleeing domestic violence, and people with disabilities.

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

The City of Toronto has taken the first step in advancing the human right to housing by committing to a rights-based ten-year housing and homelessness plan. It now needs to establish the necessary infrastructure to fulfill this commitment. City policy-makers will need to embed the right to housing in their policies, procedures, and processes, and make housing decisions based on human rights principles, not the opportunities or constraints of the political moment. It will require the active and ongoing engagement of people and communities that are disproportionately affected by poverty, including BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, seniors, newcomers, refugee claimants, and precarious migrants. Ultimately, it will require independent accountability mechanisms that monitor, enforce, and support the ongoing implementation of the human right to housing.

Alissa Klingbaum, WomanACT

Alissa Klingbaum from WomanACT says "The right to housing means that means that everyone should have access to a home that is not only safe, but offers dignity, wellbeing, and social inclusion."

What does the right to housing mean to you?    

Home is not always a safe place. For women experiencing violence, we often consider housing needs to be met when survivors are free from violence. The right to housing represents an obligation and an opportunity to expand this idea. It means that everyone should have access to a home that is not only safe, but offers dignity, wellbeing, and social inclusion. The right to housing gives us the tools to understand why many of our existing housing options are not adequate. If they are not affordable, not secure, or do not allow access to employment and amenities, then they are not meeting the basic standard of housing that our governments have recognized. 

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

To advance the right to housing, the City must expand the housing options it provides for women experiencing violence at home. Current approaches that expect survivors to leave home to reach safety cause profound disruptions to women’s lives and violate their right to housing. When survivors are forced to relocate to precarious housing, like shelters or staying with family or friends, it exacerbates their economic insecurity and often leads to homelessness or returning to a violent situation. 

Safe at Home programs are an evidence-based approach to address these issues. Using a combination of legal orders, home security measures, and wraparound support services, they enable women leaving violence to remain in their home with the perpetrator removed, or to move directly to independent housing. These programs have been widely implemented in other countries, where they have been found to improve safety and wellbeing, prevent homelessness, and reduce incidents of intimate partner violence. City investments in Safe at Home programs would be an important step forward in realizing survivors’ right to housing. 

Phelisa Talbot, Toronto ACORN Member

A woman in a red shirt is smiling. Her name is Phelisa Talbot, member of Toronto ACORN. She is quoted as saying "Housing is health, and everyone has the right to live comfortably."
What does the right to housing mean to you?

Two things come to mind when I think of the right to housing. Firstly, it means being able to live in a home that is free from pest infestations, paint cracking off the walls, drafty windows, and old broken down appliances. Secondly, it means having access to housing that is actually affordable for low- to moderate-income earners. Nobody should pay more than 30% of their income on shelter – yet, it takes me an entire month to be able to afford my rent.

Many of us are struggling to get by or are forced to live in conditions that put our health at risk. Housing is health, and everyone has the right to live comfortably. That’s why I joined ACORN in the first place, so I can fight to make the world a better place for everyone.

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

Toronto City Council needs to listen to the people who elect them. Too often low- and moderate-income families are pushed to the side for the rich. The City needs to enforce their own property standards and hold landlords accountable. For many years, ACORN has been fighting for landlord licensing, and we finally won the creation of RentSafeTO five years ago.

It’s been a struggle ever since then to get things that we originally demanded. Over 88% of tenants in Toronto wanted color-coded signs on their building that would act like a building rating system – just like DineSafe – with signs that clearly display the building’s rating and advertise 311 for any tenant issues. But Council voted against that two years ago.

There’s an important vote coming up in March to reverse this and we’ll be fighting to finally improve this program. Tenants deserve healthy and safe housing!

The main thing with Toronto City Council: less talk, more action!

Mahdiba Chowdhury – Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA)

A quote from Mahdiba Chowdhury from Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA). The quote reads "A right to housing means that the financial cost of housing does not threaten the attainability of other fundamental rights, needs, and desires."

What does the right to housing mean to you?

Every generation seems to have stories of trying to overcome the struggles in making a first home purchase. But young Canadian adults like myself are shouldering a particularly heavy burden from the skyrocketing house prices and tighter regulations. The reality is that young adults are having to stay in school longer for better paying jobs and pay off higher student loan debts, only to have their full-time earnings fall flat relative to the rising inflation. As a result, the housing crisis is causing young adults to put off important milestones such as moving out of their parents’ homes, living in their own homes, and starting their own families. Therefore, a right to housing means that the financial cost of housing does not threaten the attainability of other fundamental rights, needs, and desires.

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

Prior to the pandemic, full-time earnings were not in line with rising inflation. But when COVID-19 hit, many young adults fell to the bottom of the financial ladder and were facing immediate threats to housing security. The City must work with politicians and policymakers to protect the security of tenure and prevent eviction by providing financial support and preventing accumulated debts. In particular, Toronto’s Rent Bank program should focus on broadening the eligibility criteria for tenants who don’t currently qualify and expanding funds as grants and not loans. Ultimately, if politicians and policymakers are not willing to adjust or assist with housing prices to ensure they are in line with what people earn, housing dreams will continue to be out of reach for young adults.

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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