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.