What does the right to housing mean to you?
If we turn on the tap and no water comes out, we call the City and workers come rushing to our aid. If a family moves to Toronto and shows up at a school, the children will be in a classroom within the hour. That’s because we believe water and education are rights.
Toronto City Council has declared housing is a right, as has the Government of Canada. But we are not yet at the stage where we treat homelessness as the emergency it is, or can dispense with social housing waiting lists because people who need a home just can’t wait. When all people have a liveable, affordable home, we’ll know that housing is recognized as a human right.
What is the #1 thing that Toronto City Council must do to advance the right to housing this year?
Preserve the affordable housing we have.
That means preserving affordable rooms – the only private-sector housing still affordable to singles on social assistance or earning minimum wage – through rooming house policies that improve living standards without driving up costs or displacing tenants. It means vigorously defending the City’s 2019 Official Plan Amendment to replace rooms lost to redevelopment, now being appealed. It means removing any city regulations that dissuade owners from creating second suites. And it means strengthening measures to help tenants keep their homes, as the City has done through welcome enhancements to the Rent Bank and funding to tenant support organizations.
I also look forward to a Federal Acquisitions Program, so the City can enable non-profit groups to snap up rental buildings that are up for sale and keep them affordable forever. As housing researcher Steve Pomeroy observes, between 2011 to 2016, Canada lost 15 affordable homes through redevelopment or financialization for every new affordable home built. That trend has accelerated.
Displacing tenants into precarity or homelessness violates the right to housing. So does forcing tenants to sacrifice basic needs to pay the rent. Saving affordable homes is cheaper and faster than building new ones. A victory for both human rights and the City’s budget.