A Rights-based Housing Strategy for Toronto

Home is at the centre of human rights. A safe, affordable, and accessible home allows residents to live a life with dignity and security. In Toronto, the affordable housing crisis is restricting many individuals’ ability to provide for themselves and their families.  

It is the responsibility of our governments to solve the growing affordability crisis. Adopting a rights-based approach to housing policy development offers a promising way to alleviate many of the housing challenges that so many Torontonians are facing. In practice, this means taking a collaborative approach to policy development with impacted communities, allocating the maximum of available resources and using all available policy tools in a way that prioritizes the needs of those most impacted by the housing crisis. 

While the City of Toronto has taken a step in this direction by committing to realize the right to housing in its Housing Charter – a part of its HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan – concrete steps must be taken to fulfill this commitment.

Practical housing solutions for the City of Toronto

The Right to Housing Toronto has developed the following set of practical solutions that the City of Toronto can adopt to advance the right to housing for its residents. While the City is currently adopting some worthwhile measures, these solutions can help the City take a more comprehensive and long-term approach that centres the needs of residents.

  1. Advance the right to housing
  • Solution: Immediately operationalize the Housing Commissioner’s role within the Ombudsman’s Office in a way that ensures sufficient resourcing and powers that enables the Office to effectively hold the City to account in meeting its human rights obligations.

  • Solution: Leverage the expertise of housing advocates and human rights experts along with the insights of people with lived experiences of the housing crisis to build internal knowledge related to rights-based policy development and implementation. 

  • Solution: Develop metrics and institute requirements to regularly collect data on the City’s progress on realizing the right to adequate housing for all Torontonians.

2. Support people experiencing homelessness

  • Solution: Provide timely access to permanent, deeply affordable housing options for shelter residents or people experiencing homelessness by adopting innovative approaches such as better integration of data to connect people to housing, and rapid housing delivery through acquisition programs and modular housing construction.
  • Solution: Prioritize Indigenous-based ownership and operation of shelters and housing services that are intended for Indigenous populations.
  • Solution: With an understanding that permanent housing options will take time to develop, continue to identify and build new shelter spaces and sustain investments in the system to ensure that it is adequately staffed and that shelter is made available throughout the City.
  • Solution: Invest in different shelter models, ranging from temporary 24-hour respite services to transitional homes to meet the diverse needs of Toronto’s citizens.
  • Solution: Introduce health and safety policies that ensure shelters are safe to live in.
  • Solution: Engage with encampment residents in a way that respects their human rights and arrange for permanent housing options in a way that is in line with their preferences.

3. Increase affordable housing options for lower income residents

  • Solution: More efficiently and expansively leverage public lands and properties in a way that prioritizes the creation of the maximum number of deeply affordable housing options.
  • Solution: Encourage repurposing of vacant commercial buildings into residential use, with prioritization for affordable housing.
  • Solution: Prioritize development incentives, such as development charge exemptions and expedited approval processes, towards building affordable rental and deeply affordable housing options.
  • Solution: Adjust the application process of the Open Door Program to better facilitate the participation of non-profit housing providers in the program.
  • Solution: Build on recent zoning changes such as Inclusionary Zoning and Multiplex permissions by exploring the feasibility of incentivizing more affordable housing construction where more density is permitted.
  • Solution: Partner with other municipalities and community organizations to advocate for more funding from higher levels of government to increase affordable housing options.

4. Engage with renters to participate in housing decisions

  • Solution: Ensure that the newly proposed Housing Commissioner role routinely incorporates the experiences of renters in its deliberations and decision-making processes.
  • Solution: Encourage renters impacted by the housing affordability crisis to engage in civic action to have their voices heard.
  • Solution: Provide creative consultative opportunities for lower income households to be involved in the policy decision-making process.
  • Solution: Engage and support the creation of tenant associations in tower communities.

5. Protect renters from losing their homes

  • Solution: Establish a robust bylaw to prohibit renovictions in a way that complements provincial legislative proposals to prevent renovictions and also builds off the City’s proposed policy framework to deter renovictions.

  • Solution: Improve legal support programs for tenants to challenge AGIs in their buildings and expand programs that build tenant organizing capacity.

  • Solution: Sustain additional supports provided by the Housing Stabilization Fund, especially for those at greater risk of losing their homes due to rent arrears.
  • Solution: Continue to expand the Toronto Rent Bank by making eligibility criteria more flexible so that more people can access grants if they are facing financial difficulties.

6. Ensure existing rental homes are well-maintained and in a state of good repair

  • Solution: Create a new Right to Housing Community Engagement Committee to make recommendations for action.

  • Solution: Enforce property standards and focus on bringing the worst-performing buildings back into a state of good repair.

  • Solution: Prioritize deep capital repairs and retrofits in low-income and racialized neighbourhoods, ensuring that affordability levels are maintained.

  • Solution: Update the recently adopted multi-tenant houses regulatory framework to ensure that all multi-tenant houses are legalized.

  • Solution: Ensure that compliance with the new multi-tenant houses regulatory framework does not cause displacement and homelessness by:
    • Working with operators to ensure tenants remain housed while these homes are being brought up to code.
    • Creating a funding program to subsidize the cost of bringing these homes up to code in exchange for affordability guarantees.
  • Solution: Improve the RentSafeTO program by adopting colour-coding, unit inspections during building evaluations and increasing the number of Bylaw Enforcement Officers.