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.
What does the right to housing mean to you?
As a former Crown Ward in the child welfare system and a Black woman with a disability, the Right to Housing is a pathway to transforming the sometimes untenable conditions of one’s life into a foundation upon which “better” can be boldly pursued. When you have the security of a safe and affordable place to lay your head, you are in a better position to pursue education, employment, needed resources or services, and to simply enjoy the everyday simplicities of life.
What is the number one thing Toronto City Council must to do advance the right to housing this year?
Toronto City Council must fully embrace their responsibility to incorporate, sufficiently financially back, and model through intentional and robust leadership the overall necessity of a rights-based housing reality for EVERYONE. When our leaders exemplify equity in all they do, everything else will fall in line; one only has to be brave enough to do it.
Toronto City Council met on June 8 and 9, 2021 where several motions were presented by Councillors to address homelessness in the city.
Ahead of this meeting, the Joint Statement: Protecting People Experiencing Homelessness and Ensuring the Safety of the Shelter System was developed by the Toronto Drop-in Network and the Shelter and Housing Justice Network. The statement urges the City of Toronto 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. The statement was signed by over 20 organizations and groups, including R2HTO.
Several motions were introduced to amend the recommendations to the City Manager on this matter. While, the motion introduced by Councillor Josh Matlow did not pass, a major part of the motion introduced by Councillor Mike Layton passed with a near unanimous vote. Councillor Layton’s motion asked for the City to reiterate its commitment to a human rights approach to housing for those experiencing homelessness as well as ensuring 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. Unfortunately, Councillor Layton’s motion to meaningfully engage encampment residents and people with lived experience of homelessness in developing a strategy to provide them with housing opportunities failed to gain support from a majority of City Councillors.
Reinforcing the City’s human rights commitments is a welcome development and is a crucial approach to addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto. Meaningful engagement of impacted communities is also a core aspect of a rights-based approach to housing, such as serious human rights issues like homelessness.
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.
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