Toronto City Council

Geordie Dent – Executive Director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations

What does the right to housing mean to you?

The Right to Housing means looking at housing the way we look at other infrastructure: systems and facilities which develop our city and make it more prosperous. While infrastructure sometimes has a small user fee attached, most in Toronto expect to be able to access water, hospitals, schools, parks, roads and other public services without major obstacles.

Unfortunately, housing doesn’t currently work this way…but it should. Many residents have been priced out of the ownership market and are leaving the city, while a large portion of the population has been priced out of the rental market altogether ending up entrenched in homelessness on the streets. We wouldn’t expect people to be turned away at a hospital, park or water fountain due to cost, and the same principle should apply in a city operating under the principle of the right to housing.

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

The City has to immediately legalize rooming houses across the city. While they are violating their own right to housing policies in breaking up city encampments, residents in those encampments have no current options to find affordable housing off the streets. Safe and legal rooming houses would be a straightforward way to allow the creation of affordable housing options for the City’s low-income residents, currently forced to live in unsafe housing options.

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Anna-Kay Brown – Organizer with the Jane Finch Housing Coalition

An image of Anna-Kay Brown, from the Jane Finch Housing Coalition, with a quote: The right to housing is a human right and needs to be adopted universally. Housing should not determine an individual’s worth or humanity but enhance it.

What does the right to housing mean to you?

The right to housing means so many different things to me because it affects every aspect of my life, from stability, safety, family, community, health, and happiness. Housing has always been a major factor that impacts my life from birth to present. My family’s housing needs became even more prevalent once we moved to Canada, and because of this it fuels the work I do. The right to housing is a human right and needs to be adopted universally. Housing should not determine an individual’s worth or humanity but enhance it.

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 strengthen their affordable housing policies. The City needs to be authentic and intentional with how they address housing needs, especially when working with diverse and marginalized communities. This work needs to be conducted through an equity and anti-displacement lens because we cannot police our way out of the crisis we continue to face. Utilizing tools like Inclusionary Zoning, requiring a minimum of 30% of affordable units in all new developments, and creating more deeply affordable and rent-geared-to-income units are a few solutions. Overall City Council needs to listen, implement, and work with communities to address housing needs because band-aid solutions will not continue to work.


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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.

 

Ingrid Palmer – child welfare rights, disability justice and housing advocate

An image of a woman Ingrid Palmer, with the quote: "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."

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.

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Joy Connelly – housing rights advocate

An image of a woman Joy Connelly, Housing Rights Advocate, with a quote: "Saving affordable homes is cheaper and faster than building new ones. A victory for both human rights and the City’s budget."

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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