Liberals poised to make housing a right in new homelessness strategy
A woman walks past a man sleeping on the street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, September 19, 2017 4:35AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 19, 2017 5:46PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The Trudeau Liberals' promised national strategy to tackle the nation's housing challenges may have as one of its pillars a right to housing for every Canadian, with federal officials signalling such a bold political statement could also be enshrined in legislation.
Sources with knowledge of the government's thinking said there aren't any specifics tied to the promise at the moment, unlike the detailed benchmarks to measure progress on other parts of the plan, suggesting it is, for the moment, largely aspirational in nature.
Federal officials have told housing advocates the government is considering enshrining the right in legislation to make it difficult for a future government to ignore or reverse.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the strategy has yet to be made public, say the Liberals are also looking to craft unique strategies each for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, instead of a singular Aboriginal housing strategy as first promised.
A spokesman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government couldn't yet speak definitively to the details of the strategy.
Housing advocates have lobbied Duclos to take a human rights lens to the forthcoming housing strategy to give the country's most vulnerable some recourse if they are wrongfully denied an apartment or home.
That would in turn raise the possibility of new tribunals, for example, to handle complaints if people feels their right has been violated -- all issues that sources say the Liberals are mulling over before the ink dries on the strategy.
"If you have the right to housing, if it's recognized, if it's the basic underlying pin of a strategy, then it means something, because people have actual recourse in court," said NDP critic Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, whose party has a bill before the Commons to add the right to housing to the Canadian Bill of Rights.
Leilani Farha, the UN's special rapporteur on adequate housing, said Canadian politicians have been slow to embrace housing as a human right. Although the government has shown "pretty bold and creative" thinking on housing, the key will be to translate that into a strategy, said Farha, who is also executive director of Canada Without Poverty.
Officials are putting the final touches on the housing strategy with expectations for its release in late November to coincide with National Housing Day.
Duclos used the day last year to release a report detailing what the government heard during consultations on the strategy. A November release would come after Statistics Canada reveals census data on the depth of Canada's housing needs late next month.
The latest housing data suggests 1.6 million households are in "core housing need," meaning they spend more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn't meet their needs.
The Liberals want to slash those figures with billions in spending over the next decade.
The financial backbone for the strategy includes $11.2 billion over 11 years to ensure everyone in the country can find housing that is affordable and meets their needs, including $5 billion to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., to leverage an additional $10.9 billion in private sector investments.
There are indications the Liberals are willing to make their housing strategy flexible to the needs of provinces and cities, which is a key issue for opposition critics.
"We have seen legislation come down from this government that the provinces are not embracing," said Conservative critic Karen Vecchio.
"We have to make sure, is this something that are we pushing on the provinces or are we going to work with the provinces?"
At an affordable housing symposium in Ottawa, federal officials asked local activists to ensure the money is spent wisely and isn't bogged down in local regulatory processes, potentially delaying projects or leading to cost overruns. On Tuesday, the gathering was also told to also expect money for homelessness prevention in next year's budget.