Housing as a right

Posted on July 9, 2008 in Equality Debates, Governance Debates, Inclusion Debates, Social Security Debates

TheStar.com – comment/editorial – Housing as a right
July 09, 2008

A new report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission makes a case for considering housing as not only a need but also a right, guaranteed by international agreements that Canada has signed.

Chief commissioner Barbara Hall’s groundbreaking report, released yesterday, chronicles how all levels of government and public and private sector landlords discriminate against immigrants and refugees, single parents, the disabled, aboriginals and the mentally ill. Collectively, these minorities make up the majority of those living in poverty in this province.

Landlords illegally bar families by advertising “adult only” buildings and discriminate against the poor by imposing credit checks, rent deposits and income requirements. Yet few of those denied access ever file a complaint with the commission.

“NIMBYism,” where neighbourhood groups rise up to oppose public or supportive housing, “prevents, delays or increases the cost” of developing much-needed shelter for vulnerable groups.

Furthermore, affordable housing in Canada is governed by a complex set of shared federal, provincial and municipal agreements that together are failing to address the need.

In its 47 recommendations, the “Right at Home” report calls on the federal government to adopt a national housing strategy that includes measurable targets and sufficient funds to meet the growing problem of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. Canada is the only major country in the world without such a strategy.

But in the absence of a national approach, says the report, Ontario should adopt its own housing strategy that takes into account marginalized groups who are protected under the human rights code.

Welfare rates and minimum wages in Ontario have not kept pace with average rents, the commission found in province-wide consultations. It calls on the government, as part of its planned poverty reduction strategy, to index the minimum wage to inflation and ensure it provides enough income to allow a full-time worker to escape poverty.

At the same time, the shelter allowance portion of welfare benefits bears no relation to rents in this province. A family of four on welfare gets only $544 a month for housing, while the average monthly rent in Toronto for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,052.

The report calls for more rent supplements so that poor families on the lengthy waiting list for public housing can afford to pay private market rents.

If governments fail to act, the commission is vowing to develop its own policy on rental housing and human rights to ensure more is done to protect the most vulnerable.

“As a human rights commission, we are stepping up to the bar,” Hall said in an interview. Politicians at all levels ought to follow suit.

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