The Federal Housing Advocate is an independent, nonpartisan watchdog, empowered to drive meaningful action to address housing need and homelessness in Canada. The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, housed at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, helps to promote and protect the right to housing in Canada, including the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. The goal of the Advocate’s work is to drive change on key systemic housing issues and advance the right to housing for all in Canada.
The Advocate is responsible for making recommendations to improve Canada’s housing laws, policies and programs so that they enable people and families in Canada to have access to adequate, affordable and safe housing that meets their needs. The Advocate’s mandate is guided by a human rights-based approach, which values participation, accountability, non-discrimination, equity, transparency, empowerment, and respect for human rights laws and obligations.
Driving change on systemic housing issues: The Federal Housing Advocate holds governments to account on their obligations to address housing need and homelessness across Canada. The Advocate makes recommendations to the government and other decision makers to improve Canada’s housing laws, policies and programs.
Receiving submissions: The Advocate receives submissions from people across Canada on the systemic housing issues they are facing, and makes recommendations on how to address them.
The Advocate may both undertake their own review of a broad systemic housing issue, or request that the National Housing Council establish a Review Panel to hold a hearing to review any systemic housing issue within federal jurisdiction. Review Panels consist of three members from the National Housing Council, and provide members of affected communities as well as groups that have expertise in human rights and housing an opportunity to participate. The panel then prepares a report with conclusions and recommendations for the Minister responsible for housing, who must respond within 120 days and table that response in the House of Commons and the Senate.
The findings and recommendations brought forward by the Advocate and the Review Panel will help to identify solutions and necessary reforms to laws, policies and programs that affect housing and homelessness in Canada. This mechanism is a way to target the most critical systemic issues, as well as urge the government to take action on them. It also gives members of affected communities an opportunity to be included and participate in the process, and to contribute to housing policy and solutions.
Amplifying people’s voices: The Advocate raises awareness on the most common and critical housing issues that people across Canada are facing. The Advocate plays a key role in amplifying the voices of those impacted by housing need and homelessness. Public engagement and input is critical to informing the work of the Advocate.
Monitoring the right to housing: The Federal Housing Advocate is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the right to housing and systemic housing issues in Canada. This work includes stakeholder engagement, analyzing and conducting research, initiating studies, and consulting on systemic housing issues. The Advocate can initiate studies as they see fit into economic, institutional, or industry conditions in federal jurisdiction that affect the housing system.
The Advocate is also responsible for monitoring the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing in Canada, and assessing the impacts of legislation, policies and programs that affect housing. This includes the National Housing Strategy Act and the related National Housing Strategy. The Advocate monitors the progress, goals and timelines of the Act and the National Housing Strategy, and is directed to pay close attention to their impact on groups and people in greatest housing need.
Reporting to Parliament: The Advocate is responsible for reporting annually to the Minister responsible for housing. The Annual Report will include a summary of the Office’s activities, and contain recommendations to address systemic housing issues. The Advocate can also submit recommendations at any time to the Minister, who must respond within 120 days.
The Federal Housing Advocate is a Governor in Council appointment.
Marie-Josée Houle, Federal Housing Advocate
Marie-Josée Houle was appointed as Canada's first Federal Housing Advocate in February 2022, marking a new chapter in a career defined by her work in the affordable housing and homelessness sector.
Ms. Houle is an experienced leader who is recognized for her community activism, expertise in human rights, and extensive knowledge of the housing and homelessness system.
Prior to her appointment as Canada's first Federal Housing Advocate, Ms. Houle has held a number of roles that inform her broad experience, including frontline work in housing co-ops, consulting and project management for affordable housing development, by-law review, housing-related research projects, developing educational programs for housing co-ops and non-profits, and senior leadership roles.
Most recently, she was the Executive Director for Action-Logement, an Ottawa housing loss prevention organization, where she did extensive work in research, education, community partnerships, and on developing tools to support successful tenancies in spite of intensified inequity, growing failures and human rights violations in the housing system. Ms. Houle was also formerly the Executive Director of OCISO Non-Profit Housing Corporation (now called Unity Housing Ottawa). She has also worked as a development consultant and project manager on seven new and existing housing co-operatives and non-profit housing corporations.
Ms. Houle has been actively involved in advocacy work at a national, provincial and community level. She has advocated for tenant rights and the non-profit housing sector at all three levels of government. She has worked with diverse partners in the sector to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, improve efficiencies, influence key opinion leaders, leverage strategic partnerships, and address gaps and human rights violations related to housing and access to housing. Building a sense of community among diverse partners is particularly important to her. Ms. Houle has been a member the National Right to Housing Network, the Ottawa Alliance to End Homelessness and the Canadian Housing Renewal Association. She sat on the Ottawa Homelessness Community Advisory Board, the Ottawa Social Housing Network Steering Committee, and co-chaired both the City of Ottawa's Housing Loss Prevention Committee, and the Refugee 613 Housing Task Force.
A supporter and amplifier of marginalized voices, Ms. Houle promotes respectful and inclusive dialogue, creating a space for disadvantaged people to be heard, and applies an intersectional and anti-racism lens to her advocacy work. She has liaised with Indigenous housing providers, developers and tenant support organizations to devise ways to be a better ally, support their work and amplify their voices.
Born in Val D'Or, Québec, and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, she holds a Master of Arts in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Dalhousie and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences from the University of Alberta. Ms. Houle is fluently bilingual in English and French.
From 2003 to 2010, Marie-Josee celebrated her dual cultural roots as a professional singer, songwriter, accordionist and bassist. She became the go-to accordion player for many Canadian acts, recorded two solo albums and toured relentlessly from one coast to the other, to Paris, Vienna, Oslo and beyond.
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