Housing is a human right: The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate's 2021-2022 Annual Report to the Minister

June 20, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

Following the tabling of “Housing is a human right: The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate's 2021-2022 Annual Report to the Minister,” Marie-Josée Houle, the Federal Housing Advocate, issues the following statement:

Canada is facing a housing crisis that is growing worse by the day.

It has reached such a tipping point that housing affordability, evictions, and housing inequality dominated the national conversation last year.

The pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation. As people's livelihoods were put at risk, many are now facing eviction or foreclosure as a result. Meanwhile, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic saw large investors accelerate the purchase of real estate for profit, driving up housing and rental prices and further threatening affordability for those most in need.

Experts are now calling homelessness in Canada the new epidemic. Housing programs and support services for people experiencing homelessness are stretched to a breaking point. The risk of contracting COVID-19 in a shelter has made it extremely difficult for people experiencing homelessness — many have resorted to finding shelter elsewhere, including in encampments.

Housing is a human right — it is more than an aspiration, it is an obligation. The human right to housing is an obligation defined in the international treaties Canada has signed and ratified. With the National Housing Strategy Act, the human right to housing is now enshrined in Canadian law.

Clearly, this human right has not yet been realized for many people in Canada today. There are 1.7 million people in Canada living in homes that are inadequate or unaffordable, and 235,000 people face homelessness each year.

We know that housing is more than just four walls and roof. It is essential for living with dignity. It provides peace and security. The right to housing is connected to countless other fundamental human rights. Housing is inextricably tied to health and social outcomes. We saw these links to health and home so clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I became the Federal Housing Advocate in February of 2022. I come to the job as a person who has experienced poverty, displacement, geographic marginalization and housing precarity. I also bring varied professional experience in the community housing sector, as well as experience advocating for tenant rights and pushing all levels of government to create a more equitable housing system.

I want to make it clear that my role is as an independent, nonpartisan watchdog. It is part of my job description to hold government to account on its human rights obligations related to housing and homelessness. This is why my Office and team are based at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

As I embark on my role as the Federal Housing Advocate, it is an opportunity to address the longstanding systemic issues that result in people in Canada being denied adequate housing and their human rights every day.

Undertaking this mandate is an opportunity to take action on inadequate housing and homelessness for the people who need it most. It is a chance to amplify marginalized voices. It is a chance to shine a spotlight on the systemic issues that are affecting people across the country.

And it is an opportunity to ensure that Canada makes progress on solving on these problems, with concerted resources and action on housing and homelessness at all levels. All levels of government have a role to play to ease the housing crisis, and the federal government has a responsibility to lead the way. I see an opportunity to improve the National Housing Strategy so that it better meets the needs of people in Canada, and so that it upholds Canada's human rights obligations.

I am here to learn, here to listen, and here to work together with partners across all sectors. I am here to push for meaningful solutions to urgent problems.

I know that we have a complex and daunting challenge ahead. I am optimistic that together, we will make progress towards a Canada where everyone has a home where they can live their lives in safety, peace and dignity.

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