The Current

'Absolutely historic': Federal government launches 'human rights-based' housing strategy

The 10-year plan includes the introduction of a housing benefit for families, and the building of 100,000 new affordable housing units.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits a housing development in Toronto's Lawrence Heights on November 22, 2017, ahead of announcing his federal housing strategy. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
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The federal government has unveiled its new national housing strategy, eliciting strong reactions across the political spectrum.

The 10-year plan includes the introduction of a housing benefit for families and the building of 100,000 new affordable housing units.

This move to address the housing challenges of low-income Canadians is long-awaited with 1.7 million Canadians currently unable to find affordable housing.

"Before yesterday where we stood was that 235,000 Canadians experienced homelessness at a point in any given year," says Jeff Morrison, the executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

"Roughly 600,000 social housing units were at risk of disappearing. That's over a million Canadians living in those housing units, and they were at risk because for decades there was under investment."

The Liberals are dedicating a total of $40 billion to this new strategy, calling it "a human rights-based approach to housing."

Prime Minister Trudeau announces the Liberal government's National Housing Strategy in Toronto on Nov. 22, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Leilani Farha,a human rights lawyer and the United Nations' special rapporteur on housing, believes the announcement to be "absolutely historic."

"We have never had a national housing strategy in this country. It is overdue," Farha tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"But more importantly is this idea of a human rights-based housing strategy ... recognizing the rights of people who are living in homelessness and inadequate housing," Farha says.

But what exactly does a human rights approach mean in practical terms, and how will the government deliver upon it?

They have a bill that will enable legislation that will codify a rights-based housing strategy.- Leilani   Farha , United Nations' special rapporteur on housing

"It's a very, very practical approach. They have a bill that will enable legislation that will codify a rights-based housing strategy. And that's really key because it means that — you know  —  if this government is unelected in the next election or further down the road we will still have that piece of legislation," explains Farha.

Jane Londerville, an associate professor of real estate at the University of Guelph, agrees the policy is a positive development but says attention should be paid to those left out of the current strategy.

"I would have liked to see more that dealt with market housing and affordable homeownership. How does somebody who's starting out in Toronto or Vancouver get to the point where they can be a homeowner?" says Londerville.  

Jeff Morrison concedes the new plan is "value-based," prioritizing low-income Canadians, but believes this attention is long overdue.

"There's already a number of programs and policies in place to enable ownership," he tells The Current.

"What this strategy yesterday was really intended to do was to shore up a segment — a big segment — of the housing spectrum that has really been under served for many, many years."


This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelsonand Yamri Taddese