In December 2019, the City of Toronto made history by becoming Canada’s first municipality to commit to advancing the right to housing in its HousingTO 2020-30 Action Plan. This means that the City of Toronto has committed to holding human rights principles at the centre of its decision-making, especially when developing housing policies and programs. Now, local right to housing advocates are building on this commitment by inviting all 167 candidates for Toronto City Council to pledge their support for seven actions that will advance the right to housing.
What concrete, rights-based steps can Toronto take to address its deepening housing crisis? Read more to find out.
This blog was written by Right to Housing Toronto (R2HTO), a network formed in 2019 to advocate for a human rights approach to housing in the City of Toronto’s 10-year Housing Plan (i.e., the HousingTO 2020-30 Action Plan). Their work is directed by a steering committee comprised of representatives of local organizations and advocates working to advance the right to housing in the city.
One issue is on every Torontonian’s mind this municipal election: housing. Residents are looking to their mayoral and city council candidates to offer bold solutions to the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis.
Right to Housing Toronto’s election campaign offers all 167 city council candidates and 31 mayoral candidates a framework for understanding the “human rights-based approach” to housing. Our election pledge also provides seven concrete steps that candidates can commit to within the municipal purview to help address the housing crisis in Toronto. These concrete actions are linked to the right to housing principles of affordability, habitability, accessibility, security of tenure, and housing close to services. They include:
- Progressively expanding Toronto’s Multi-Residential Acquisitions Program to make more rental properties affordable forever;
- Combining rent supplements with existing City housing initiatives to create homes that are truly affordable for Toronto’s lowest income earners;
- Establishing protocols to ensure tenants have an active voice in the evaluation of their homes, with enough City Bylaw Enforcement Officers to do the job;
- Championing Universal Design in all new apartment buildings so that anyone of any age or ability can move into and stay in their homes, and ensure the City’s centralized waiting lists effectively match disabled applicants with the appropriate housing;
- Expanding the City’s eviction prevention programs, rent supports, and housing stabilization supports to enable tenants to remain in their homes and challenge bad faith evictions;
- Facilitating the creation of shared housing, second suites, walk-up apartments, townhouses, and other “gentle density” throughout Toronto; and,
- Creating and fully funding the Office of the Housing Commissioner in 2023.
Our election kit also provides a set of practical solutions that decision makers can adopt to address housing challenges and needs in Toronto, including ways to:
- Support people experiencing homelessness;
- Protect renters from losing their homes;
- Increase affordable housing for low-income renters and enhance their participation in housing decisions;
- Improve rental homes by keeping them well-maintained; and,
- Stay on track to implement the 10-year housing plan and advance the right to housing.
We are reaching out to all candidates for City Council to ask them to take the pledge and use the pledge commitments in their platforms.
We have also shared this campaign kit and related resources with neighbourhood groups and community-based organizations across the city to help them understand the City’s commitment to the right to housing. This means that advocates and residents across the city are expecting bold right to housing commitments from their municipal candidates.
Among the practical solutions that candidates can commit to in their platforms is the appointment of a Housing Commissioner to investigate and address systemic housing challenges and advise the Council on its human rights obligations. This would have an immediate and substantial impact on the city’s low-income tenant population and residents experiencing homelessness.
A not-to-be-missed opportunity
This election is an opportune moment to advance rights-based strategies that will ensure adequate, accessible, and affordable housing for all.
Housing need has never been greater. Rent increases have outstripped increases in low- to middle-income wages. Today, nearly half of tenants are paying unaffordable rents. Even after the City updated its definition of affordable rents, it still costs $1,090 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,661 for a two-bedroom apartment. In other words, minimum-wage earners must now spend 71% of their income to afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the City.
As a result of unaffordability, many renters are forced to live in inadequate housing that is unsafe and unhealthy. Homelessness has dramatically increased as households continue to struggle to afford their housing and keep a roof over their heads—a trend which worsened in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City’s eviction prevention program has been largely ineffective, and Toronto’s most marginalized populations, including racialized people, newcomers, and Black and Indigenous communities, are being disproportionately affected by this crisis.
In fact, the unaffordability rate is roughly 10% higher for South Asian, Black, and Chinese households than for non-racialized households. Moreover, the eviction filing rates are double in neighbourhoods with a greater proportion of Black renters compared to other neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, seven city council wards—amounting to 28 percent of the Council—are without an incumbent. This means there is an opportunity to elect a more diverse Council. One of the key elements of human rights-based housing is prioritizing the participation and leadership of diverse people who are most affected by inadequate housing and homelessness throughout the development and administration of housing policies and programs. This election, therefore, presents an opportunity to align with a rights-based approach and improve the representation of communities that are directly affected by inadequate housing on City Council.
Time to act
Toronto’s Housing Charter affirms that all residents should have a safe, secure, affordable, and well-maintained home in a neighbourhood that meets their needs without discrimination. It also affirms that all residents—whether they are renters, homeowners, or people experiencing homelessness—have an equal stake and voice in Toronto’s future. Our rights-based pledge builds on these commitments and offers a practical path forward.
Join us in urging all candidates in the upcoming municipal election to take the pledge and advance the right to housing for all Torontonians!
Rights Reviews by Right to Housing Toronto from increasing affordable housing stock; access to justice for the right to housing; aligning the city of Toronto’s eviction prevention strategies with the right to housing, and upholding the right to housing in Toronto’s encampments.
R2HTO’s Full Submission to the City of Toronto on the HousingTO 20-30 Action Plan
The Housing Tell is a blog series which platforms noteworthy perspectives, solutions, and ideas from across Canada’s right to housing movement.