Canada to Make History with First-Ever Oral Hearings on the Human Right to Housing
(October 18, 2023): Next week, for the first time in Canadian history, a right to housing oversight body—review panels—will begin public oral hearings to shed light on growing concerns over the “financialization” of purpose-built rental housing. Stemming from over 190 written submissions from across the country, these hearings aim to address the systemic and human rights issue of institutional investors using rental housing as a financial asset and tool for maximizing profit at the expense of tenants (and people seeking tenancy).
The oral hearings are set to begin on October 23 and 24 with housing and human right researchers, organizations, and experts—including Canada’s Federal Housing Advocate and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing—speaking on this pressing issue of financialization, to hold both the private sector and the Canadian government accountable to their legal and human rights obligations. These speakers will highlight the challenges that many renters face due to weak tenant protections, regulations, and a lack of human rights due diligence in the housing sector, including unfair rent hikes, evictions, poor maintenance, unaffordability, displacement, discrimination, and homelessness. These challenges directly infringe upon the human right to adequate housing that every person in Canada is entitled to—a right cemented both in Canadian legislation since 2019 and international law since 1976.
Despite receiving no federal funding or tangible support to make submissions to this review panel, affected community members and civil society leaders from across Canada, along with numerous international human rights experts, contributed a staggering 194 written submissions over the summer. Collectively, these submissions represent thousands of tenants and supporters for whom these hearings mark a significant moment in seeking justice for their human rights. In fact, for many people across Canada, these hearings might be their only shot at justice against the overwhelming tide of financialized landlords.
The stakes are even higher with Canada vying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. “To be a human rights leader on the international stage, Canada’s commitment to the right to housing must transcend rhetoric here at home,” says Julieta Perucca, Deputy Director of the Shift, an internationally focused partner of the National Right to Housing Network.
Civil society and international human rights experts will be watching oral hearings closely to ensure that the Minister of Housing and other federal leaders actively listen to and engage with rights-claimants, and ultimately implement what they learn from the review panel across existing and future housing policies and programs. It will also be important for the federal government to fund civil society participation in this new access to justice mechanism going forward.
Furthermore, the federal government’s recent housing announcements, like the GST rebate for developers of rental housing, must be scrutinized for their lack of alignment with the human rights-based approach that the government is legally obligated to follow. Although well-intended, such rebates can lead to further financialization through the creation of housing that is not affordable or adequate for people who need it most. To this end, speakers at the upcoming oral hearings will emphasize the need for federal funding and tax incentives to have human rights conditions attached, to ensure affordability and stronger tenant protections.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), significant financial players that profit from Canada’s inequitable rental housing market, will also be under scrutiny in these hearings. For years, communities have called for the closure of tax loopholes that benefit REITs, urging that these funds be reinvested into housing and homelessness programs for those in dire need.
Canada’s commitment to protecting people who rely on rental housing for a home will be under the spotlight next week, and until the oral hearings conclude in early December. This is a defining moment that demands federal leadership and unwavering dedication to the human rights of every person in Canada.
For more information, including the schedule for oral hearings, visit https://housingrights.ca/oral-hearings-financialization/.
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About the Human Rights Review Panel:
- Review panels are a new accountability mechanism established under Canada’s 2019 National Housing Strategy Act and aim to address systemic housing issues using human rights standards and obligations outlined in domestic and international law.
Review panels consist of 3 members from Canada’s National Housing Council and are meant to bring lived experience and housing and human rights expertise to their work.
For more information, contact:
National Right to Housing Network