In the midst of an affordable housing and homelessness crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, Canada’s first-ever Federal Housing Advocate has named “corporate investments in rental housing” as the first issue up for a human rights-based review under the National Housing Strategy Act.
(Ottawa, September 23, 2022): Today, the Federal Housing Advocate exercised their powers under the 2019 National Housing Strategy Act by referring “the financialization of purpose-built rental housing” to a Review Panel. This Review Panel, modelled on international human rights claiming mechanisms at the United Nations, will be expected to hear from affected communities, housing and human rights experts, and other stakeholders in multiple open hearings to offer human rights-based findings and recommendations to the Government of Canada and the Minister of Housing, who will have 120 days to respond.
The financialization of purpose-built rental housing—I.e., the issue of rental housing being used as a vehicle for profit by corporate investors at the expense of tenants—gained a lot of attention in the aftermath of the pandemic. Housing and rental prices climbed to unfathomable levels, making tenancies even more precarious. Financialization is also associated with high risks of illness and death for seniors and people with disabilities in long-term care facilities.
“We’re eager to see justice for the communities across Canada who have been marginalized and torn apart by financialization throughout the years,” says Michèle Biss, National Director of the National Right to Housing Network. “We’re glad to see this issue highlighted by the Federal Housing Advocate and are working to bring together affected communities, advocates, policy analysts, and human rights experts to meaningfully engage in the upcoming hearings.”
Financialized landlords extract wealth from the housing system and benefit from tax exemptions in Canada. While renters have some legal protections against threats to their tenancies, these landlords are notorious for human rights violations like rental hikes, evictions, and “renovictions,” in which they evict tenants from their communities to renovate units, raise rents, and bring in higher-paying tenants. Not only does this contribute to rising inflation rates and loss of affordable housing stock, but as seen in Ottawa’s Heron Gate case, it often has disproportionately harmful impacts on already marginalized communities such as new immigrants, racialized people, people with disabilities, people on fixed incomes, and women and gender-diverse people.
In contrast, the National Housing Strategy Act outlines a human rights-based approach to housing that requires the federal government to align its housing policies, budgetary decisions, and laws with an understanding of housing as a social good rather than a profit-making commodity. This means that all people must have equitable, affordable, and secure access to housing to live with dignity, health, and opportunity. The legislation directly references Canada’s international human rights obligations and offers a new domestic access to justice mechanism for communities whose right to housing has been violated.
“To comply with its domestic and international obligations to the right to housing, the federal government will need to engage in good faith with the findings and recommendations of the Review Panel,” says Bruce Porter, Steering Committee member of the National Right to Housing Network. “Affected communities are ready to exercise their rights and show our governments the changes that are so desperately needed in our broken housing system.”
“We hope that Canada is ready to show political will and rebuild trust with underhoused and homeless communities across the country,” says Véronique LaFlamme, Steering Committee member of the National Right to Housing Network. “This is a wake-up call. Our governments need to protect tenants, protect housing that is still affordable before it disappears completely, and start investing massively in non-market housing again, in the form of co-op, non-profit, and public housing.”
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- The 2019 National Housing Strategy Act (NHSA) legally recognized adequate housing as a “fundamental human right” as it is defined in international human rights law. Canada has also been obliged to uphold the right to adequate housing under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) since 1976.
- The Federal Housing Advocate’s role under the NHSA is to investigate systemic barriers to adequate housing, hear from and amplify the concerns of people facing housing need, and drive forward Canada’s realization of rights-based policies and systems so that everyone has access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing. The Advocate can also refer major systemic issues to Review Panels for open hearings, from which recommendations will be made to the Minister of Housing who must table a response within 120 days in the Senate and Housing of Commons.
- “The financialization of purpose-built rental housing” is the first issue that the Advocate has referred to a Review Panel. This issue of rental housing being used as a vehicle for wealth and profit by corporate investors has major negative consequences on housing affordability, habitability, security of tenure, and the health and wellbeing of tenants. It is also thought to contribute to Canada’s eroding affordable housing stock.
For more information, please contact:
Sahar Raza, Director of Policy and Communications
National Right to Housing Network