COVID Signpost 200 Days: How Do We Realize the Right to Home in the Next 100 Days?

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our second series of COVID Signpost, 200 Days: How Do We Realize the Right to Home in the Next 100 Days?- are Micheal Vonn, CEO of PHS Community Services in Vancouver; Nakuset, Director at the Native Women’s Shelter in Montreal; Martin Blake, Vice-President at Daniels Corporation in Toronto; Derek Ballantyne, Partner at New Market Funds and Chair of CMHC in Toronto; and Catherine McKenney, City Councillor of Somerset Ward, Ottawa.


5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. COVID-19 has amplified the crisis of homelessness

Michael Vonn argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has see the “outing of the non-public poor”. People are showing up on the streets that were not part of previous homelessness counts: those that were lodging with people in precarious housing or couch-surfing are now living in tent encampments alongside those who couldn’t make their rent because their roommates left last month, and those experiencing mental health and addictions challenges.

2. The situation is dire as the winter approaches

Catherine McKenney argues that the urgent homelessness crisis needs the same level of urgency and attention that the pandemic has been receiving. In Ottawa, 2.5 per cent of 128,000 renter households have not been able to make payment during COVID-19. These households are at risk of becoming homeless as the seasons change, and as Ontario prepares to lift its moratorium on evictions. Similarly, there is a shortage of respite centres across the city, where people can access a washroom and shower. “It’s beyond an emergency,” she says.

3. Intergovernmental alignment is critical

Derek Ballantyne notes that municipalities are saddled with the immediate needs of homelessness on their city streets. But given Canada’s constitutional arrangement, municipalities have found themselves at the limits of their ability to finance or provide solutions. Federal government policies and programs are useful and helpful, he argues, but if provincial frameworks are out of line and priorities are out of scale, how do we ensure all these pieces work together to close the significant gaps that are still ahead of us? Organizing between governments to connect federal announcements to action on the ground is critical.

4. Looking to the long-term horizon

Martin Blake notes that in the face of instant crises, developers are unable to respond in the high-rise environment for several years. Facing a longer-term horizon to affect change, developers are delivering housing today that was conceptualized six years ago. He advocates for a systems approach. Policy and zoning changes will make all the difference—inclusionary zoning for example, if implemented properly, would be game-changing.

5. Key ideas in the next phase of COVID-19

Each panelist offers an idea on how to move forward in the next 100 days of the pandemic. Says Vonn, “partnership should be emphasized.” Blake and Ballantyne urge for policy and zoning changes. McKenney proposes the importance of acquisitions as an immediate solution. And Nakuset advocates that what we need in the next 100 days is compassion for each other, and especially for those most vulnerable among us.