Different futures: How do we (re)imagine housing in a pandemic world?

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our  series about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next, as we (re)imagine the right to home – Different futures: How do we (re)imagine housing in a pandemic world? – are Leilani Farha, Global Director of The Shift; Ruth Goba, Executive Director at the Black Legal Action Centre; Jeff Morrison, Executive Director at the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association; Margaret Pfoh, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association; and Michel Tremblay, Senior Vice-President, Policy and Innovation, at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

5 Key

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

1. Talkin’ about a revolution

What is needed to bring about a human rights-based approach to housing is a revolution that changes both ways of governing and of thinking. In the context of rights, implementation is the goal, not benevolence. Equity and accountability are equally essential. All housing-related decisions become human rights decisions whether they are landlord/tenant issues or regulations on institutional investors. This is not about “us and them”; we all need to be moved by the right to housing whether our concern is ending homelessness, a better future for our children, or a more stable workforce and economy.

2. Lofty goals and on-the-ground actions

Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act acknowledges the right to housing and sets the goal of affordable and adequate housing for all by 2030.  The panelists discussed that these objectives need to be accompanied by concrete implementation strategies, evaluation and accountability. We need milestones and incremental goals. Attaching human rights obligations to those goals will ensure that they are achieved along the way. Local leadership must be engaged to implement these rights where they count the most.

3. Early results from the pandemic and seizing the moment 

The pandemic has proved just what governments are capable of. The acquisition of hotels to house the homeless and moratoriums on evictions offer two examples of such rapid solutions. But cities are now seeing the growth of homeless encampments and eviction moratoriums are set to end, raising concerns about a coming tide of evictions. If we are going to act on this learning to imagine a different future, we must seize the moment.

4. Empowering Indigenous futures

The dispossession of Indigenous peoples is a continuing element in Canada’s history and current realities. A continued focus on the three distinction-based groups (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) needs to be complemented with a focus on urban Indigenous populations, which collectively make up the majority of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Margaret Pfoh explained how, in the next decade, 20% of the work force is projected to be Indigenous. To prepare for this future, an Indigenous housing strategy is needed that includes urban Indigenous populations, and all government partnerships must incorporate Indigenous governance.

5. Housing as a human right in practice

Often when we consider a different future for our housing system, we look for innovation where few precedents exist. The key pieces are straightforward and well understood. In this process of reimagination, we can also look to other countries that are putting the right to housing into practice. Whether it is the response in informal settlements in South Africa, or the national housing first strategy in Finland, new solutions are made possible when housing is a human right.