Mary Rowe [00:00:25] Hello, everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, we’re really, really pleased to join you back to City Talk. It’s midday here in central Canada a little later in the Maritimes where they’re starting to pour their cups of tea. And in the West, where we have a couple of participants today, they’re just getting cracking. They’re just opening up their coffee. Or in the case of a couple of these folks, I think they’re working all the time.
Mary Rowe [00:00:43] And so they’ve probably just been drinking coffee since the wee small hours and they’re probably well on their way to being high octane for us today. This has been a really great week for CityTalk. We’re in the midst of a big conversation about the Right to Home and our partners on this are The Shift, which is led by Leilani Farha, and she is the driving force of this conversation about whether or not we can get a human rights approach to housing and the right to housing be the dominant narrative to really advance a conversation that every session we’ve been doing on this since the beginning of the pandemic acknowledges that we’ve been challenged by inadequate housing, inadequate supply of housing, inadequate choice of housing, and the pressures that’s been putting on vulnerable populations, particularly, and and people that are finding themselves inadequately housed or homeless or all sorts of other challenges around that. So today is as a session to talk about the future, to talk about what’s possible with practitioners here who are advocates and who I think have been in the field for long enough that they’re going to be able to share with us what actually can happen, what can be done, how can the pandemic and the conditions that we’ve been coping with and continue to cope with, can they be catalysts for us actually fundamentally addressing the challenges and getting some solutions to happen? These broadcasts, CUI is in the connective tissue business, and so we connect with Canadians doing city building. I shouldn’t say Canadians. We connect with people who live in Canada who are doing city building across the country. And then we have folks in other parts of the world that also tune into these. And many of them are, I’m sure, will be on today because of the topic and the resonance of this topic around the world. But the broadcast originates in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosonee and the Wendat peoples. It’s now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis people from across Turtle Island. It’s also covered. Toronto is covered by Treaty 13, which was signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams treaties that were signed with multiple Anishnabeg nations. And we carry that legacy and we’re struggling to come to terms with that. We’re very appreciative that we have Margaret today back with us. She was on a previous CityTalk to make sure that we’re cognizant of the legacy and the continued systemic barriers. And we also over the weeks of COVID that it’s become more and more apparent and much more to the surface to the extent to which urbanism has reflected racist practices and the extent to which anti-Black racism appears to be wired into the way that we build, manage, plan and design and govern cities. And so a lot of things have to be dismantled. And we’re in the process of figuring all that out and providing forums like this for people to have candid conversations about the extent to which COVID has affected, the populations that they represent or that they work with, or that they are in the communities, the places that they live. And also whether or not there are whether we have moments now to really make fundamental, significant corrections to all this dysfunction that we’ve been living with. So without further ado, I’m going to go to our panelists and see if they can give us their perspective. As you know, we always open these with a quick hello and for people to tell us where they are and what they’ve been seeing, and particularly now because we’re in the midst of this conversation, and yesterday we we talked with people who have lived experience living on the street, who are homeless or precariously housed. And tomorrow we’re going to talk to local politicians who are actually working in municipal governments and trying to figure out what the solutions are. And so you’re kind of our bridge from on the ground to what the future, what should the future look like? What could it look like? And how can public policy particularly at the local level? Look. And we have Michel here from the federal government to talk to us about national leadership and Jeff from the industry. So really terrific to have all of you here. And we usually go to the furthest away first. So I think that might be you, Margaret. I think you might win the prize. We always have bios that people know that we don’t do long introductions to people here. They go into the chatbox. And when people are participating on the chat, we encourage you to do so. Please post chats, please, and we’ll post and we’ll post them online so you can you can share whatever your thinking, audience, you can share what you’re thinking and it’ll get read by lots and lots of people. And you’ll also see proper bios of each of the participants today. So, Margaret, you are coming to us from the Sto:lo First Nation in the Fraser Valley and you’re with the Aboriginal Housing Management Association. We had you on a previous CityTalk, we’re really, really pleased to have you back. Give us your perspective in terms of what you’re seeing now, but also what you think the future might be, just a brief sense of what you think the priority should be.
Margaret Pfoh [00:05:18] Yeah. Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me back. It was a pleasure to meet everybody in our panel about six weeks ago, or maybe it was eight weeks ago, I don’t know, in the COVID 19 era, it feels like we’ve all been in some weird time warp, but most certainly seeing some interesting things happening. You know, I’d like to open up by by referencing Tracy Chapman and her talking about a revolution song. I think that that’s where we’re we’re headed.
Margaret Pfoh [00:05:46] And I don’t say that to be insightful. I think that when it comes to how to bring the right to housing, the human rights-based approach to housing, we need to see a revolution in the housing sector. We need to see a revolution on all levels of government in terms of understanding what COVID 19, did for for all of us, but in particular for the marginalized communities, the indigenous communities in particular. Last year, I had the pleasure of sitting with Paul Martin and we talked about the future of Indigenous peoples. And of course, housing is the core of everything for everyone but Indigenous people in particular. When we look into the very near future, Paul and I talk about the reality that 20 percent of the entire workforce in Canada is going to be Indigenous. So when we look at the fact that we have a high population of youth being apprehended and placed into care, we have a high population of our girls and our women missing and murdered. We have a high population of our women and girls facing domestic and street violence. We have a priority here to get ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing that 20 percent of our population to be adequately prepared for that employment sector. And that’s all sectors of employment are going to be impacted. So we need to look at what we can do now through the COVID pandemic and post pandemic to ensure that our Indigenous populations are adequately housed, adequately prepared to access all forms of services in terms of education, counseling, trade, you name it. We need to make sure that it’s 100 actually use usually prefer 360 degrees of the housing spectrum is addressing urban Indigenous housing. And when we start talking post pandemic, the economic stimulus that the federal government is going to be looking at, that provincial governments are going to be looking at, has to focus on urban Indigenous housing.
Mary Rowe [00:07:50] That stat you just gave, Margaret, of 20 percent of the workforce will be Indigenous. What’s the timing on that, do you know?
Margaret Pfoh [00:07:57] Yeah, well, I’m Paul and I talked, we were referencing in the coming decade. So over the next 10 years, we’re going to see that shift. And if you look at the population growth, urban Indigenous peoples are actually outpacing population growth at four to one. So that makes sense.
Mary Rowe [00:08:11] So by 2030. OK, well, I want to come back and talk about stimulus. Let’s keep going from across the country, believe it or not, to come east. Now we have to go to Toronto. So let’s go to you, Ruth.
Mary Rowe [00:08:24] If we could apology’s that we’ve been misnaming you. You are actually with the Black Legal Action Centre and you are a busy person. We can only imagine. So talk to us about your perspective and the implications. I appreciate your mandate is larger than housing. So you can tell us a little about that and then talk specifically about the future of housing.
Ruth Goba [00:08:44] Thank you so much. So I am Ruth Goba, the Executive Director, the Black Legal Action Centre. Our office is based in Toronto. And so I, first of all, want to acknowledge that the work that we do takes place on the ancestral territories of the Ojibway, the Anishnabeg, in particular, the Mississaugas of the Credit. This territory is part of the Dish with One Spoon treaty, an agreement between Anishnabeg, Haudenosonee and Allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. The territory is also covered by the Upper Canada treaties and it is still home to Indigenous people. And we at BLAC are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on the on this territory as settlers.
Ruth Goba [00:09:26] I first will want to acknowledge that. So as you indicated, I work. I’m the Executive Director of the Black Legal Action Centre. Our mandate is to combat individual and systemic anti-Black racism across the province. We have seen, as you can imagine, the tremendous impact on our community as a result of COVID 19. Any inequality that existed has been exacerbated by this pandemic. And it’s happening publicly and privately, actually. It’s not just in the public sphere, but it’s in the private sphere as well. And so housing is of particular concern for us. And I just want to give you some information about why housing is so significant and it’s related to poverty rates of African Canadians. So, as you probably know, there are a disproportionately high unemployment rates among African Canadians. Their jobs are often low paying with little security, often contract positions. There is, African Canadian women,
Ruth Goba [00:10:47] The employment rate is, is the unemployment rate for African Canadian women is 11 percent, compared to seven percent for the general Canadian population. And Canadian African Canadian women earn 37 percent less than white men and 15 percent less than white women in employment.
Ruth Goba [00:11:05] Twenty five percent of African Canadian women are living below the Canadian poverty line compared to six percent of others. And so all of those factors impact the right and the right to adequate housing. And so what we see is that, there is a lack of access and often difficulty in maintaining housing because of the racialization of poverty and the employment insecurity.
Ruth Goba [00:11:40] There are three issues that I just want to touch on quickly that we are seeing. We are trying to deal with. One is general housing concerns and this is related to residential tenancies.
Ruth Goba [00:11:51] So our tenants are still facing eviction and landlords are threatening them, knowing, trying to get them out of their housing. Knowing that the tribunal will not implement the eviction. At least not until August 1st. And that’s that’s having a huge impact. So what we’re seeing what we know is going to happen is that post the enforcement of eviction orders on August 1st, which is what Ontario is planning now, we are going to have a massive influx of cases of people who will be rendered homeless. Tenants are being forced to sign repayment agreements by their landlords.
Ruth Goba [00:12:33] And if they don’t keep up with those payments, they’ll be used against them. Right. At a later date. They are going to tenants apartments with, what do they called the little devices demanding that they pay rent right away. And they’re reporting that they’re not they’re not paying rent. So it’s impacting their credit rating, which has a future impact of not being able to gain housing later. Right. And also, we are seeing evictions of people where one person who was the on the lease died as a result of COVID. And they are trying to evict the rest of the children, trying to evict the rest of the family because they want to. And this is happening in public housing. So, you know, we brought an action there. I’ll go quickly on the next one.
Ruth Goba [00:13:36] So there’s a disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people in the homeless shelter, in the homeless system, in a homeless shelter system in the city. We brought an action against the city because what we saw was a failure to implement social distancing measures in the shelter within the shelter population, putting people’s lives at risk. And so we brought a challenge. We met we reached an interim agreement. We believe that the city and the province violated that agreement. And so we are back in court again, asking for them to ensure social distancing measures are in place and that they are housing people. There are massive amounts of people in encampments and kind of living rough on the street.
Ruth Goba [00:14:23] Just because the city is not there is not enough that there is not space for them to go. And they are terrified of being in the shelter system, largely because the homeless population has increased chronic health issues. Another issue that we are seeing is there are disproportionate rates, again, of the Black community in detention. Right. And in an incarcerated and because of the recognition that congregate living spaces are vectors for COVID, there was a release. Right. People are being released. But what we caught on to very early was that the government we didn’t believe, we don’t believe is meeting its responsibility to ensure that released individuals could access supports, housing and health so that they don’t move from one vulnerable population which is imprisoned or detained to another, which is homeless, which is what is happening. And even when one of our partners met with government officials and advised them about centers, health centers across the province, that were willing to welcome released detainees to advise them about their rights, to advise them about where they could seek health care, about shelter, that information was not shared to people who were released. So, I mean, we can I know I think we’re going to talk about solutions. I’ll stop there because I know I’ve said enough. But those those three issues are significant in our community.
Mary Rowe [00:16:07] You know, I think context is really important. Thank you for setting it for us Ruth, and I’m just going to remind people in the chat to in particularly some of our frequent visitors to the chat, who should know better.
Mary Rowe [00:16:19] We need you to be posting to panelists and all attendees. For you, Andre. Andre, we’re happy to have you back, but I need you to send your comments to everybody so I’m going to can see them, please. And and encourage people. You know, we have several hundred people on this webinar, and I know many of you are perhaps doing other things while you’re tuning in.
Mary Rowe [00:16:37] If you’re able to tune into the chat and sign into that, it’s great because you do learn a lot and you can contribute to conversation, help, help steer where we go. So thanks very much, all of you stalwarts who continue on. Thanks. All right. We’re going to keep coming in Toronto if we can. Jeff, let’s go to you, actually. You’re not in Toronto, are you? You’re in Ottawa. So let’s hear from you. Jeff Morrison, who’s going to talk to us about his association and the kind of what you’re hearing and what you’re experiencing from your side. Thanks.
Jeff Morrison [00:17:06] Well, thank you, Mary, and good afternoon or good morning, depending on where you are and being here in Ottawa, I woudl also like to acknowledge that I’m on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, which is where I’m fortunate to to live, work and play. So. So thank you. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, just by way of background. We represent the social, nonprofit and affordable housing sector in Canada. So essentially, those providers who provide housing, subsidized housing predominantly to marginalized populations, lower income tenants, etc. The pandemic has certainly been a challenge for nonprofit housing providers in Canada, in some cases on a very personal level. There have always been challenges in the nonprofit sector. There is increasing demand and simply not enough supply. And so there’s always been a challenge there. The pandemic has resulted in some very unique challenges. For example, social housing, and nonprofit housing, it’s not just simply bricks and mortar. It’s a whole provision of supports and services to tenants that go along with it. That’s what makes social housing very, very different from, say, private rental housing. And so incontinuing to deliver some of those services, housing providers have often had to put themselves at risk. Oftentimes, especially at the start of the pandemic, there was an insufficient supply of PPE. Housing providers were not being prioritized. So in many ways, housing providers have faced a lot of the same challenges that frontline healthcare workers have faced. And in that respect, I know as a society and as a country, you know, we’ve been celebrating the work of frontline health care workers and rightfully so. I just want to acknowledge the work of housing providers as well, because they’ve been doing really yeoman’s work during this pandemic. In addition, they’ve also had to deal with a lot of the fallout of the economic impact on tenants of the pandemic. So in some cases, that’s resulted in adjusting rents, especially for units that are deemed rent-geared-to-income. So rents have been lowered, in some cases sitting down with tenants and figuring out essentially ways to mitigate rents when when rent was simply not possible to pay. And it’s Ruth. It’s it’s unfortunate and disturbing to hear that there have been still some instances, at least in social and nonprofit housing, where that hasn’t always been accomplished or done on a cooperative basis for social housing providers. That’s a that’s a top priority and has been during the pandemic. So so perhaps we can touch base offline. And so, you know, that’s resulted in an increasing stress, increasing pressure, and I should add as well, for those providers that deal with a homeless population. There has been that additional stress and pressure of trying to come up with space and accommodation for particularly homeless populations in at least a short term perspective. And there’s now a lot of discussion and again, rightfully so, about how we take some of these short term arrangements for homeless populations and turn those into long term permanent solutions. The only other thing I’ll mention is that in terms of solutions and where we go and what impact the pandemic has had on housing across Canada, I’ll just flip back a few years ago back to 2016, when at the time the federal government was holding a consultation on what this new national housing strategy that was ultimately unveiled in 2017 should be. And at the time, we recommended that the federal government adopt a government wide objective, that by 2035, every person living in Canada had access to housing that was safe, affordable and accessible. We’d like to kind of kid CMHC that they essentially one upped us because ultimately CMHC did adopt a corporate wide objective that by 2030, every Canadian have access to housing that, every person living in Canada had access to housing that met their needs and that was affordable. The pandemic hasn’t changed that, nor should the pandemic change that. We would argue that should continue to be a goal as a country. And regardless of the date that ultimately that goal of ensuring every person in Canada has access to affordable housing that meets their needs should be our end point. The pandemic has really, though, underscored and really made blatant the fact that that objective is important, not just from an economic perspective and a social perspective and equality perspective, but also from a public health perspective. So the pandemic in that sense hasn’t changed anything. But what it has done is really underscored the importance and the need for why we need to meet that objective. The real question now is how we do it. And hopefully in the next couple of minutes on this panel and of course, in many other discussions that will flow from this. Those are the discussions that we’ll continue to have. So that we can really put together a cohesive strategy that enables us as a country to meet to meet that objective.
Mary Rowe [00:22:14] OK, well, Michel, that’s your cue to come and talk about the CMHC. And I am eager that we move as we can to what people think are the solutions. You know, a number of things are being experimented with during in coping with the crisis.
Mary Rowe [00:22:27] And we’ve heard it again and again and again that things that people were told for years. Oh, no, no. That will take years. Oh, no, no, that’s not possible. Well, somehow in a global pandemic, we’ve been able to act swiftly in certain ways.
Mary Rowe [00:22:40] So I’m curious. Let’s hear from you, Michel, about how you see CMHC having altered its course or what do you see as the future ahead? And everyone’s keen to hear what kind of leadership CMHC provides.
Michel Tremblay [00:22:53] Certainly. Good. Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. And Jeff, stole a little bit of my thunder there, but that’s OK. So I’m Michel Tremblay. I’m Senior Vice President, Policy and Innovation at CMHC. For those of you who are not in Canada, we’re Canada’s national housing agency. And as Jeff pointed out, we’re delivering the National Housing Strategy on behalf of the government in Canada, which was launched in 2017. I’m speaking to you from Ottawa on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people as well and as many of the panelists have already highlighted, obviously, the most vulnerable among us have been most affected by this by this pandemic. It’s deepened some of the inequities that the racialized people, Black people, the Indigenous people were already going through, women, women as well. And I think I always hate to use the word opportunity when when we talk about a crisis. But I think it’s it’s it’s a time for us to seize the moment to, and Mary just alluded to it, the governments, all orders of government were able to act very quickly because this was a a health, a pandemic, a crisis situation. And there’s lessons learned there in terms of how we can work better together and make meaningful headway toward a right to adequate housing for all Canadians. The Black Life Matters movement has actually also giving us another and really reinvigorated the conversation that’s going on across Canada. And I think as we as as you know, the government put in fifty five billion dollars as part of the National Housing Strategy. And certainly that’s going to make a difference. But there’s there’s so more that still needs to be done. I think one of the things we just alluded to, is governments working better together. But also there’s also an opportunity to, as Canadians are living through this and they’re seeing the importance of a home. I think we have to try to change how people think about housing, how important it is to their neighbors as well, how having people homeless actually costs them in the long run. And it’s obviously sad for the person in this very tough life to live on the street. But it’s also it actually if people were able to see all the other consequences, the what that makes, it’s actually more expensive for Canadians to have people homeless, to have people in dire needs and not being able to educate themselves properly, which, again, shelter is the foundation, no pun intended, but for for a better life, whether it be health, education and all sorts of other social determinants. So I think I’m looking forward to the discussions. And as Jeff says, this is just obviously the beginning of conversations of what we can do better. But I’m certainly willing to share some of our thoughts as well as as the conversation moves on. But I want to give Leilani a little bit of time.
Mary Rowe [00:25:53] You know, one of the things I mean, one of the sponsors of this week, including The Shift, is the key partner for us.
Mary Rowe [00:26:00] And then Jeff Jeff from the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, one of our partners. So is the City of Victoria. And the Mayor of Victoria is on the chat. And she’s asking, I think, a really profound question, Michel, for you. And I want to just it’s not just for you. I think it’s for all of us.
Mary Rowe [00:26:12] I think one of the dilemmas is that national policies tend to have long timeframes. They tend to be we’re going to set a goal for 2030. We’re going to set a goal for. And I appreciate part of that is that it’s enormous investment that’s required. But is there some way that these can maybe I’ll maybe I’ll ask the question to you. But I’ll let Leilani answer it about, can we actually shorten up the goals and the milestones so that we can actually see some progress? Leilani why don’t you answer that for Michel. Then we’ll come back to you.
Mary Rowe [00:26:40] Go ahead Leilani.
Leilani Farha [00:26:41] I think I might eventually answer it. So I am Leilani Farha.
Leilani Farha [00:26:46] I’m on unceded Algonquin territory, right on the shores of what was the Kichi Sibi River. Now the Ottawa River, a river that used to bring together the Anishnabeg peoples and now divides Ontario and Quebec.
Leilani Farha [00:27:03] You know, when the pandemic hit, I was pretty convinced that we were gonna see an end globally, actually, not just in this country to homelessness.
Leilani Farha [00:27:14] I was pretty sure that that was required as a matter of the health policy of stay home. It’s physical distance and wash your hands. I was pretty sure we were gonna see better tenant protections, that people were not going to be facing the insecurity of eviction, because obviously, if you’re evicted and then end up homeless, you could contract COVID. Of course, I’ve been proven completely wrong. So things have gone in quite the opposite direction in so many places, not just in Canada, but including in Canada. We’re seeing a rise of encampments of homeless peoples as shelters have to downsize, as people feel unsafe in shelters. They are taking to the only other place that they have available to them, which is public and sometimes private lands. We are seeing moratoriums on evictions coming to an end and evictions being filed anyway. So we’re seeing people who are trying to start, you know, struggling to pay their mortgages and could fall into mortgage foreclosure.
Leilani Farha [00:28:24] So so not where I thought things were going to go. So this is an opportunity to reimagine housing in the pandemic.
Leilani Farha [00:28:33] And here’s what I would like to put out there to sort of move, maybe move forward the discussion a little bit. What I really feel has happened is that in this country, we have yet to really understand what it means to implement the right to housing. This is new territory for Canada. We only just a year ago adopted the National Housing Strategy Act that recognizes that the federal government’s housing policy understands housing to be a basic and fundamental human right. This is very new for this country, and it’s really clear to me that it’s new.
[00:29:05] I just want to put out there that human rights, the best way to understand human rights and the human right to housing is to understand that human rights is a way of governing. It’s a way of governance. It’s about it is how you make decisions. And I’ll just run run through it. So. How we interact with people living in homelessness when cities decide whether or not to dismantle a homeless encampment. That’s a human rights decision. When governments decide to give tax breaks to real estate investment trusts. That’s a human rights decision. When governments allow institutional investors to dominate the housing market. That’s a human rights decision. When governments impose moratoriums on evictions. That’s a human rights decision. When governments lift those moratoriums, that’s a human rights decision. When governments interact with Indigenous peoples, Black, brown and other racialized groups. Those are human rights interactions. And so that as as Michel said, we have to start thinking completely differently. When I put that out there, that is not how decisions are made. Decision makers are not saying, oh, I’m engaged in an area that’s a human right. When I do this over here or that over there, I have human rights obligations that we’re not at that stage yet. But that’s where I think we need to go. To answer the question that was posed, I think was, was it Mayor Helps who posted how to speed things up?
Leilani Farha [00:30:47] I think by really embracing that human rights approach, you then are are making decisions that are going to make a difference on a daily basis. In the short term, you’re going to set shorter term targets, outcomes, measurable goals.
Leilani Farha [00:31:00] That’s all part of a human rights approach. I’m just gonna pause there, though.
Mary Rowe [00:31:05] Leilani, I mean, I know this is your life’s work and you’re here. I don’t know how many of you are lawyers.
Mary Rowe [00:31:10] Ruth, are you a lawyer? You’re a lawyer. Leilani is a lawyer. Michelle, are you a lawyer? Margaret, Are you a lawyer? Jeff. Lawyer?
Mary Rowe [00:31:17] So two of you are lawyers and and the human rights frame, and I think what you’re saying is that and obviously, Ruth, you’ve made this choice, too, by working where you work that somehow pursuing making things have a legal implication, I think you’re telling us, Leilani, that that is a more of that’s a way of guaranteeing action. Is that what you think? Can I drive the group?
Ruth Goba [00:31:43] Yeah.
Ruth Goba [00:31:43] I mean, I think framing it in the context of rights allows for implementation and not benevolence. Right. Which is often the case with respect to issues around poverty. This is not about benevolence. And someone, you know, making a decision that will help someone for a small period of time or for a limited period of time. This is about a rights structure and framework that allows for equity across the board and an accountability.
Mary Rowe [00:32:21] And Ruth, you must use your using that frame for not just housing, you’re using it for other kinds of what you would say would be fundamental entitlements of life in Canada. So, yes, public security, public safety, health, access to a good job, that kind of thing. Like it’s a I would think that it’s a frame that is affecting every aspect of how you construct a life, right?
Ruth Goba [00:32:46] Yes. And I have been on to two federal panels this week, actually. And both of them, we were talking about priorities for the Black Legal Action Centre and I at both times. And this is in our written work too, the domestic implementation, effective domestic implementation at all levels of government, of human rights, international human rights instruments that Canada is a party to. Because what we struggle with is the failure to implement them at the municipal level where most violations happened. And so there needs to be interplay and interconnectedness and that recognition from government. But it’s critical that when we are framing the issues that impacts the Black community, that we are framing them in the context of government obligations. And what I see in the context of all of this happening and in the context of police brutality, a massive failure of government to ensure equity and and human rights and dignity.
Mary Rowe [00:34:00] You know that expression, the chickens have come home to roost.
Mary Rowe [00:34:03] Sian Lewis with us on the chat, I think is coming into us from Ireland. And she has. I’m assuming, Sian, you’re a “she” but you might not be, posting, referring to an act, the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, which was adopted by the Welsh government. Great. If Sian, if you could post a link to that or somebody on our team could dig around to see if they could get a link to that. I’m wondering if we have other precedents Leilani, you’re working internationally. Can you give examples where a national government has, or a local government has, embraced the right to housing? Let’s start with housing. And how is that delivering different outcomes?
Mary Rowe [00:34:41] Have you seen it somewhere?
Leilani Farha [00:34:44] In lots of places. In fact, in most countries, actually recognize the right to housing either through constitution or through some other legislative means. Portugal’s an interesting recent example where they have embraced the right to housing. And in a previous city talk earlier this week, we heard from a City Councilor from Lisbon and you could see the interaction between the moves at Lisbon city level to try to grapple with Airbnb and short term rentals, which has plagued that city for a very long time. And in fact, the liberalization of their of their housing market came as a as part of their austerity measures, which is something we have to be thinking about. Once the pandemic ends, are we going to be under austerity measures and what does that mean for housing? Because there’s a direct link. Normally it results in liberalization of housing markets. But you saw the interaction, you could see the interaction of national level government embracing the right to housing in a new way through legislation and city kind of using that to empower themselves. South Africa is the most well known example of a country with a constitutional right to housing, where people are very active in holding government to account using that constitutional right. So they’re based in that context they do use the courts an awful lot to enforce the right and not just to enforce, but to infuse the right with meaning. That’s not gonna be what happens in Canada because we don’t have, the National Housing Strategy Act does not provide for the possibility to litigate under the charter, for example, the right to housing specifically. Of course, Ruth’s case that she talked about is a Section seven constitutional case, Section seven fifteen. I think it is.
Mary Rowe [00:36:48] Yes. Yes. During the court cases. OK. Just saying, yeah, keep going.
Leilani Farha [00:36:54] Couldn’t hear what you said, but fine, I’ll keep going. But in South Africa, for example, it didn’t need to be litigated that informal settlements need access to water and sanitation during the pandemic because it was just so understood they have the right to housing there. And there is this pandemic. And the health policy was stay home, wash your hands, physical distance. You couldn’t do that in informal settlements. So they at least had to provide them with sanitation, and it was that the right to housing was used by local advocates in informal settlements to ensure provision of those sanitation services. Those are just a few examples. I mean, there are some there are many, many countries where where the right to housing is is recognized and is used to inform policy. Finland, they have a housing first policy to address homelessness and they have a constitutional right to housing. It is just simply understood that in that country that the right to adequate housing means that homelessness is a kind of facie violation of that right. Homelessness is not acceptable. And so they’ve rolled out in a very healthy way. And this is something I really want to talk to Michel about. I really think Canada needs to consider seriously a national housing first program that is adequately supported and that is rolled out at the local level.
Leilani Farha [00:38:14] I’m actually also a social worker and social workers need to be engaged and involved in this, but that Finland does that as part of the right to housing.
Mary Rowe [00:38:24] It’s entrenched. Jeff, I’m going to go to you and then I want to send it back to Margaret. Go ahead, Jeff.
Jeff Morrison [00:38:29] Yeah, just on this question of right to housing, as well as a long term objective that a couple of people have been referring to on the chat. It’s absolutely true that both those concepts right to housing long term objective of ensuring every person in Canada has housing that meets their needs. Both of those are meaningless unless, a), there is a comprehensive strategy in place that will actually achieve those those objectives, and b), unless you have some kind of mechanism in place that will measure and track and ensure that you’re actually on the path towards meeting those objectives, those having that really sound accountability mechanism on the latter of those two. And when we were talking with CMHC and actually Minister Wilson-Raybould, prior to the actual adoption of the National Housing Strategy Act in January last year in twenty nineteen. And one of things we said is we need to put in place within the legislation a mechanism that will require the federal government to to report on, to track, to measure and to make public various metrics with respect to implementation of the strategy and implementation toward that goal. That was included in the legislation and I believe let may be wrong on this. I believe the first report is coming out next year in 2021. We all as a community need to make sure that that reporting system and those metrics are meaningful because otherwise, if they are not, we’re nowhere. We’re nowhere closer to either achieving right to housing nor to that key objective. And on the first thing, the strategy. Yes, the National Housing Strategy that was released in November 2017. I mean, it was a very positive first step. I don’t want to belittle that, but it was just that we shouldn’t see it as the end all, be all. There are many additional measures that are required. And, you know, let’s be clear, there is no one silver bullet. There is no one size fits all that will meet that ultimate objective of every person in Canada having housing that meets their needs. There’s going to be, need to be many players. And so that’s why these kinds of conversations are good. But we also need to ensure that every level of government as well as other players are at the table and are also willing to invest because this is not a problem that is going to solve itself, nor will it be, nor will it happen without some resources. And there does need to be real partnerships at the table.
Michel Tremblay [00:40:50] Mary, if I can add to that. So so Jeff’s absolutely right about the reporting mechanism. And the other thing the National Housing Strategy does is it does do it. It commits the government to having a strategy long term and having these reporting mechanism, but also these participatory mechanisms. So even even before the Act, CMHC, during a consultations for the National Housing Strategy and going further on, we want to involve people and I understand you had a panel yesterday with people who have actually lived through some of these because we recognize that it’s one thing for us to think about stuff in our in all of us, in our offices and homes and the safety of the lives we live. But it’s it’s another thing to have lived it. So we’re trying to incorporate that as well. And the National Housing Strategy Act, through the National Housing Council and the federal housing advocate, will also have mechanism where people can, either people or civil society can actually help feed policy. So I think that’s as Jeff said, there’s no silver bullet. But I still, and we keep saying governments has to be involved. And that’s true. And to a certain extent, changing behaviors. I talked about Canadians also changing their behavior. But but the private sector does, some of them do good, and so we have to have more of them that do good and encourage them. And again, that what I’ve talked about, about people understanding the benefits for the society as a whole. You know, if you think of a business, if employees can’t afford to live anywhere near where their manufacturing is being or where the restaurant is. Well, hospitals, all of that, people have to understand the impact and that includes businesses and not only government. And again, government is influenced by voters. Right. So its people have to make sure that we have to convince Canadians of the importance of housing in for everyone, not just, and as I said on Monday’s call, during our consultation, Canadians all agreed the dignity of our home is important. But if you if you talk about, you know, if CMHC does changes, that could restrict homeownership. Man, we hear about it for for you know, we’re fighting our decisions to prevent Canadians for taking on too much debt. So it’s the whole housing spectrum has to be considered as we move through solutions.
Mary Rowe [00:43:15] So this is why I was I was pleased that these sessions were titled The Right to Home, because it was I think it was it’s trying to make this point that we need to decommodify housing if we can. Michel, can I just, and Margaret, I have not forgotten about you. I’m coming to you next. But Michel, the Federal government, you know, we’ve seen through CERB, the federal government can put the money in the hands of people quite quickly. Is there a way for you to do more of the programs that you’re starting to do now where you can provide resources directly to a local government to actually provide a housing strategy? I know you’ve done it in Victoria and other cities that are taking advantage of that program. Can you do more of that? Maybe that could be scaled up, could it?
Michel Tremblay [00:43:58] Again, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Minister of Finance in terms of what can be scaled up. And as Jeff mentioned, that needs resourcing. But certainly we have programs now where nonprofits can apply. Municipalities can apply. We also have transfers directly to provinces and territories where they can apply for their what they consider their priorities. But if you’re asking me if I’d love for the stimulus to have some housing component, more dollars for housing, I’d be lying to you if I said no. Obviously, we’d like that. As Jeff mentioned, we at CMHC adds, as as our own entity has set an audacious goal that by 2030, everyone in Canada has a home. So we acknowledge we can’t do it alone.
Michel Tremblay [00:44:42] We need everyone in Canada to rally behind this, inlcuding governments.
Mary Rowe [00:44:46] I mean, you do have this program though Reaching Home that you could potentially use as a pilot for. Margaret, let’s get you back into the conversation in terms of you manage a lot of units of housing. You know how this actually works. So give us your perspective in terms of how you wanted to steer the ship for the next couple of months as we continue to emerge.
Margaret Pfoh [00:45:07] Well, I think it’s absolutely clear that if anything, COVID-19, has demonstrated that housing is the panacea for for the pandemic. It’s the panacea for many things. And I think a couple of the panelists have referenced housing affects everything. It affects our employment, it affects our education, it affects our families. But one of the things well, two things that I want to pick up on not being a lawyer, I can tell you that when we look at the Constitution of Canada, especially through the lens of Indigenous peoples, it’s clear that all levels of government lack an understanding of their focus in terms of solutions, because right now we see all levels of government are focusing on the three distinction based groups, which is important. Absolutely. There there’s that saying from the 1940s, nothing about us without us. And so having all of our governments interested in having conversations with First Nations, Inuit and Metis leaders is essential. So I will never detract from that. But what they miss is the reality that the Constitution of Canada and all of the actions that have happened for one hundred and fifty years have led to a dispossession of Indigenous people. And I use the word Indigenous purposely because in the urban Indigenous population is a combination. It’s a it’s a collecting region for First Nations; Inuit, Metis, non status people that didn’t even know they were Indigenous because they were adopted out at birth or their their grandparents were adopted out or their grandparents ran away from residential school. And they don’t even know that they have Indigenous ancestry. And so there’s that there’s an evolution in self-awareness and self identification in terms of our Indigeneity. And then the government goes and says, well, you know, we have this constitution. It created this whole systemic racism through residential schools, through 60s scoop, through Indian daycares, through the reserve system, you know, the disenfranchisement of right to title to be even called an Indigenous person if you left your reserves. All that history has created a 60 to 80 percent statistic where people end up in urban areas and our urban Indigenous providers, so here in B.C. AHMA works with forty one Indigenous providers. We house over 5000 urban Indigenous peoples. Most of those in our communities average about 40 percent of local first nations being their residents in the urban Indigenous population, which means 60 percent is the other culmination of other indigenous populations, non status, status, immigrant Indigenous from other parts of the province, other parts of the country, other parts of the world. And so when government says they’re going to have a strategy and they think the solution is only vested in the three distinction based groups, which I have heard both from CMHC and conversation with Evan Sidall, Derek Ballentyne, Minister Hassan here in the province of B.C., even we see a shift under UNDRIP, under Truth and Reconciliation. And Senator Sinclair himself has admitted that all of those processes have forgotten the urban Indigenous people. And I use the concept of dispossessed because that is a fine example. Anybody out there that wants to understand it can read a book by Geoffrey York called The Dispossessed. And so when I use that language, I’m very purposeful because government fails to recognize in the National Housing Strategy itself, because that was also talked about earlier. We don’t have an Indigenous strategy within the National Housing Strategy. And Jeff knows that CHRA has lobbied long and hard for a for Indigenous, by Indigenous. But they have to understand that that needs to include urban Indigenous voices because we cannot be captured under the three distinction based strategies that they’re focusing on right now and all levels of government. And then I want to just speak a little bit about Mayor Helps’ comments about how do we expedite the federal investment or federal partnership. I mean, here in B.C., we’ve seen our government do tremendous things. Acquisition of hotels has been one of them when it comes to rapid responses for our homeless population. You know, you have an opportunity to match the provincial governments investment in housing. We’ve just we put out to ground, in 2017, the commitment to build 1700 Indigenous housing units in the first round of proposals, we already accessed one thousand one hundred units of that. Clearly, we should’ve targeted more than one thousand seven hundred units for the Indigenous population. But the federal government has a quick win here in B.C.: match what the province has already invested. There is a great opportunity. The other thing we can do is talk about having Indigenous leaders actually participating in the decisions on those acquisitions of hotels, for example. The province of B.C. did a great thing, but they did not go out and say to our urban Indigenous housing providers, or AMHA, hey, we’re going to go buy five hundred hotel units in the Comox Valley. Well, there is an urban Indigenous provider out there that probably houses 50 percent of those homeless population people. They should have been at the table in terms of helping our community and they’re not.
Mary Rowe [00:50:42] Well, I can tell you that around the chat, just so you know, because I’ve seen them in, which is good Comox is here. And can we stick on this? We’ve only got 10 minutes left and it’s always hard.
Mary Rowe [00:50:52] You know, I always feel these conversations begin here. They don’t end here, everybody. So keep it going. #CityTalk and stay in touch with The Shift everyone because this is a ongoing conversation. But Jeff, what Margaret is talking about to me is, do we need more Margarets? Do we need more organizations like Margaret who are going to leverage funding, cobble together partnerships, work with the Federal and Provincial governments? Is that part of the way that we’re gonna get out of this is to have more local activity and more local nonprofits leading it? Jeff, what’s your perspective?
Jeff Morrison [00:51:25] You know, Bono from U2 had a great thing that the world needs more Canada. I think I would adjust that to saying the world needs more Margaret Pfohs. So, yeah, I would agree with that. Yeah. I mean, and what Margaret and what in particular a lot of providers in B.C. have been doing, although they’re not exclusive. I mean, there there are a number of providers across the country who are showing some really innovative approaches, partnerships, etc. So we absolutely need to encourage that. But, you know, at the end of the day, housing is not, it’s not, you know, kind of a new the newfangled thing. Housing is a relatively straightforward process. We need financing for bricks and mortar to build and to ensure that what we have is not going to be, is going to remain viable. So money for renovation, we need to have proper land policies to ensure that housing can actually be built on a physical place and those land policies need to complement things like mass transit. We need to have a long term strategy and commitment by the federal government on providing subsidies, because at the end of the day, that’s often what makes housing affordable. We need to continue research because there are still we still do better need to understand about impacts of housing and what is required. So there’s an and we need the partnership of provinces, territories, municipalities, the private sector, which is not to suggest increasing financialization in any way, shape or form. But there is a role for the private sector, as Margaret has very eloquently put, Indigenous governance needs to be a core focus of a future strategy. So it’s it’s a matter of bringing all these various players together, along with the resources they have coming forth with some new ideas. But, you know, none of this is new. There’s there’s not there’s no new gimmicks.
Mary Rowe [00:53:18] So this is what I think people get a bit weary about, is that, as you’re suggesting, none of this is new.
Mary Rowe [00:53:25] Here we are in a situation where we’re in a worse and worse and worse crisis, which Leilani alluded to.
Mary Rowe [00:53:31] She thought that this would actually solve the pandemic, would bring it all up to the surface and we’d solve it. So I think going forward, Jeff, can you pick one thing that people should double down on?
Jeff Morrison [00:53:46] I wish I could. And the honest answer is I can’t, because there is no one thing that provides housing for all people in Canada to meet their needs. It really is a systemic, different approach to it. And as Leilani quite correctly pointed out the right to housing is more than just accountability measures and new processes. It should be a philosophy and an approach and a government wide approach that we can adopt that will filter down into how we do things.
Margaret Pfoh [00:54:13] If I could say one thing to expand on Jeff’s comment about the issue of subsidy, because it is one piece of it, but the one thing we’re hearing loud and clear that the pandemic is demonstrated here in British Columbia is the reality that the more rural and remote communities they need more than just an investment in bricks and mortar. They also need to be funded for wraparound services because you can’t just say, let’s throw all these homeless people in this shelter and then not address their their basic needs. Right. Whether it’s addictions, whether it’s grief, whether it’s exiting the sex trade industry, whatever it is, they don’t have the resources that urban centres have. So the funding mechanisms also need to look at wraparound services.
Mary Rowe [00:54:54] And we’ve certainly heard that repeatedly in terms of supportive housing and wraparound services. Ruth, would there be one thing? We’re kind of in the homestretch here now, and you’re all so darn smart. We every I know, just so you know, the Chatbox has been exploding. There’s a lot of activity on the chat. And I know they all want to have a whole day with each of you. So we don’t have that, but Ruth. One thing that you would say we need to really hone in on.
Ruth Goba [00:55:18] I am a bit like Jeff. I don’t have one thing. Can I say a couple of things?
Mary Rowe [00:55:23] Yes.
Ruth Goba [00:55:24] In Ontario, because we serve Ontario, changing the purpose of the RTA to include public health.
Ruth Goba [00:55:31] Right. Extend the current eviction moratorium. Right. Is critical.
Ruth Goba [00:55:42] I think the LTB needs to be provided with an understanding of the context of human rights and in housing. Sorry, the Landlord and Tenant Board here needs to understand the context of human rights that Leilani was talking about in all the decisions that adjudicators make so that their understanding of eviction in the context of human rights and I mean, these are these are basic things.
Ruth Goba [00:56:09] But rent control. Right. It’s a significant issue. I mean. Significant. Significant issue. Right.
Mary Rowe [00:56:17] Michel, one thing.
Michel Tremblay [00:56:20] Yeah, I agree.
Mary Rowe [00:56:21] Or three things like Ruth gave us.
Michel Tremblay [00:56:23] I was gonna say if it was one thing, maybe we would have solved this already. So it’s very difficult. But I think we talked about a lot of it is is systemic. So that takes time, unfortunately. But I think one of the things we we I agree with Leilani, if we start thinking about it more from from a the implications of our actions. So, as she calls it, the right. Looking at it from a right. But that’s also looking at what happens when something when you do something. And so and I I’m I’m very much of the opinion that we need to change our thinking, looking at it from a more, like the whole system. And I think that’s changing in one of the things we hear a lot about is NIMBYism. So not in not in my backyard. And, you know, and that that comes from people wanting to hold the value of their house, hold the value of their condo to make sure. And I don’t think it’s ever proven that, you know, bringing a purpose built rental or shelter actually reduces the value of housing. But people cling onto that. And these are things that we have to, again, change the mindset. And I do agree with Margaret that we need to look at the urban, rural and Northern strategy, the the so-called fourth pillar, as she is. She she mentioned the in terms of I think it might have been pre panel. So I’m I’m sharing something you shared pre panel, Margaret. I apologize, but the workforce in Canada will be more and more. I think you quoted 20 percent in 10 years.
Michel Tremblay [00:57:57] So it’s 20 percent Indigenous. So, again, if you think about the economy, even thinking about it from an economists point of view, if you want people to be where the economy, where you need them to be, you need to make sure they can afford to to live in inadequate housing.
[00:58:14] So, Michel, I’m going to get the last word on Leilani. And it’s a good setup for her because I know she believes strongly that the underpinning of Canadian society and the economy functioning is the right to housing. So Leilani last word to you?
Leilani Farha [00:58:29] Yeah, I mean, I guess if I had to come up with one thing, I would say that no decision or dollars spent that affects housing should have anything but a human rights outcome.
Leilani Farha [00:58:49] And I think we need a prime ministerial level leadership that explicitly recognizes that housing is a human right, not that housing rights are human rights, but that housing is a human right and an an internal governmental recognition that simply giving the CERB and the CEWS making those available does not solve the housing crisis that the country has on its hands, both before the pandemic and certainly during this pandemic, it does not solve the racism that Margaret and Ruth spoke about. It doesn’t solve the over-investment in housing by institutional investors.
Leilani Farha [00:59:46] So there that’s an internal reckoning that the government needs to do. And that’s problematic for this government. I know 20 percent of Canada’s GDP or something. Michel will get get me the right figure. But what percentage, Michel, of our GDP is based somehow in housing being part of the market economy and driving the economy. So it’s not easy to to make these internal switches that I’m talking about, but that external leadership and internal switches, what I think is required.
Michel Tremblay [01:00:21] I think it’s in the mid teens, Leilani, I think you’re right.
Ruth Goba [01:00:25] Can I applaud what Leilani said?
Mary Rowe [01:00:31] I want to thank all of you for being on this session.
Mary Rowe [01:00:35] I first of all, I think it’s the first session where we’ve had Bono and Tracy Chapman both cited in the same show and that appreciate back to appreciate the connections with pop culture. Part of what you’re all saying is that we all need to be moved by this. I think the week is making that clear. If you haven’t yet watched the films. Please do. They’re available for screening for free through the link with us at Canurb. Just go to Canurb.org and you’ll find the link. They’re available to the 2nd of August. Watch them once, watch them often and get your friends to watch them and your colleagues and your family. These are really important ways for us to start to own, Michel, what you talked about the consequences, you called the implications of our actions. And as Leilani so passionately articulated. It’s about human rights. Every action we take is about human rights. So, Jeff, Margaret, great to have you back, Jeff, thanks for your sponsorship of the week. Ruth, great to see you and all that you’re doing. And I want to thank all the partners, which include the Aboriginal Housing and Mortgage Association, the Architecture Design Film Festival, the B.C. Nonprofit Housing Association, the Big Wheel Community Foundation, and the Big Wheel Burger, Canada Mortgage and Housing. Lots of folks around this table here, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the Center for Equality, Rights and Accommodation, the City of Victoria, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Maytree and UDI Victoria. And that’s just the beginning, I think of a very large constituency that would want to be behind this. So honestly, folks, now’s our moment. All hands on deck. Let’s make sure that we can actually find our way to solving the challenge that we have for housing affects all Canadians. Thanks very much for joining us. Jeff, Leilani, Ruth, Margaret and Michel. Join us tomorrow. We’re going to talk to people where the rubber hits the road, municipal leaders from across the country. Watch those films.
[01:02:20] Thanks, everybody.