Housing Bill of Rights

An Act to provide for adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Libby Davies  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 28, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Housing Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2002 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words to Bill C-416, the short title of which is the housing bill of rights. I commend the member for Vancouver East. On many occasions she has been on her feet in the House on housing issues. She has also spoken on some of the other social problems in her riding which is not an easy riding to represent knowing some of the social ills she has dealt with in this place in her efforts to get some help for the people she represents. It is not an easy job for her.

Other members are absolutely correct when they say that this issue has never been debated as a government bill in the House.

The interesting thing to point out is that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation is only a skeleton of what it used to be many years ago during the Trudeau era and the Mulroney era. Giving some credit to the Liberal government at that time, it actually had a housing policy with some teeth and some money to do something. I only have to remind the House of the big hit health care took following the 1993 election. In addition there was proportional gutting of the government's housing policy and CMHC is simply a skeleton of what it used to be.

Prior to that there was co-op housing, seniors housing and not for profit housing. Family units were built. The Government of Canada provided capital to help make family housing affordable. I can remember as a member of parliament in the early 1990s cutting the ribbon at the openings of many of these projects.

Many projects were done with assistance from service clubs in our individual communities. The Canadian legion became involved and co-sponsored some of the housing projects. It helped to raise money in the community, as did the Kiwanis club, and in some cases even volunteered labour to help build some units. I do not think there was a member on either side of the House at that time who did not partake in some of these openings over the years. That all ended abruptly with the election of the Liberal government in 1993.

I want to get into some of the detail in the member's bill. The preamble of the bill is interesting. It is quite long. It quotes the UN universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights to which Canada is a signatory, and the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights.

In particular, the preamble points out that the United Nations committee recommended that the federal, provincial and territorial governments address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency by reinstating or increasing social housing for those in need, improving and enforcing anti-discriminatory legislation in the field of housing, and it goes on. All in all, it is a very laudable goal.

The other thing that strikes me about the bill as opposed to any government bill is the specific way it attacks the problem whereas government bills are very general and do not flesh out the detail. I have to give credit again to the member for Vancouver East for being very specific in what she wants to do and what she would like to see the Parliament of Canada do.

The bill has two main parts. One part makes it illegal to discriminate against people for housing purposes and the other part of the bill lays out a proposed national housing strategy.

I do not have to remind you, Mr. Speaker, because you have seen it happen as we all have, but there is a discriminatory aspect to housing. There is no question about it that the poor in our country are discriminated against in terms of housing. It has nothing to do with anything other than being poor. The bill addresses that in addition to a number of other discriminatory practices that happen from time to time in the country. In general, the anti-discrimination section of the bill states “Every individual has the right to secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing”. The bill then goes on to state:

No person shall make any discrimination in respect of another's right to housing under this act on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion--

The author of the bill has gone on in detail to list nearly 20 grounds of prohibition against discrimination. In all fairness she has covered just about every possible discriminatory angle in the bill and I give her full credit for that.

I agree with the thrust of the bill, but I do question, and it is just a question because none of us know for sure, how many of those would actually hold up in a court of law. Certainly many of them have been tested but how many of them would hold up we do not know. We do know the courts might have something to say regarding our right to be more discriminatory, for example in renting a basement apartment as opposed to renting an apartment in a large complex. That is something that will have to be fleshed out if the bill ever gets to the committee stage.

The second part of the bill outlines a national housing strategy. The terms and conditions are somewhat utopian, but if we are trying to do something we might just as well set our goals very high. Again, I give the member full credit for this.

Prior to 1993 we used to have a national housing strategy. Back in the 1970s and the 1980s, in the Trudeau era, urban affairs was one of the biggest departments with the most clout here in Ottawa. We can say that the department got too big and bloated and maybe out of control, but the fact of the matter is it was addressing the very need the member now sees as a priority that has to be addressed. With a bit of fine tuning we could go back to the same principles that were exercised in the 1970s and 1980s and make them work. That is the challenge the government should take up.

I notice in this week's edition of Maclean's magazine that saving our cities is the front page story. In fairness to the member, it is not just cities that she is addressing in her bill because obviously there is rural poverty and rural housing needs which have to be addressed as well. That is also part and parcel of her bill. There is no question the needs of our cities have to be addressed. The government has to take a lead role on this and get out from the constitutional blanket under which it has been hiding.

We will have to see what comes out of the meeting on May 31 to June 3 in Hamilton, Ontario. We are hoping the finance minister will come out of that with some kind of clear intention on the part of the government.

In conclusion, we support the member in her efforts. We would love to see this as a votable item. Unfortunately it is not, but maybe the member can resurrect the bill, as is often done, bring it back as a votable item and move it on to committee stage where we can flesh out the details in support of a very worthy cause.

Housing Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2002 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-416 on affordable housing. It has been of great interest to me for many years now.

Last week the media quoted it as a tragedy and a national disaster. A street nurse charged that we had conditions so deplorable that they violated the United Nations basic requirements for refugee camps. One observer appalled said that she was struck by the images of body after body after body. We may think this sounds like a description of a war area or a third world hospital camp, but it is not. It is an emergency shelter for the homeless in Toronto.

As the Toronto Star pointed out, anybody who doubts the need for more affordable housing should watch the one minute documentary that made newspaper headlines last week. It shows a man searching for a place to wedge in his narrow mat and sleeping bag, stumbling over prone bodies, packed together like sardines in a can. The unidentified shelter is just one of the many across Canada and the situation reoccurs with depressing monotony, night after night.

However it does not have to. Affordable rental housing has been a critical need in Canada's major cities for years. Today in most communities more condominiums are built new or converted from existing apartments than new rental units are constructed. Even though the economy is relevantly buoyant, the national rental inventory is shrinking and singles entry level rental housing is practically unavailable.

While it is clearly a provincial responsibility under the constitution, roller coaster federal funding for non-profit housing has seriously upset the free market for affordable housing and the provinces ability to respond accordingly.

For many years the government has provided most of the funding and grants for social housing but unfortunately what was good intentioned, the hope of providing economically affordable housing, has been bogged down in community desires for aesthetic preferences. Construction costs have soared as architects, designers and well-meaning people add to projects eating up precious housing dollars. At the same time capable private housing providers are discouraged from attempting to respond to this very significant need. While non-profit projects enjoy tax free status, municipal taxes are punitive, being much higher for rental units than for private housing. This condition further discourages private rental housing providers.

Private businesses cannot compete with the multiple grants, the tax free status, the funding latitude for excessive architecture and the municipal taxation relief available to current social housing providers. The result is that many working poor are left wondering why their housing has fewer features than the social housing projects of their neighbours.

Because constitutionally housing is a provincial matter, the question we at the federal level need to ask is: what can the federal do to help the provinces remedy the situation?

The Liberals say “We will spend another $753 million of homeless funding on non-profit social shelters and transitional shelters and spend more again on non-profit housing with more to follow”. The Liberals leave us without a plan, without guidance and without funding for private housing providers.

The Progressive Conservatives say “Spend $1.25 billion on non-profits, fund co-op housing and give away federal land”. Again we are left without a plan, without guidelines and no funding for private housing providers.

The NDP says, “Spend 1% of Canada's GDP. No rooming houses are wanted”. Again, there is no plan, no guidelines and no funding for private housing providers.

These are obviously ineffective approaches. First, in co-operation with the provinces, we need to develop a clear national policy for shelter and housing. This policy must incorporate guidelines and rules that will permit private housing providers to participate on a level funding and benefit playing field with non-profit providers. The homeless problem is not caused by a funding shortage. The root of the problem lies in how the money is being spent.

In contrast to the good intentions of the hon. member for Vancouver East, the bill is mired in legalese and logistics that, by constitution, are provincial and therefore outside of Ottawa's sphere of authority.

I also hope that this was unintentional on the member's part, but the bill seems to blatantly discriminate against the most affordable housing that is readily attainable, what is commonly referred to as rooming house rooms. Surely the hon. member does not intend to do away with rooming houses, as Bill C-416 seems to indicate. To do so, especially with a crisis looming in affordable housing, would be unconscionable.

One need only ask the people living in Toronto shelters and others how many could and would gladly pay $300 per month for a clean, secure rooming house room if there were any available at all. I am sure the member from the NDP could easily verify that one half of Toronto's homeless sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters because there is no independent entry level housing available.

I do mean inexpensive, privately operated rooming houses with a shared kitchen and bathroom and not expensive, high-rise apartments that house only a lucky few, such as the ones that Jack Layton wants to build at a staggering $100,000 per unit. I repeat that I mean basic rooming houses like the ones that could be built by the hundreds by private operators who are ready, willing and able to proceed if only assisted with a mere $15,000 per unit of funding.

Toronto's annual funding cost for 6,000 homeless is a staggering $180 million or $30,000 per shelter bed per year. With only 25% of this annual cost or an investment of $45 million 3,000 rooms can be built. That would empty out half of Toronto's shelter system. Imagine closing Toronto's shelters because of lack of use.

Where could the $45 million in funding come from? How about Toronto's share of the $753 million national homeless funding? How about the minister responsible for the homeless actually dedicating the homeless funding for homes for the homeless? That is a rather radical thought, shocking some would say; homeless funding for the homeless.

The Department of National Defence in Toronto could get their armories back. The city of Toronto could save $90 million per year because those 3,000 roomers would be able to pay for their own housing and enjoy the dignity of self-sufficiency and security that most of us desire.

Imagine properly designed, private business transit shelters for short term emergency use with 4 people per room, not the 100 per room, as was shown on the recent video presently, being contracted by non-profits to the city and not for $45 a night but $20 per night, cleaner with more security, privacy and dignity for the client.

Can private industry alone fix the homeless plight? Of course not. They are proven experts in efficiency when it comes to bricks and mortar and tenant management. One only has to turn back the clock 30 years and count how many homeless there were on the streets of Toronto at that time. Why there are so many today?

Toronto's homeless plight can be greatly relieved not by pouring millions of dollars into social shelters and not by building grandiose high-rise social housing, but by reinvesting in entry level private housing such as rooming houses and economical walk up apartments and investing in traditional, modest, affordable starter housing. Toronto's mayor, Mel Lastman, summed it up simply and succinctly last week when he said “We need more affordable housing, not more shelters”.

Rather than focusing on increasing shelter space, I say we must focus on encouraging the building of independent living homes. We must develop and implement a national housing and emergency shelter policy. Private industry under appropriate government agreement could and should have access to the same benefits as non-profits for providing affordable rental homes.

Taxpayer funded housing assistance should be restricted to funding economical entry level homes. The Liberals have failed miserably in helping the homeless find affordable independent living homes. We must do better than this.

Housing Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-416, an act to provide for adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-416, the housing bill of rights. This is an important debate. I will begin by outlining the purpose and intent of my bill.

The housing bill of rights addresses the need to create a national affordable housing strategy. It may be surprising to Canadians that this is something we do not have in Canada. We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not have a national housing strategy.

However the bill would do more than that. It would entrench in law the right to affordable housing for all people. As a signatory to the 1976 United Nations international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, Canada already recognizes and protects the fundamental human right to adequate housing. Under Bill C-416 the right would be formalized and enshrined in Canadian law and not merely in international covenants to which Canada is a signatory.

I will talk about the scope of Bill C-416 and what it would do. It outlines that individuals would have the right to secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing without discrimination. These rights would extend to security of tenure as well as protection against arbitrary eviction, forced relocation or any other form of harassment. The right to housing would include housing appropriate to individual or family specific needs.

Bill C-416 would guarantee the right to privacy and a safe and healthy environment free from the threat of violence. It would ensure housing was affordable. It would provide for protection from rent increases, property tax increases or other costs that were sudden or excessive and had the effect of diminishing housing as a basic human right. That is the general thrust of the bill.

It is important to enshrine these rights because many people take for granted that everyone in Canada is well housed and that we are a wealthy country. The reality is that growing numbers of people in Canada do not have adequate, safe and affordable housing. This is in part because we have not recognized housing as a legitimate right in Canadian society.

I have brought the bill forward because for a number of years we have seen a growing crisis in Canada. Four years ago the Federation of Canadian Municipalities declared homelessness a national housing disaster. Municipalities across the country passed resolutions urging the federal government to develop a national housing strategy to respond to the growing crisis. The Toronto Dominion Bank, the Toronto Board of Trade and many other organizations have recognized that we have a housing crisis in Canada. As I have mentioned, we are the only western developed nation without a national housing strategy.

I will speak briefly about the crisis before us. It may surprise some people to learn that about 250,000 Canadians will be forced to sleep in emergency shelters this year. Almost one in five rental households, or about 800,000 Canadians, pay more than 50% of their income on rent. Between 1991 and 1996 housing need as defined by CMHC, not by me or anyone else but by the government's own housing agency, skyrocketed upward. Some 1.7 million Canadian households are now defined as being in core need. That means people who pay more than 30% of their income on rent.

I find it quite shocking that the number has increased by 40% over a five year period. Half the tenant population in Canada can afford to spend only $580 per month on rent. Yet what we have seen, particularly in our urban communities, is the lowest vacancy rate in history since statistics were adopted by CMHC.

We are facing a crunch not only for people at the bottom of the economic ladder who are destitute on the streets. We are a facing a crunch for tenants who work, students, seniors, and families who find they are paying more and more of their often meagre monthly incomes for shelter costs which are becoming exorbitant. These are some of the things that contribute to the housing crisis

I am sure when some members of the House, particularly from the government side, get up to speak they will say there was a problem but the federal government fixed it by signing a housing agreement in Quebec City last November with the provinces and territories. I was there when the agreement was signed. I have worked with many of the organizations that have monitored it. While the agreement is an important step it has in no way created a financial or policy foundation from which to develop a truly national housing strategy.

In the six months since the deal was signed only one of the provinces, the province of Quebec, has lived up to the commitment it made in terms of the money it has put in. Five of the 10 provinces have gone the other way and cut money for housing.

This information has been monitored by the National Housing and Homelessness Network. The network put out a report card a week ago which clearly demonstrates that the agreement has been a dismal failure. First, it does not provide for an adequate number of units. Second, only one province has made a real commitment to put money into developing affordable housing.

As the National Housing and Homelessness Network has pointed out, the agreement is flawed. It offers no guarantee that affordable housing will be produced. It allows the provinces to replace provincial money with federal money. This is happening in my own province of British Columbia. Some provinces are sidling around the agreement and doing a bit of a shuffle game. They are robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are serious flaws with the agreement the government signed with the provinces and territories last November.

The agreement outlines that over a five year period $680 million should be committed at the federal end to housing. Maybe that will produce 5,000 units per year, and that is a qualified maybe. We have documentation from CMHC and other organizations that says the need in various communities across the country is about 30,000 units annually.

This should give members an idea of how far short the agreement is from what we need to do to develop a national housing strategy. Even the government's own task force, the Prime Minister's caucus task force on urban issues which was not an all party task force, called for a national strategy. I will quote from its report. It recommend that the Government of Canada:

Establish A National Affordable Housing Program that could include:

--Strengthening the mandate of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporationto develop A National Affordable Housing Program in collaboration with allorders of government, and housing providers--

It made the recommendation after the agreement was signed last November, so clearly even the Liberal task force is aware of the grievous shortcomings of the agreement signed last year.

I am one of the people in the House who continually raises housing issues. I found it ironic that the Deputy Prime Minister who is the minister responsible for CMHC and housing responded to a question of mine last week by saying no one noticed he had responsibility for CMHC. It was alarming that the minister responsible for housing would joke about the fact that no one knew he was the minister of housing because of all his other duties.

We see the Prime Minister shuffling his cabinet. I sure as heck wish he would shuffle in a real housing minister. We would then have someone on the government side who was clearly responsible for this most basic human right and need in Canadian society. The Minister of Labour is the co-ordinator of homelessness. However we have not yet seen a minister truly responsible for taking on this important question.

I find it quite ironic that parliament has not had a debate on housing policy since I came here in 1997. It is a demonstration of how the Liberals have not been committed to a proper affordable housing program.

When I started working on the bill and putting out information I wrote to organizations and individuals across the country. I received some wonderful mail. I will quote a few people who wrote to me. I got a letter from a fellow in Kelowna, B.C. who cannot afford housing. He said:

I agree we need more affordable housing. I am 44 years old and have had to leave the workforce at 33 due to health problems. I would be writing to you by computer but I do not have one. I am on a disability pension, but now there is nothing out there to rent for $325 a month.

I also have a letter from the National Union of Public and General Employees, often referred to as the national union. In a letter to the finance minister in support of my bill the union pointed out:

While your government sits on the largest budgetary surplus among the OECD countries we have a growing housing crisis in this country.

This is a shocking fact. We do not have a housing crisis because we lack the financial capability to deal with it. We have a housing crisis because we have lacked the political will and leadership to make it a priority and make sure it is adequately contained in the budget.

I have a letter from the Carnegie Community Centre Association in my riding of East Vancouver. It says:

Given the Carnegie Centre's situation in the centre of one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods, the crisis of homelessness is particularly critical for us as we have constant and immediate contact with the extreme suffering it causes.

I want to underscore this. It is not some sort of academic or hypothetical situation. A week or so ago a video was released in Toronto that showed the conditions in an emergency shelter. It showed people sleeping on mats on the floor inches away from each other in violation of even the United Nations' policies for refugee camps. We are talking about Canada, not refugee camps.

I have visited shelters in Toronto. I was appalled to see people sleeping on the floor on mats with only one washroom for the men and one for the women. I am talking about extreme suffering. I am talking about people freezing to death and people who have TB because they are out in the cold and living in unhealthy conditions. This speaks clearly to the suffering caused not by individual failure but by the failure of the government to do anything about it in terms of public policy.

Bill C-416 is a good bill. It is well written. Many people have commented on that. I want to acknowledge some of the groups that contributed and helped produce the bill, particularly Dr. David Hulchanski, a professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Hulchanski is one of Canada's foremost housing experts. He has helped monitor Canada's progress in meeting its housing commitments under the social and economic covenant.

The National Housing and Homelessness Network has done a tremendous amount of work to keep the pressure on the federal government and bring the issue forward. I also acknowledge the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and the Tenants Rights Action Coalition.

I have received about 2,000 petitions in support of Bill C-416. I hope the bill will bring about a real commitment from all members of the House to recognize housing as a human right, act on it and make it a reality for Canadians.

Housing Bill of RightsRoutine Proceedings

November 28th, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-416, an act to provide for adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House today to introduce this bill. The purpose of the bill is to respect the dignity and worth of all women, children and men in Canada by protecting their human rights through the provision and secure enjoyment of adequate, accessible and affordable housing.

My bill is a response to the critical needs of the close to five million Canadians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and who have a right to safe and affordable housing.

The bill spells out that every individual has the right to shelter, a safe and healthy environment, security of tenure, and protection from sudden and excessive rent increases.

The bill would require the development of a national housing strategy in partnership with federal, provincial and municipal governments, housing organizations, first nation communities and aboriginal organizations across the country.

I thank the many people who helped make the bill possible. To achieve this objective we must see that the bill is brought forward and that a national, fully funded strategy is developed to make housing a realizable human right in Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)