moved that Bill C-325, An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am incredibly proud to stand in the House to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-325, the right to housing.
I believe having a home is a human right, and in a country as wealthy as Canada no one should be without a safe place to live.
It did not take me long to grasp the magnitude of the housing crisis in my riding of North Island—Powell River. Housing cases continue to come into our office, and the number is growing. I have heard horrifying stories, such as a single woman living in a van because she has been diagnosed with a significant health issue, which meant she had to choose between either medication and a special diet or her home; a couple with a teenage boy with special needs living in a tent in their parents' backyard; and a retired man of 70 couch surfing between several friends. As well, there was the case of a local business owner who hired a new employee but had to wait eight months for the individual to start because no housing could be found and people calling the police and breaking the law until they are arrested because they are old and have nowhere else to sleep except jail. I have heard of bidding wars on rentals, with people using over 65% of their income to pay the rent. I have heard of seniors waiting in acute care ready to go to a home, but there are no homes available.
There is no doubt that the stories of North Island—Powell River are the same as too many others across Canada. Housing is a priority that must be advocated for loudly and boldly.
I want to thank our NDP housing critic and MP for Hochelaga for working so hard. She has travelled across the country and she understands the realities of people struggling every day for affordable, decent housing, whether in a large urban centre, rural areas, or indigenous communities. She is there fighting. I am proud to be by her side and bring this important piece of legislation forward.
I am not the first member in the House to bring forward legislation on the right to housing. There is a reason that the reiteration of the bill has survived all of these Parliaments through the many members who believe that this is a right. I gather it rings true because it embraces a fundamental ingredient of our survival in finding shelter and our right to dignity.
It is my hope that together we can pass this bill. It would be timely and key for the coming years while we start to reinvest in housing.
As a country, Canada is at a crossroads. We have lived through almost 30 years of inaction and budget cuts. In the last budgetary cycle, the Liberals promised an abundance of cash. Months later we still do not truly know how this money will be spent.
I want to be very clear in the House. Whether it is in downtown Toronto, small cities, rural and remote communities, or indigenous villages, there is no more time to be had. We are in a national housing crisis, people are desperate, and time has run out.
Bill C-325 aims to be the cornerstone for that long-term plan. This bill would ensure the foundation of a national housing strategy that can be built solidly and will stand the test of time. We can no longer just say housing is a right; it is time for it to be legislation. My bill would do this. It would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to introduce housing as a human right.
In 1976, Canada enshrined the fundamental right to housing when the government of the day ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, this right has never been formally incorporated into Canadian law. This bill would make that happen.
While I was working on the bill, a few of my constituents were concerned with this approach, thinking I wanted to give free houses to people. Although this would support many people in moving towards their personal goals, this is not what the bill would do.
Adding housing to the bill of rights means redefining the lens that housing is viewed through. It is about a fundamental approach to reviewing regional differences, working with all levels of government and the market to address the reasons we are facing such a housing crisis, and then building a national housing strategy grounded in the right to housing that will address it head-on. It is about creating a long-term solution. It is my hope that as a country we never get to this place again.
We must think differently about how we approach housing. What we need is a new lens, and Bill C-325 offers that. Building a building here and there is not going to address the severity and systemic causes to our housing crisis.
The housing crisis is again and again portrayed as a big-city issue. This is simply not the reality. A recent report from one of my communities with a population of 35,000 shows we have 47 unsheltered homeless—people literally sleeping outdoors—and 32 people reported as being sheltered homeless, meaning they are sleeping in a shelter. This does not even address the concerns of overcrowded homes and people who are couch surfing.
This has led to the local municipality working hard to have accessible bathrooms. This is a serious result of having people without a home in our community.
I referred to dignity earlier in my speech. Human rights are that: moral principles. When our fellow citizens do not have a safe place to sleep or a place to go to the bathroom, these are incredibly dehumanizing experiences. A home is more than a physical space. Housing is intrinsic to the sense of security for families and stability needed to prevent marginalization. All of us look to home as an anchor in our community life, a retreat, and a refuge. What happens to people when they do not have this is debilitating. The ramifications have been studied repeatedly, and the stress on our communities and our society can attest to this.
In Canada, it is estimated that more than 235,000 people are without a home during the year. According to a joint study by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in 2014, the gradual withdrawal of federal investment in social housing is one of the primary causes of this problem.
Our society and our governments are letting people down, devoid of a comprehensive safety net. Cracks are appearing at an alarming rate. Affordability is central, but cracks are appearing because of the results of not having a stable home: mental health problems, addiction issues, illness due to stress, family breakdowns, and so much more.
I believe all of us in the House have sat with constituents and heard heartbreaking stories. We are on the front lines of hearing where the human reality of legislation lives. I recently sat with a couple who shared their story of homelessness. It is a story that I hear all too often. One partner falls ill, so they can no longer work, and the family loses their home because they cannot afford their mortgage.
To add more weight to their reality, this couple has a son with a significant disability, one that leads a child to express himself through loud yelling when frustration grows. Finding a home that is not in an apartment building where the noise upsets the neighbours is their priority.
This is just one story, and it exemplifies the need for a different approach, a more holistic model to viewing housing. Let us imagine a housing plan that respects human rights.
In the government consultations, the right to housing was a recurring theme in many comments shared at the expert round table. Stakeholders clearly spelled out the need for the legally recognized right to housing. They insisted that a national housing strategy should examine whether our laws, policies, and practices are sufficient to prevent homelessness, forced evictions, and discrimination in accessing adequate housing. They agreed on a rights-based approach to housing and that the right to housing must be recognized and realized through laws and policies.
It is inspiring to see Canadians like Leilani Farha, a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing and executive director of Canada Without Poverty, take a leadership role internationally. She said:
Crafting a human rights-based policy would include eliminating discrimination in housing programs, setting measurable goals and timelines to reduce poverty and giving people the means to hold governments to account if their rights are violated.
This accountability is so badly needed. Many first nations communities are living in appalling conditions, and homelessness continues to rise across the country. For first nations people living on reserve, the national household survey shows that almost 40% of these homes need major repairs and close to 35% are not suitable for the family's size. In some Inuit communities, the proportion of housing not suited to family size exceeds 50%.
I did several round tables on housing in my riding. What I heard was clear. Municipalities are doing everything they can with their very limited resources. Community-based organizations are working together to do what they can to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. People are desperate and ready to live anywhere to have a stable home. I also saw how exhausted they were, doing what they could and needing help.
They need help now, today, if not sooner. Hope is in short supply. The broad range of people experiencing the housing crisis is only growing.
It is alarming to talk to couples who are both working in good jobs, who cannot find a home they can afford to rent, let alone buy. There is a deep sense of betrayal because they have done everything right. They have worked hard to get where they are, and now they are hopeless. I have spoken with parents who have lost their children to care because they were evicted due to renovations and could not find appropriate housing. They can get their children back once they have a home to go to, but they simply cannot find one.
Seniors are renting out extra rooms in their homes. One senior I spoke to is even renting out her living room, because there is no other way she can afford to live.
These are just a few of the many stories that are happening in all of our ridings.
I want to say a special thanks to the Right to Housing Coalition for its hard work and continued work in advocating for these rights. Housing is and will always be a top priority for New Democrats. We want the federal government to recognize the historically vital role of government in housing. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this fundamental right by meeting the security, affordability, health, and safety needs of all Canadians. The government has a duty to ensure that all its citizens have access to suitable housing so they can participate fully in society, as is their right.
We seek action when the federal government returns to the table on housing policy, and a commitment to housing as a basic human right. We want the framework of any solution to be based in the legislative right to housing.
It is my hope that today the members will speak in support of Bill C-325. It is time to give hope to those who desperately need and deserve it.