United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari
This document includes some preliminary observations of the Special Rapporteur at the end of his visit and is not an official document. The final report on this visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council.
An overview of the right to adequate housing and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur can be found to the annex attached to this document.
Table of content
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for coming.
I am Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteurs are independent experts in an honorary and unpaid position.
Today I am finishing a visit to
I visited urban and rural areas, including Montréal, Kahnawake territories,
The right to adequate housing contains many essential elements. I have focused this mission on a number of areas including homelessness, problems of inadequate and secure housing and living conditions, women and their right to adequate housing, Aboriginal populations’ adequate housing and the impact of the forthcoming Olympic Games in
This statement provides my preliminary observations based on visits conducted and information received during the mission.
Everywhere that I visited in
In that context I welcome the commitment in the federal Speech from the Throne delivered on Tuesday 16 October to housing and homelessness:
“…middle-class Canadians and their families worry about affordable housing and the number of homeless people on our streets. Our Government is committed to helping Canadian families meet their needs… Our Government will continue to invest in our families and our future, and will help those seeking to break free from the cycles of homelessness and poverty.”
But this promise needs a greater budgetary allocation and specific commitments.
The Federal Government needs to commit funding and programmes to realize a comprehensive national housing strategy, and to co-ordinate actions among the provinces and territories, to meet
The Federal Government’s Affordable Housing Initiative, including the affordable housing trust funds authorized by Parliament in 2005, are due to expire at the end of fiscal 2008. The Federal Government should immediately renew and enhance housing spending over a ten-year period, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Today marks the Anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I believe this is a good opportunity for all human rights commissions in
The Government and Parliament of Canada, along with the provinces and municipalities, are urged to take immediate steps to comply with concluding observations from UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights that economic, social and cultural rights should be fully recognized in all relevant government legislation and should be fully justiciable including monitoring, implementing, investigative and accountability mechanisms.
– Housing budget cuts at the federal level, and in many provinces,
– Even more dramatic housing cuts in the coming years as the Federal Government “steps out” of its financial commitments under the 1973 to 1993 national housing programme,
– Reductions in income support programmes at the federal level, and in every province, that have left many Canadians with little money to pay for ever-increasing housing costs, and
– A shift in housing policy to provide support for homeownership, mainly through the tax system, while eroding support for social and rental housing.
Even the private rental sector faces financial challenges. A number of provinces are calling for changes in tax laws to encourage the development of private rental housing are urgently required.
According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 1.5 million Canadian households are officially classified as being in “housing core need” which puts them at great risk of homelessness. One-in-four Canadian renter households are in “housing core need”, which means that they are living in housing that is unaffordable, inadequate or unsuitable – or sometimes all three. Many thousands more are at risk of becoming homeless, or being forced into inadequate housing conditions.
Given this context of a national housing crisis, a national commitment over a ten-year period is required. Federal, provincial and territorial housing ministers in
The meeting planned for February is an important step towards implementing the national housing framework that ministers have promised, and that Canadians urgently require. Such a national housing framework will help the Canadian government to meet its obligations in international law to realize the right to housing in this country.
It is important to note that many Canadians face multiple barriers in accessing their right to adequate housing. Specific programmes and policies need to be funded and implemented that address this “intersectionality (multiple discriminations)” approach. It is inconsistent with basic human rights principles to leave marginalized groups as an anonymous part of general housing and anti-poverty programmes.
As part of a comprehensive national housing strategy, particular funding and should be directed to groups that have been forced to the margins, including women, Aboriginal people, elders, youth, members of racialized communities, immigrants and others.
Everywhere that I visited, I heard testimonies and received voluminous reports from independent bodies, about substandard and inadequate housing and living conditions. This included aging housing stock in both the public and private sectors, on Aboriginal reserves and in urban areas. I heard about a series of specific major health concerns, including through bed bugs, cockroaches, mice and other infestations, and chronic mold. I heard about inadequate heating systems, and high energy costs.
The Federal Government’s housing renovation programme, called the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (or RRAP), has been expanded in recent years and is being used in many parts of the country to improve housing conditions. However, this valuable federal programme is due to expire at the end of fiscal 2008.
The Federal Government should immediately extend and enhance the RRAP programme to make the funding permanent and increase the amount available to renovate housing across the country, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
I also heard that housing co-operatives funded under a part of the National Housing Act called “section 95” that they are being forced to reduce the amount of subsidy because of funding decisions by the Federal Government. Providing subsidies, or housing allowances, to people living in social housing is one of the most cost-effective ways to meet the housing needs of low-income households.
The Federal Government should provide a comprehensive and complete fix for the “section 95” funding gap that has led to a reduction in the amount of subsidy available to lower-income households living in housing co-ops.
The international right to housing is indivisible with the human right to water. I was disturbed to learn that up to one-quarter of all Aboriginal households do not have access to potable water, or their water is seriously at risk. Water is fundamental to human life, and Canadian NGOs are among the leaders in the global campaign for the right to water and water security.
The Federal Government should commit the funding and resources to ensure all households have access to potable water and proper sanitation consistent with the recognition of water as a human rights and recommendations for State policies as detailed in General Comment Number 15 of the CESCR.
Homelessness is one of the most visible and most severe signs of the lack of respect for the right to adequate housing. It is even more shocking to see the number of homeless people in such a developed and wealthy country as
Homelessness is especially severe for elderly, women, including young girls, and children. The risk of being homeless is not only a gender issue but also a racial issue. Aboriginal people constitute a large majority among the homeless population. For instance in
I heard presentation on the Federal Government’s national homelessness programme, called the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. This programme has provided support for a wide variety of important and successful services, and has helped to fund new transitional housing. But it is due to expire at the end of fiscal 2008, and the current funding – divided among 61 communities – is not adequate for the entire country.
The large number of people in
The Federal Government should extend the national homelessness programme for at least five, or even ten years, and should increase the funding available across the country, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Lack of sustainable affordable housing is one of the main issues that jeopardize the realization of the right to housing in
The increase of housing prices and the lack of affordability is growing in all sectors of the population. I could observe how due to the shortage of social housing stock, the original target population has changed and programmes are distorted, needing to meet the necessities of a growing and more diverse population than originally assessed.
One dramatic indicator of the growing affordability crisis is the record-breaking number of evictions in
Rising rents and declining income has evident impact on tenants’ ability to address their other fundamental needs including food and clothing. Many testimonies that I received confirm this. Unfortunately, studies show that the situation has not evolved positively since 2001 and the results of the last survey that will be made available in the coming months will confirm this.
A large number (30 to 50%) of people in shelters are working. This is most dramatic in
The implementation of subsidies to complement the cost to rent and other mitigation measures are commendable. However, it seems nevertheless that a greater number of social housing units need to be built by the State as the needs are not being currently met.
Tenant protection, rent regulation and income assistance programmes differ across the country depending on provincial or territorial policies. This uneven patchwork leaves tenants in most parts of the country extremely vulnerable.
The Federal Government needs to work with the provinces and territories to create a consistent framework of tenant protection and rent regulation laws across the country that meet the standards set in international housing rights law, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Additional housing allowances, funded by the federal and provincial governments, are an immediate (although short-term) solution, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Provincial and municipal authorities need to review planning and zoning criteria to remove barriers to the development of truly affordable housing, and to require a proper mix of affordable housing in all new developments.
Grossly inadequate social assistance rates are trapping many of the lowest-income Canadian households into chronic poverty and inadequate housing. The Federal Government made major cuts to social spending, and cancelled the Canada Assistance Plan in 1995 (CAP provided a framework of national standards for income assistance) and virtually every province has allowed income assistance levels to drop to extremely low levels since then.
The Federal Government needs a comprehensive and properly-funded poverty reduction strategy based on its human rights obligation, and complementary plans should be implemented in the provinces and territories – linked to a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Homelessness and inadequate housing particularly impacts women. Studies clearly show that women and especially single mothers are disproportionally affected by the issue of affordability or discrimination. During the visit, I heard many testimonies in this regard. Women told me that social assistance entitlements are insufficient and do not match the cost of housing and other living expenses. I also heard some very disturbing testimonies on women whose children were taken away because they were living in inadequate housing, an issue that particularly affects Aboriginal women.
In meetings with local officials it was reported that there is a lack of funds to create new social housing units which particularly affects women headed households in core housing need. Although women leaving abusive relationships have priority for social housing (except for in the three Territories), a woman with maximum priority to access housing, due to her situation, may still need to wait up to three years to get a home. The lack of affordable housing and alternative accommodation, inadequate social assistance rates, as well as related services, pushes women to stay with a violent partner or to return to violent relationship to avoid homelessness.
Amongst the many forms of violence that aboriginal women suffer, studies show that they endure three times higher rate of spousal violence than non-Aboriginal. In this context, the lack of protection law for women living on a reserve, or the impossibility to file complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission constitutes one of the greatest barriers to the enjoyment the right to housing and a life free of violence. Another major barrier that needs to be overcome at the earliest is the family and matrimonial real property laws on reserves. Overcrowding houses, accommodating up to 3 generations in some regions, is one of the major causes for abuse, violence and homelessness. Women and young girls off reserve are experiencing violence in a daily basis.
Specific, flexible and culturally adequate solutions have to be provided to for aboriginal populations, especially where homeless is not an option due to climate reasons. Adequate shelters conceived according to cultural needs and specificities as well transitional and long term housing policies need to be implemented at the earliest.
In view of the current situation women face throughout the country, I was surprised to receive information on significant cuts to the budget and the modification the mandate of Status Women Canada, the only Federal agency focused on women. This might contradict the legal obligation of allocating maximum available resources and the non-retrogression with respect to human right that is mandated in Article 2 of the ICESCR. Moreover, I am concerned that some women’s organizations have been defunded for their service provision to women, research and advocacy activities.
Very progressive legislations to address violence against women are being implemented in several provinces. These legislations should include, among other components, the sustainable access to housing for all women.
The implementation of policies, to comply with international and domestic legislation addressing the fulfillment of women’s right, needs to be supported by the necessary funds and resources at all levels of the government.
Accountability on the creation, funding and implementation of programmes and policies that address housing and domestic violence must be undertaken at levels of the Government. Effective participation and consultation with women is not only a right but the best manner to ensure that policies and laws achieve their objectives.
Throughout the mission I was disturbed to see the devastating impact of the paternalism that marks federal and provincial government, legislations, policies and budgetary allocation for Aboriginal people on and off reserve. These policies have seriously compromised the right to self determination that Aboriginal people enjoy under the original treaties and the International Covenant on ESCR.
Housing and homelessness conditions facing Aboriginal people both on and off-reserve are shocking. Overcrowded and inadequate housing conditions, as well as difficulties to access basic services, including water and sanitation, are major problems for Aboriginal peoples.