Friday, February 22, 2013
Faculty of Law, Allard Hall, University of British Columbia
Workshop Rationale and Format

Canada ranks alone among G-9 nations as a country with no national housing strategy. Yet, Canada is a country with a significant housing crisis. The numbers of homeless, of Canadians living in core housing need, and of Canadians unable to find adequate housing are staggering, given the wealth and level of development of our country. Clearly, an immediate step to addressing this crisis is to implement at all levels of government in Canada housing strategies appropriate to each jurisdiction. Cities need housing tactics; provinces must have housing stratagems; and, the federal government must implement a national housing strategy.

Efforts are underway to bring about both provincial and federal commitments to formal housing strategies. For instance, a coalition of housing advocacy groups and individuals is engaged before the Ontario Court of Justice in challenging under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms the absence of a housing strategy at both the Ontario provincial government level and the national government level. This is the case of Tanudjaja v Canada et al. There is, also, a private member bill currently before the House of Commons in Ottawa that, if passed, would commit the government to developing a national housing strategy. This bill, Bill C-400 , an Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, has passed first reading and would require the federal government to implement a housing strategy marked by recognition of the human right to housing and requiring measurable goals and timelines.

These efforts—both legal and political—may well result in either forcing or persuading various levels of government to have a housing strategy. But, after this critical first step, the challenge becomes what each level of housing strategy should have as concrete content. Specific policy and programme content is left up to the government; success of either the legal action or the passing of Bill C-400 mandates only that governments have some measures. The challenge of thinking of what these measures should be—separate from the preliminary demands for any measures at all—is significant and complex. For example, a national housing strategy would need to include all sectors of the housing market, employ a broad range of policy levers that influence local and national programmes, and involve both long and short term solutions. Federal access to revenue allows the national government through its spending powers to have substantial impact on setting national standards of housing access and adequacy. 2

Provincial governments have key roles to play in orchestrating the building of social housing and providing renters with both adequate housing income and protections. Municipal governments set housing conditions through zoning, taxation, and maintenance powers. Thus, the range of measures possible is wide, and the need for both action and coordination strong.

It is clear, than, that advocacy for housing strategies must be paired with informed and expert discussion of the specifics of best measures. Groups concerned about housing in Canada must be ready to work with the government to ensure that, should the governments come to implement housing strategies, governments have available to them the best and most coherent thinking about desired element of governmental housing strategies. This second, substantial set of questions—what follows once housing strategies are required–is the topic of this workshop, at least as those questions might pertain to the federal government.

The workshop is focused on the prospect of a national housing strategy and thus engages with questions around what the federal government can and should do about ensuring the access of all Canadians to adequate housing. Simply, how should the federal government use the opportunity of elaboration of a national housing strategy to realize housing justice and housing rights across the country.

This 1/2 day workshop will thus be a visioning session on the contents of a national housing strategy. The first portion of the workshop will be comprised of presentations of examples of housing policy from other countries, of the limits and possibilities on housing policy due to the Canadian federal structure, and of multimedia narratives involving creative assessments of and solutions to housing issues. The second part of the workshop is a panel discussion among interdisciplinary, national and local, housing experts. This panel is followed by eight breakout groups where participants, with facilitators and recorders, will discuss models and strategies that offer strong potential for advancing housing justice in Canada. The closing of the workshop will be a presentation of the key ideas from each group. These ideas will be collected in a discussion paper publicly available after the workshop.

The participants will be from a broad range of stakeholder groups. We anticipate representatives from the private, non-profit, and public sectors, as well as strong representation of community groups and advocates for housing rights. Importantly, the plan is to bring together academics, community advocates, government planners and policy experts, landlord representatives, legal experts, and individuals with direct experience of housing issues. We anticipate this to be an exciting, dynamic, and productive mix—one that advances shared expertise, thoughtful cross-fertilization for thinking about both definition and resolution of housing issues, and catalytic efforts to engender pragmatic solutions and responses.