June 2019 was a watershed moment in Canada when the National Housing Strategy Act received royal assent. For the first time in the country’s history, the right to housing was enshrined in domestic legislation.
It’s worth reiterating that this was a big moment. Not just for Canada, but for people all over the world looking to government to recognize the central role housing plays in improving the livelihood of families and individuals across the country. For a government in the Global North to recognize its duty under international law to provide adequate housing and then to put its money where its mouth is — $55 billion worth in this case — was a big deal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, like never before, that housing is a matter of life and death. For that reason, housing has the status of a human right. Stay at home orders were hard to follow for people who did not have a home.
The economic downturn made it difficult for many households to pay rent or make mortgage payments, bringing many to the brink of homelessness. Eviction moratoriums and increased efforts to shelter those sleeping rough helped stymie what could have been an even larger crisis. It was clear to many local governments that while stop-gap measures were necessary in light of the pandemic, they would not be sufficient to address housing inequality.
Following in the federal government’s footsteps, the City of Kitchener turned to a human rights framework as a possible solution. In December 2020, the city released its Housing for All strategy.
Built on a needs assessment and prepared in collaboration with diverse stakeholders and people with lived experience of homelessness, the strategy is the city’s commitment to secure the right to housing, eliminate homelessness, and increase the supply of affordable homes. It also recognizes that access to housing for all is key to the city’s long-term prosperity.
To address homelessness, the city has provided a site for the Kitchener Waterloo YWCA to develop modular housing for women leaving homelessness and supported OneROOF in developing housing for youth leaving homelessness. The city is also providing a temporary site for the relocation of A Better Tent City while helping secure a permanent site.
In calculating its goals, Kitchener took a hard look at potential roadblocks and concluded that the way forward requires addressing bias and discrimination from within the community.
Across Canada, groups of homeowners have organized and fought against plans to build housing for low-income people and those living in homelessness. They claim that such developments would reduce the value of their homes, drive up the crime rate, change the fabric of the neighbourhood and put a strain on infrastructure.
Kitchener has not been immune to these arguments. Although they may sound reasonable, they are actually fuelled by misinformation, stereotypes, and discrimination.
There is no evidence to support the claim that housing for low-income people drives up the crime rate. It’s an absurd assertion given that most people with low incomes live in regular market-based rental units — only 13 per cent of Canada’s renter population is in social or affordable housing. Long-term research conducted in Canada has found that crime rates have often decreased in neighbourhoods with supportive housing units.
Concerns of infrastructure strain are unfounded because of municipal planning standards required in any new multi-tenant housing. Not to mention, low-income households own fewer cars and drive less. Strain on infrastructure would be more likely if a new building was a high-end condo for “the right type” of new neighbour. Trends throughout the country suggest that less-affluent neighbourhoods are seeing the greatest increases in the value of property.