Parishes urge governments to advance human right to housing

A fence installed outside St. Stephen in-the-Fields.
The City of Toronto installs a fence outside St. Stephen in the Fields after clearing away an encampment of unhoused people in November.
 on April 29, 2024
St. Stephen in-the-Fields

Last summer, at an event held outside St. James Cathedral to raise awareness of homelessness in Toronto, passersby were invited to participate in an interactive quiz on housing and homelessness. One of the questions was, “Is there a human right to housing in Canada?” Most of the responses were along the lines of “No – but there should be!”

Those who gave that answer were, technically, mistaken. There is indeed a human right to housing in Canada: not only in international treaties Canada has ratified, but also enshrined in the National Housing Strategy Act itself. But in a deeper sense, the quiz participants were correct. We have only to look around us to see that Canada is a long way from realizing the human right to housing. Small towns and major urban centres alike are seeing burgeoning homeless encampments as the number of people without housing exceed the capacity of local shelters. Tenants are feeling the squeeze as rents climb more rapidly than incomes, with more and more people frequenting food banks. And despite the number of construction cranes on the skyline, many of us know people who have had to leave our communities due to rising housing costs. We are not building our way out of the problem.

Decent, secure and affordable shelter is a foundation for dignity, security, community, stable education and employment, and improved physical and mental health. As Christians, our scriptures recognize the human need for shelter, security and dignity, and call us to care for the vulnerable and those in need among us.

Accordingly, the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee proposed that the 2024 social justice vestry motion call on all levels of government to protect and advance the human right to housing. Drawing on recommendations from the Federal Housing Advocate and other advocacy groups, and after consultation with the College of Bishops and the regional deans, the motion put forward four policy measures:

  • calling on the federal government to ensure that federal subsidies and incentives are targeted to those developers and projects that demonstrably address housing need and uphold the human right to housing by meeting clear conditions on affordable rents, non-displacement policies and eviction prevention measures;
  • calling on the federal government to end the favourable tax treatment of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and tax them at the regular corporate rate, with resulting revenues being directed toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing;
  • calling on the provincial government to enact rent controls and vacancy controls on all rental housing and put restrictions on above-guideline rent increases; and
  • calling on the provincial government to work with municipal governments to enact and enforce restrictions on short-term rentals to protect rental housing stock.

Parishes were provided with a backgrounder and links for further reading. Members of the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee and Housing Advocacy subcommittee responded to questions in a Q&A video posted on the diocesan YouTube channel. Some also made virtual or in-person presentations to interested parishes.

As always, parishes had the flexibility to amend the motion as they saw fit, but parishes that passed an amended motion were asked to send the final version to me as the Social Justice & Advocacy consultant.

By the end of March, I had heard directly from more than 50 parishes that had passed a version of the motion. Combined with information from the Incumbents’ Annual Statistical Returns, a total of 128 parishes, or 66 per cent of the parishes in the diocese, passed some form of this year’s vestry motion. The overwhelming majority of those parishes passed the motion as it was originally presented. Two parishes maintained the call to all levels of government to take measures to protect and advance the human right to housing but removed the specific policy measures outlined in the original motion. Two other parishes removed only the call to change the tax treatment of Real Estate Investment Trusts, and one removed only the call for vacancy control. However, 123 parishes, or 63 per cent of the diocese, supported all the calls outlined in the original motion. Some parishes added to the motion; for example, calling on the local municipality to require a certain percentage of affordable units in private developments, or calling for the construction of new co-op housing. One parish used the opportunity to commit itself to supporting local outreach and advocacy around housing initiatives.

This year’s motion was somewhat complex, and several of the policies outlined attracted vigorous debate, even if the motion ultimately passed. There was discussion about the role and impact of Real Estate Investment Trusts, the impact of rent control measures on the construction of rental housing, and what restrictions on short-term rentals might mean for parts of the diocese whose economies rely heavily on tourism. Overall, discussion is encouraging, because it means that people are engaging with the issues and grappling with the implications of what various measures would mean for themselves and their communities. The need to realize the human right to housing demands to be addressed – but we must also recognize what addressing this issue will ask of us.

Another encouraging sign this year was the number of people, both lay and clergy, who asked, “What happens after the motion?” The Social Justice & Advocacy Committee uses the results of these vestry motions in our communications with government leaders, such as our pre-budget submissions and our responses to the provincial budget, and in letters to and meetings with cabinet ministers. Demonstrating that we have the support of Anglicans across the diocese for our concerns gives our communications added weight. We also share the results of these motions with other members of ecumenical, interfaith and community justice coalitions working on the same issues.

We encourage parishes and individuals who support the motion to write and visit their elected representatives. Several parishes have already written to their MPs and MPPs, and template letters can be found at We are also hoping to set up a series of meetings with local MPPs. Anyone interested in participating can contact me, Elin Goulden, at [email protected].


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