Publications, opinions, and speeches


Exploring the role and function of a housing commissioner for Toronto

Published on 03/05/2022

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Toronto, like many cities and regions in Canada, has experienced a sharp decline in housing affordability. The corresponding rise in homelessness and housing precarity means that more people than ever are struggling to live in adequate housing, with dignity and security, in one of the world’s most prosperous cities.

In response to this worrying trend, in December 2019, Toronto City Council adopted a revised Housing Charter and the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, in which it committed to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate housing. The Plan called for the City to establish a “housing commissioner” that would “independently assess implementation” of the revised Charter and Action Plan, and ensure the City is taking steps toward the progressive realization of adequate housing for all. The City of Toronto is the first municipal jurisdiction in Canada to take this progressive step, and follows similar commitments made by the federal government, which enshrined the right to housing in the National Housing Strategy Act, 2019.

Following some delay due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, in the summer of 2021, the City Manager retained the services of Crean Consulting and Maytree to explore the potential role and function of a housing commissioner for Toronto. In addition to reviewing relevant governance models and promising practices, the consultants completed a series of consultations with public servants, elected officials, academics, legal and human rights experts, shelter and housing service providers, and individuals with lived experience of homelessness and housing precarity, among others, to inform key criteria, principles, and considerations to guide the implementation of a housing commissioner.

To ensure Toronto can meet its stated commitments on housing, this report finds that the City should:

  • Create a locus of accountability to advance the progressive realization of housing as a basic human right (e.g., through a housing commissioner and a housing advisory committee);
  • Focus housing policy development and delivery of services through a human rights lens;
  • Ensure evidence-based monitoring, using data that are disaggregated by race, gender, age, income, and other variables to determine the impacts of policies and programs on the rights of residents with lived experience of housing precarity and homelessness;
  • Provide advice to Council from experts and community members with lived experience and right to housing expertise;
  • Enable an “all of government” approach with housing human rights expertise;
  • Create opportunities for intergovernmental dialogue on housing as a human right that benefit from expert input;
  • Develop systems competencies and performance metrics in the right to housing for the public service; and
  • Deliver a robust human rights learning and development program to equip public servants dealing with housing.

The report explores the opportunities and limitations of different actors and models in fulfilling the roles and functions outlined above. While it finds that no one solution may fully suffice, it suggests that the City of Toronto should consider the following:

  1. Create a housing commissioner role that could fulfil most of the key criteria;
  2. Develop human rights performance metrics and associated accountabilities;
  3. Invest in a human rights learning and development program for public servants dealing with housing issues;
  4. Increase funding to the Ombudsman’s office to support systemic investigations of housing issues;
  5. Create a housing advisory committee to Council similar in mandate and governance to other advisory committees;
  6. Enhance disaggregated equity data to advance progress in the realization of housing as a human right; and
  7. Renew efforts at an “all of government” approach within the public service to streamline service for residents.

Download the report


Housing and homelessness, Human rights


This report represents the consultants’ efforts to summarize the research, consultations, and potential options for the role and function of a housing commissioner that is envisioned to support the City of Toronto’s goals enshrined in the Toronto Housing Charter.