Maytree supports the Housing Commissioner Role recommendations before Toronto Council, but independence, accountability, and resources are key
The agenda item to which this deputation is addressed can be found here.
My name is Elizabeth McIsaac and I am the president of Maytree, a charitable foundation focused on advancing systemic solutions to poverty. We believe that the most enduring way to fix the systems that create poverty is to safeguard economic and social rights for everyone in Canada, which includes the human right to adequate housing.
When the City of Toronto adopted the updated the Housing Charter and the HousingTO Action Plan in 2019, the City committed itself to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. This meant that Toronto would start to undertake a human rights-based approach to housing.
City Council’s direction to the City Manager to explore the role or function of a housing commissioner for Toronto was the next step in this commitment. It created the opportunity to think through the governance options and listen to communities to hear what they want and expect to see the City do.
Exploring the potential of this role is the reason that Maytree worked together with Crean Consulting on the background report. The report outlines the elements needed to advance the progressive realization of the human right to adequate housing at the City.
To further strengthen the City Manager’s recommendations, I encourage the Executive Committee to consider three elements from the Maytree and Crean report regarding a potential Housing Commissioner:
First, there is need to develop a single and independent locus of accountability at the City. This is critical, particularly given the complexity of Toronto’s housing system, and also given the various efforts being considered in the recommendations. This would mean creating an office or role – such as a Housing Commissioner – that would be external to the public service, independent from Council (while reporting to it), with the necessary human rights expertise, and the ability to hold the various other elements of the approach together in one place. In our consultations with communities across the city, the call for independence and accountability was unanimous and considered essential to this role or function.
The City Manager is recommending the creation of a Council Advisory Committee. If a committee is to deliver on the promise of independence and accountability, it will need a structure that is rooted in the human right to housing, and be sufficiently resourced and empowered to have impact. It will also need to include leadership and membership of people with expertise in the human right to housing and community members with lived experience.
Secondly, it is imperative that those who are in greatest housing need have the opportunity to participate in and meaningfully inform the decisions that impact their lives.
The proposed Committee could be an opportunity to engage communities and residents in ways that are meaningful and ongoing, beyond transactional consultations, so that their voices are included and heard. But I would encourage the City to explore a robust and authentic approach to this and, again, ensure that it is sufficiently resourced.
Finally, I encourage the City to consider an “all-of-government” approach to housing policy and programming through a human rights lens. By definition this would bring together the various departments that play a role in a given file to work on solutions. This could include capacity for systemic reviews, evidence-based monitoring, using disaggregated data to determine the impacts of current and future policies and programs on communities and residents, and with a focus on those in greatest need.
Although this “all-of-government” approach is not part of the City Manager’s recommendations, the City is already undertaking such an approach to housing policy in some areas. At the Planning and Housing Committee meeting last week, there was a proposal to create a Housing At-Risk Table or HART framework, led by the Housing Secretariat, to enable interdivisional planning on renovictions. This kind of framework would improve the accountability and transparency of the City’s housing policy decisions by bringing a whole-of-government approach. This may be a model that can be scaled to have greater impact and be grounded in human rights. As such, we urge serious consideration of this as the City builds out its approach.
Maytree supports the approval of the recommendations presented, but with serious regard to ensuring accountability and independence, and effective resourcing. Done well, these recommendations provide a foundation to build upon in the City’s path toward realizing the human right to adequate housing.