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Human Rights-Based Approach to Housing

Canada’s first National Housing Strategy and the National Housing Strategy Act

In November 2017, the federal government launched Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy (NHS). The goal of the NHS is to ensure everyone in Canada has access to housing that meets their needs and that they can afford.

In 2019, Parliament passed the National Housing Strategy Act (the NHS Act). The NHS Act sets out the Government of Canada’s housing policy, which “recognize(s) that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law.”  It also commits Canada to further the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. This right is recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Furthering the right to housing means taking steps to improve housing outcomes for everyone in Canada. The right to housing ensures access to housing that is safe and affordable. It can also take the form of legislation, policies and programs, as well as other administrative and social measures. 

Housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person and to building sustainable and inclusive communities.
— National Housing Strategy Act

A human rights-based approach to housing

The NHS Act requires the Government to develop and maintain a national housing strategy. The strategy needs to take into account key principles of a human rights-based approach to housing.  This includes the principles of non-discrimination, inclusion, participation and accountability.

The strategy sets out a long-term vision for housing and focuses on improving housing outcomes for those in greatest need.

The NHS Act outlines the need for a diverse National Housing Council  and ensures ongoing inclusion and participation. This includes the input of civil society, stakeholders, vulnerable groups, and persons with lived experience of housing need and homelessness in housing policy discussions. The role of the National Housing Council is to provide advice to the Minister, including on the effectiveness of the National Housing Strategy.

The NHS Act also creates a Federal Housing Advocate position. The Federal Housing Advocate’s mandate is to promote and protect housing rights across Canada. The Advocate’s work includes consulting with members of vulnerable groups and receiving submissions to hear from communities affected by systemic housing issues. The Advocate may both undertake a review of a broad systemic housing issue or request that the National Housing Council establish a review panel to hold a hearing to review any systemic housing issue within federal jurisdiction.

The Federal Housing Advocate also monitors and reports annually on their findings related to systemic housing issues that they hear about and associated recommendations. As an additional accountability mechanism, the responsible Minister must table and respond to the Advocate’s report in Parliament.    

The Canadian Human Rights Commission provides resources and facilities to support the Advocate in performing her/his/their duties and functions.