Updated: Oct 6, 2019
Introduction by Gabrielle Peters and Alex Haagaard. Discussion questions by Gabrielle Peters.
Canada is in the midst of a housing crisis. As of 2014, nearly one in five Canadian households were experiencing extreme housing affordability problems. In 2016, a Statistics Canada report found that eight percent of Canadians over the age of 15 had experienced “hidden homelessness,” where they had to live in someone else’s home, in their vehicle, or in another temporary situation because they had nowhere else to live. This year, in all of Canada’s largest cities, the average rental rate for a one bedroom apartment has risen by more than five percent, year over year.
The 1996 Federal Budget ended 50 years of direct involvement in social housing. This unilateral decision by the then federal government, combined with other factors such as increased speculation, is often pointed to as one of the major causes of the current crisis levels of homelessness. In 2017, the federal government announced it was ‘getting back into the business of housing’ and introduced a ‘National Housing Strategy.’ However it is estimated that at the current rate of investment and building it will take decades to get back to pre-crisis levels of homelessness.The ‘return’ to housing rhetoric also somewhat obscures the fact the 1996 federal government decision did not withdraw federal involvement in the housing market or homeownership sector, just any federal funding for meeting housing needs. The withdrawal of federal funding for social housing also occurred in the context of an ongoing decline in federal-provincial transfer payments that had been taking place since the 1980’s.
In 2017, commenting on the NHS (National Housing Strategy) in the Globe and Mail, University of Toronto Professor David Hulchanski said, “The word affordable is mentioned about 70 times, with no definition of affordable housing.” While the decision to resume federal involvement in social housing has been widely applauded, there have been numerous criticisms and concerns about whether the NHS (National Housing Strategy). For example, while one of NHS stated goals is to reduce homelessness by 50 percent, only 1/20th of the total funding is dedicated specifically towards Reaching Home, the federal government’s homelessness initiative.
The role that Canada’s federal government plays in affordable housing strategy is complex. It shares control over this issue with provincial, territorial and municipal governments. Provincial and territorial governments have authority over the construction of housing, except on First Nations reserves. That is, they have the power to decide what kind of housing is created where, and by whom. This includes construction of housing for the private market, as well as publicly-subsidized construction or acquisition of housing for low-income tenants. The provincial and territorial governments may transfer some of all of this authority to municipal governments.
The federal government is able to influence the availability of affordable housing in Canada through financial initiatives that include allocating funding to provincial and territorial governments, and providing low-cost loans to developers, for construction projects that meet certain standards of size, affordability and accessibility. In June of this year, the federal government passed Bill C-97, which enshrined the right to adequate housing within Canadian law. However, this legislation did not establish a mechanism to legally enforce this right at an individual level.
The relationship between disability and access to housing is also complex. Disabled people disproportionately live in poverty, and are therefore more likely to be seriously affected by high housing prices. The 2016 Statistics Canada report on hidden homelessness found that 26 percent of people with three or more disabilities had experienced this situation, compared to six percent of nondisabled people.
People living at the intersection of disability and race experience poverty and homelessness at higher rates. According to IRIS, people living with disabilities are two times as likely to live below the poverty line, and 28.2% of racialized people have experienced homelessness (compared to a national average of 19.1%). These statistics are higher for Indigenous people, they only make up 4.3% of the overall Canadian population but comprise 30.6% of the youth homelessness population. Black disabled people, Indigenous disabled people and disabled people of colour face additional barriers resulting from historical, current, systemic and individual acts of racism by landlords placing them at greater risk of housing insecurity and homelessness.46% of women who report having been homeless have a disability.
For disabled women housing is also intertwined with the issue of violence. DAWN Canada’s More than a Footnote report points out:
“Research and literature around homelessness has tended to focus specifically on various groups and/or identities and as such often miss the intersectional nature of the issue. For example, the experience of immigrant and refugee women around homelessness, particularly the complexities of these experiencinces, including the intersections of disability, trauma, mental health, intimate partner violence (IPV) etc. remain under-examined.”
In a survey of staff (not necessarily trained in accessing accessibility) of women’s shelters across Canada, over a third (38%) reported accessibility barriers were a “major” challenge to their facilities. This means that while disabled women face a well known and documented higher rate of violence, they also face far fewer options for escaping it.
Disabled LGBTQI2S youth remain over-represented among the homeless population and face additional risks and barriers to accessing housing.
The Canadian Association for Community Living estimates that between 100,000 and 120,000 adults with intellectual disabilities face a housing and supports gap and as a result are over-represented among the homeless population.
It is also important to remember that in addition to facing greater risks of homelessness, disabled people are also likely to suffer significant health impacts by being homeless and symptoms and outcomes of whatever underlying health condition exist worsened in addition to being at risk of developing complications, comorbidities or additional health problems.
On the private market, features that improve accessibility are associated with higher rental rates, which means that disabled people with specific access needs face greater difficulty in finding suitable low-cost housing. For example, in a city like Toronto or Vancouver, an apartment located in a basement or in an older walk-up building is typically hundreds of dollars cheaper per month than a comparable unit in a newer building with an elevator. But for someone with impaired mobility, chronic pain or chronic fatigue, this may not be an option. “Micro-apartments,” and “co-living” situations with shared kitchens and bathrooms have received attention as innovative options for affordable housing—however, these are inaccessible to wheelchair users, neurodivergent people, and those with severe allergies and immune disorders.
Young Canadian adults have been moving away from urban centres at higher rates, in large part because cities are so unaffordable. However, rural and suburban areas have less extensive public transportation, less access to specialized healthcare, fewer opportunities for accessible employment, and more limited public infrastructure like sidewalks and paved roads. All of these factors can pose significant access barriers to disabled people.
Finally, in addition to those facing homelessness it’s important to remember the thousands who are not counted as homeless but in essence are. Thousands of disabled people under the age of 65, including many young disabled people, are currently forced to live in long term care facilities for the aged due to a lack of support and options available to them in the community. This is in direct violation of the UN Convention on the RIghts of Persons with Disabilities that Canada ratified. Furthermore, thousands more disabled people are ‘housed’ in prisons. In both these places the number of disabled people is rising and none are counted in statistics about homeless rates.
In this online town hall, we will be discussing:
your experiences with trying to find stable, affordable and accessible housing as a disabled person living in Canada
what role the federal government should play in addressing Canada’s affordable housing crisis
what a disability-inclusive housing strategy might involve
This discussion will be co-hosted by @djnontario, @alexhaagaard and @mssinenomine who will be tweeting questions every ten minutes starting at ten past the hour. You can see the questions by navigating to the profile of any of these accounts.
@alexhaagaard and @mssinenomine will be retweeting the responses that people post, so you can follow their accounts to see the rest of the discussion. You can also search Twitter for the #CripTheVote hashtag, and set the search page to "Latest", to see everything that is being tweeted to the hashtag.
We realize that Twitter chats can be hard to follow for some people. While the chat is taking place, @djnontario will be tweeting the chat questions only. If you are having trouble keeping track of the chat, you can click on the @djnontario profile and check that account's feed to find out which questions have been posted.
You can also find the chat questions at the bottom of this post.
After the discussion takes place, we will be posting a summary of it to the DJNO blog.
This chat is about affordable housing and it is also about disability justice. We will be discussing how the marginalization of disabled people intersects with other forms of oppression including racism, colonialism, poverty, cissexism and heterosexism.
Racism, trans antagonism, homophobia, misogyny and lateral ableism are not welcome in this discussion and will not be amplified by the host accounts.
Remember to use the #CripTheVote hashtag when you tweet, so that others can see what you are saying!
If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripTheVote"
Please introduce yourself however you feel comfortable! Is there anything you want to share about your current or past housing situation?
Is your current housing situation actually accessible (for you) and actually affordable (25% or less than your income). If yes, tell us why. If not, what are some things that would need to change?
How accessible is the area around your housing (or if you are homeless, what things would be important for you about the location of housing)? Can you walk/roll to stores in your community? How far is it to accessible (for you) transit? Are there leisure and barrier-free (including cost) recreation and social activities near you?
What does housing justice mean to you? What things do you think are essential to any national program that aims to create housing justice?
Has your current or past housing situation negatively impacted your physical, mental and/or emotional well-being and if so how? Are any of the homes of your friends or family inaccessible to you and if so why?
Canada ratified the UN Convention on the RIghts of Persons with Disabilities. Article 19 recognizes that disabled people have an equal right to live within their communities. But thousands of disabled people are forced into long term care facilities because of the lack of support and care available to them to live in the community. What would you like to say to any or all of the political parties about this?