Financialization of Housing and Gender Justice: WNHHN at the National Housing Council’s Review Panel

October 30, 2023

Last week, WNHHN team members Kaitlin Schwan and Khulud Baig participated in a historic human rights hearing on the financialization of housing in Canada, hosted by the National Housing Council. Their comments highlighted how financial actors are targeting the most vulnerable members of society to generate profit, including marginalized women and gender-diverse people who are being disproportionately harmed. WNHHN’s deputation also highlighted how financialization amplifies violence against marginalized women and gender-diverse individuals, violating the right to live free from violence. 

Check out WNHHN’s oral deputation here:

WNHHN Deputation at NHC Review Panel on Financialization

Thank you Mr. Watts, Ms.Roy, and Dr. McAfee for inviting the Women’s National Housing & Homelessness Network to speak today – it’s an honour to be here.

We want to emphasize two key messages in our deputation today:

1. First, the financialization of rental housing is a substantive equality issue.

As you well know, the financialization of rental housing does not affect all groups equally.

We know that financial actors are targeting housing that is occupied by low-income and marginalized groups in Canada, including racialized, Indigenous, and newcomer women-led families. These housesholds are poorer, live in unsafe and insecure housing, experience housing discrimination, and struggle tremendously to compete in the housing market. It is households in greatest need that financial actors target to generate profit.

What I want to emphasize to the Review Panel today is that the disproportionate impact of financialization on marginalized groups is a matter of equality rights, and any remedies offered by the Review Panel must address the equality issues that financialization raises.

In crafting your arguments, I would encourage the Panel to rely on both international and national law which guarantees substantive equality as an immediate obligation – including CEDAW, UNDRIP, and the CRC – as well as human rights standards that affirm the equal enjoyment of rights for women, girls, and gender-diverse people.

Financial actors may try to persuade you there is no discriminatory intent underpinning the targeting of particular households and communities for renovictions or demovictions.

Even if that were true, international human rights law requires that governments address both direct and de facto forms of discrimination. This means governments must revise policies or practices which appear neutral at face value, but have a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing.

I would strongly encourage the Review Panel to understand the financialization of rental housing as discriminatory under human rights law, and to leverage equality rights standards in your arguments and remedies.

2. Secondly, I want to emphasize that the financialization of rental housing creates the conditions for increased violence against marginalized women and gender-diverse persons. And that this violates our right to live free from of all forms of violence.

It must be understood that the financialization of housing – and the upward pressure it puts on rents – creates the conditions for increased violence against marginalized women and gender-diverse persons.

As financial actors remove affordable housing from the market, poverty deepens and housing options narrow for marginalized women and gender-diverse people. The result is that many of us have fewer choices and less power in our housing decisions.

This does not go unnoticed by abusive partners, violent family members, exploitative landlords, and predatory men on Craigslist.

Every day we hear from women and gender-diverse people whose experiences of violence and exploitation are directly linked to the removal of affordable housing by financial actors:

  • We hear about women who spend decades in abusive relationships with their children because there is no affordable rental housing.
  • We hear about women and gender-diverse people who lose their children to child welfare systems and are unable to re-unite with their families because they can’t find appropriate affordable housing.
  • We hear about women who lose their housing due to renovictions and spend years in homelessness, with many experiencing violence weekly on the streets.

These horrific realities violate women and gender-diverse people’s right to live free from violence, and we do not accept that financial actors have no responsibility for creating the conditions for this violence.

I also want to emphasize that the financialization of purpose-built rental housing is occurring on stolen Indigenous land, and that we are providing public dollars to companies who are evicting Indigenous women and gender-diverse people on their own homelands.

Financialization positions governments as primarily accountable to investors, rather than Indigenous Peoples and the marginalized women and gender-diverse people I am speaking about. We are counting on the Review Panel to re-centre rights-holders as the primary people to whom governments are accountable.

This will require pushing the jurisdictional boundaries we currently operate within, and adopting a rights-based, whole-of-government approach. There are areas within which we need to see more leadership from the federal government in articulating national standards and stipulating accountability through existing bilateral agreements. We would encourage the Review Panel to be bold in emphasizing areas where and how stronger federal leadership is needed – particularly in areas of tenant protections, eviction prevention, and access to justice.

Financial actors across Canada are creating increasingly unlivable housing situations for women and gender-diverse people, particularly those who are multiply-marginalized. We hope that this Review Panel will create accountability and a path to housing justice for those who are having their human rights violated in our current housing system.

To learn more about the ongoing review panel on the financialization of housing, visit the National Right to Housing Network’s website.

Reminder: Something Historic is on the Horizon.

In the coming months, the National Housing Council will also be establishing a human rights review panel focused on the Government of Canada’s failure to prevent and end homelessness for women and gender-diverse people.

This review will be the first gender-focused review of its kind in Canadian history, and we want to make sure your voice is included.

Check out our blog to learn more about this upcoming process and how you can get involved!