Canada: Charter Challenge to Create Public Housing

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Canada: Charter Challenge to Create Public Housing
By: Kirk Makin, Globe and Mail (Toronto)
26 May 2010
 

Struggling to stay in school, the 19-year-old mother of two children plows most of her child welfare benefits and student assistance loan into a $998 per month tenement apartment in Toronto`s Jane-Finch neighbourhood. Meanwhile, she is mired at the bottom of a 10-year wait list for public housing.

Ms. Tanudjaja`s plight lies at the heart of a Charter of Rights challenge being filed on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade the judiciary to force governments to create low-cost public housing.

A coalition of social welfare groups that is launching the challenge seeks to compel the federal and Ontario governments to provide affordable housing for those who are homeless or impoverished by the cost of putting a roof over their heads.

One of the case histories the coalition is furnishing is that of Ms. Tanudjaja, a social work student who aims to be a probation officer. Just 13 years old when her mother handed her over to child welfare authorities, Ms. Tanudjaja ran away from a group home at 15 and then spent more than a year "couch-surfing" from one friend`s home to another.

Now, she can barely eke out her rent cheque after paying for food and public transit to college. "It is honestly not worth what I`m paying at all," Ms. Tanjudjaja said. "There are bedbugs and tiles popping out of my walls, and my pipes leak really bad."

The legal challenge harks back to the early, heady days when activists saw the Charter as a sweeping document that could induce reluctant governments to spend money on social programs.

Tracy Heffernan, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, conceded that judges have become wary of poking their noses into expenditures of public money.

"But 25 years after we got the Charter, it is time to bring it back to the people," she said. "To allow this crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing to expand and grow and further deepen that crisis is not a good thing for the country."

The challenge is rooted in the Charter right to equality and to life, liberty and security. A legal brief prepared by Ms. Heffernan and lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Fay Faraday notes that the federal government once played a dominant role in providing public housing. They said that it later pushed public housing onto the provinces, which off-loaded it to municipalities, which lack the tax base to shoulder it.

The brief alleges that homelessness reduces

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