During the COVID-19 pandemic, housing has quickly become the frontline of defence against the spread of the virus. But for precariously housed or homeless people, the request to “stay home” is an impossibility.
Leilani Farha, global director of The Shift, an international movement to secure the right to housing, and former UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, believes the housing crisis, alongside the climate crisis, are the most pressing issues facing society today.
“COVID-19 has laid bare the cracks in Canada’s social and economic systems,” said Farha. “It has amplified the housing crisis and exposed it as a human rights crisis. Now, more than ever, access to adequate, secure and affordable housing is a matter of life and death.”
At the virtual Engaged Citizens Speaker Series on Oct. 14, she will outline the nature of the crisis, including in the context of COVID-19, and expand on appropriate government responses, particularly city governments.
Her presentation will be followed by a live Q&A session featuring special guests:
Dr. Pam Shaw, director of Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Master of Community Planning and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute, as emcee;
Erin Hemmens, Nanaimo city councillor and past co-chair of the Health and Housing Task Force; and
Dr. Michael Lait, VIU post-doctoral researcher and instructor, who is investigating how quality of life and housing situations have been affected by the pandemic.
The Engaged Citizens Speaker Series launched in 2019 with the goal of encouraging “intellectual, engaging and meaningful dialogue about social challenges, opportunities and the community around us while advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” according to VIU.
The Shift was launched in 2017 with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Cities and Local Government and works with multi-level stakeholders around the world including with several city governments in North America and Europe.
Leilani’s work is animated by the principle that housing is a social good, not a commodity. She has helped develop global human rights standards on housing, including through her topical reports on homelessness, the financialization of housing, informal settlements, rights-based housing strategies and the first UN Guidelines for the implementation of the right to housing.
She is the subject of the award-winning documentary PUSH regarding the financialization of housing, directed by the Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten. PUSH is screening around the world and Leilani and Fredrik now co-host a podcast – PUSHBACK Talks – about finance, housing and human rights.