Defining Adequate Housing

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Housing is a basic need and is internationally recognized as a human right. Housing forms the foundation for our homes, neighbourhoods and communities.

Housing provides shelter, security, a space in which family life can happen and where children grow up and thrive. Yet, for many people, their housing jeopardizes their health and well-being.

The unfit conditions in housing, disproportionately experienced by people living in low income or other marginalizing circumstances negatively affect people’s physical and mental health. Multiple chronic diseases and acute effects, including asthma, respiratory conditions, allergies, chemical sensitivities, as well as cardiovascular disease and its numerous risk factors can be exacerbated or, in some cases caused, by poverty, stress, and living in unhealthy conditions.

Our Community Voices  are featured in a recent series of Rentsafe videos:

Defining Adequate 

My Voice is Power

Stigma in the System

Towards Healthy Homes for All: RentSafe Summary and Recommendations April 2018, summarizes the research over the past 3 years and offers recommendations for action to improve intersectoral action and capacity to ensure healthy housing conditions


As a doctor, I know too well why the minimum wage needs to rise

Gary Bloch is a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a founding member of Health Providers Against Poverty, and an expert advisor with

Almost half a million people, representing 9% of Ontario’s workforce, earn minimum wage that has been frozen at $10.25 per hour for four years.

A recent report by the Canadian Medical Association concluded that poverty is the biggest barrier to good health. 

Individuals at the bottom of the income spectrum experience significantly higher rates of disease and premature mortality than those with higher incomes.

Health Providers Against Poverty held a press conference  on January 14th to ask Premier Kathleen Wynne to raise minimum wage to a minimum of $14 per hour. This is the latest in a province-wide campaign to raise the minimum wage.

GARY BLOCH writes in  The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Jan. 27 2014, 8:24 AM EST

At some point during almost every day in my office, I feel frustrated and powerless. At that moment, I find myself standing with my patient on the edge of a chasm: ill health lies in the crevice below, good health lies on the other side. And we cannot, between us, build the bridge to get across. We know what that bridge looks like, but we do not have the materials to build it.

I have stood at that edge with Fatima, a single mother with two kids in school, who works at Tim Horton’s full time, for minimum wage, at $10.25 an hour. She suffers from low back pain and arthritis. She can barely pay her rent. She has no time to see a chiropractor, to exercise. She can’t afford medications to treat her pain. She often has trouble feeding her family at the end of the month, and eats less herself to make sure her kids get enough.

What she needs to build her bridge is clear: a higher income. She could build it if the minimum wage was set to bring her over the poverty line. That she has to live in this way with a full-time job, in a wealthy country, is a tragedy. That we set our minimum wage to benefit companies’ bottom lines, and not to ensure low-wage workers are able to stay healthy, and to afford the basics of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities, is both a tragedy and a public health travesty.

The health evidence is clear: Fatima and her children are at extremely high risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and mental illness, all due to their inadequate income. I cannot prescribe drugs to alleviate that risk.

People such as Fatima who live at low income live shorter lives, with more disability. Their work is more precarious, and they tend to have worse working conditions, that place them at higher risk of illness and injury.

And this is where our elected officials can act like doctors, by bringing an evidence-based approach to improving health and wellbeing to the forefront of their decision-making. In societies with less poverty, and with less inequality, the evidence shows that everyone is healthier, even the well off. Our governments can continue to legislate poverty and ill health, or they can build legislative bridges to a healthier life for everyone.

These bridges are made of policies that ensure a liveable income for everyone in Canada, including a minimum wage that brings workers above the poverty line and social-assistance rates that enable people to pay the rent and eat a basic healthy diet. They are also made of policies that allow people to participate in society and protect their health, such as affordable childcare and universal pharmacare.

And this approach makes economic sense: a 2008 study by the Ontario Association of Food Banks estimated poverty adds over $7 billion to Canadian health-care costs every year. The overall cost of poverty in Canada, to the public and private spheres, is estimated at up to $85 billion per year. Analysts have demonstrated that programs to alleviate poverty can pay for themselves through, for example, increased tax revenues, reduced health costs, lower crime and increased productivity.

Policies that pay for themselves, increase economic output and improve health? These are the prescriptions I’d like to see written. And these are the bridges my patients need built.

Gary Bloch is a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a founding member of Health Providers Against Poverty, and an expert advisor with

Poverty is a Health Issue: What to look for in the next Poverty Reduction Strategy

September 24, 2013 by 

Living on a low income affects people’s lives in many ways. It can mean having fewer opportunities to fully participate in important day-to-day activities like work and education. But living on a low income can also contribute to having poorer health than those who are better off. Poverty is a health issue, but poverty and poor health are not inevitable.

Ontario is currently working on a new five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy. This provides an excellent opportunity for the province to set out their concrete steps to reduce poverty in the short- and medium-term. A new Wellesley Institute report details how the province can improve the health of all Ontarians by reducing poverty. This is the first in a series of three blogs that set out how to create a Poverty Reduction Strategy that enables good health for all.

Income security

Ensuring that all Ontarians have adequate income is critical to achieving the Poverty Reduction Strategy’s goals. Employment should be a path out of poverty, but we know that many employed Ontarians are unable to afford basic necessities and that this can have negative health impacts.

One area that needs urgent attention is Ontario’s minimum wage. The minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 since 2010 and there are a growing number of Ontarians who are ‘working poor’. Working poverty can have serious health impacts: Ontario data show that 66 percent of people who were working and made sufficient incomes reported their health as excellent or very good as compared with 49 percent of those who were working poor. Setting the minimum wage at 10 percent above the poverty line and indexing it to inflation will be good for the health of Ontarians.

The Ontario Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum terms and conditions that all employees can expect with regard to wages and other working conditions. These standards are important to all workers, but they are especially so for marginalized workers who are least able to negotiate fair wages and working conditions for themselves. Ensuring that people get paid for the work that they do, and that their pay is in compliance with the law is an effective way to reduce poverty. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to improving enforcement and modernizing the Employment Standards Act.

Increasingly, Ontarians are finding themselves in low-wage work without security or benefits. Precarious forms of employment – like part-time, contract positions that do not offer benefits – are on the rise. Many of these jobs are in the service sector where it is very difficult for employees to choose to unionize and to keep their union once they have decided to join one. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act needs to be updated to reflect the changing structure of the labour market. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should update the Labour Relations Act to protect workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy also needs to address the adequacy of social assistance rates. Social assistance rates are currently set at levels that are too low for recipients to maintain good health. Last year, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario recommended the creation of a Basic Measure of Adequacy that included the cost of food, clothing and footwear, basic personal and household needs, transportation, and shelter. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to ensuring that social assistance rates are set at a level that allows recipients to afford these basic necessities of life.

These are four areas of action in which policy solutions to improve income security are well-know, actionable and supported by research. The new Poverty Reduction Strategy should take action in these areas to improve the incomes – and health – of all Ontarians.