Case Synopsis

The Health Justice Initiative medical-legal partnership serves clients experiencing human rights violations, especially related to housing. Through the provision of legal services, education, and systemic advocacy, it aims to improve clients’ care, health, and wellbeing. The current case revolves around a client and her many health struggles, amplified by her unliveable Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) unit. Like many TCHC units, it is in extreme disrepair and unlikely to change due to TCHC’s funding shortage. The client is physically unable to take the stairs to her apartment due to a heart condition and mentally unable to take the elevator due to anxiety. It is necessary to transfer her to a low-rise building imminently, as her mental and physical health is deteriorating in her current situation. In efforts to restore the situation, a family physician refers the client to the Health Justice Initiative to explore the legal remedies available and to learn how the health team and legal team will work together to mitigate the situation. By applying knowledge of the social determinants of health, human rights, and housing law, a solution can be established to improve the client’s health.

Case Objectives

  1. Discuss the importance of housing as a social determinant of health and create definitions for adequate, accessible, and affordable housing.
  2. Identify advocacy and policy windows to create change in the TCHC housing crisis.
  3. Understand the usability of international housing law and the Human Rights Code to develop a human rights argument for TCHC tenant cases.
  4. Understand the implications of international human rights treaties on Canadian federal legislation and the Canadian Charter in relation to housing and human rights.
  5. Discuss the roles of a medical-legal partnership in public health and what other stakeholders are necessary to partner with in health and housing.

Case Study Questions

  1. Why is housing important to health? What are implications of poor social housing conditions?
  2. Can economic, social, and cultural rights be litigated in court for housing policy? How do international and national treaties bind their parties?
  3. Why is a national housing strategy important?
  4. Develop a list of stakeholders necessary to create adequate, accessible, and affordable housing.
  5. Brainstorm the ways in which housing policy and public health policy could be linked.
  6. How can a medical-legal partnership leverage health-related policies?


human rights, housing rights, social determinants of health, social housing, law

Additional Author Information

Amanda Steger, BScH, MPH

Johanna Macdonald, BA, LLB, LLM, formerly Onsite Lawyer, Health Justice Initiative

Amardeep Thind, MD, PhD, Professor



Recommended Citation

Steger, A., Macdonald, J., Thind, A. (2018). Housing and Health: A Human Rights Approach to Wellbeing. in: McKinley, G. & Sibbald, S.L. [eds] Western Public Health Casebook 2018. London, ON: Public Health Casebook Publishing.