March 13, 2023
Latonya is an Urban Innovation graduate from the University of Toronto, with a degree in Political Science and a Certificate in Global Perspectives. She is passionate about using innovation in urban policies to make cities more equitable and socially sustainable. Latonya’s love for urban policy, international politics and social sustainability led her to her previous role as a policy research intern at the Maytree Foundation where she primarily focused on local human rights accountability mechanisms of human rights cities in North America and abroad. Currently, Latonya is the Canada Project Manager at the Shift where she works with municipal leaders and staff to operationalize the National Housing Strategy Act at the local level. In this role, Latonya works alongside public officials to provide resources, tools, research and recommendations to help create rights-based solutions to local housing challenges and also works alongside her team members to conduct capacity-building sessions on the right to housing. Latonya also helps convene a municipal working group on the right to housing with municipal leaders from cities across Canada.
What led you to pursue your Masters degree in Urban Innovation?
During the last year of my undergraduate degree, I took a course in urban policy with Professor Gabriel Eidelman. I was majoring in political science but most of my studies focused on international and domestic level politics, so when I finally got introduced to municipal policy and specifically housing policy I fell in love. Fortunately, Professor Eidelman was teaching a course in the MUI program, so the Program Coordinator came to my class to speak about the program. I was unsure about what I wanted to do after I graduated but taking that urban policy course got me excited about learning how to create more socially sustainable cities; the MUI program presented me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the field of municipal policy, urban economic development, and urban social sustainability. In essence, it felt like the perfect match.
You are a graduate of the Inaugural MUI class. What was it like to be a part of such a young, fresh program?
It was an amazing experience. When the program started, we were well into the COVID-19 pandemic, so we quickly realized that our two-year graduate experience would likely be virtual. But the fact that it was virtual did not stop our class from bonding. Though we came from different backgrounds and academic fields, the fact that we were all entering this brand new program helped us stick together and support each other. Our experience was unique but that’s also what made it so special; we were a small class of just eight students, but I think that made the experience even better. I am extremely grateful for my wonderful classmates and professors- I learned a great deal from them in just two years, and I am also grateful for the overall experience because although it was tough at times, it forced me to push myself, to be bolder, and to not to be fixated on whether I was smart enough because what I lacked in knowledge I could make up for with hard work, diligence and consistency. I had a passion for housing when I started the program and during my studies I had the opportunity to dive deeper into housing policy. I knew that once I graduated I wanted to have a career that centered on effective housing policies for sustainable and inclusive cities. Because of the knowledge gained and connections made through the MUI program, I am now able to live out that career dream.
Tell us about The Shift. What do you love most about your role there?
What I love most about my role is that I always have the opportunity to learn. I am working with a team made up of highly qualified experts that specialize in international human rights law, climate change science and solutions, the financialization of housing, international relations, public policy and more, which means that I am gaining knowledge in fields that I never imagined I would have the chance to learn about. I also love that I am pushed outside of my comfort zone; every new task and project is a step up from the previous one and not only do I get to be in rooms with experts, public officials, and advocates that have been in the housing space for decades, I get to have a voice at the table.
What is the most important thing that people should know about the housing crisis?
I think that the most important thing for people to know is that the housing crisis needs to be understood as a human rights crisis. For so long we have made this an issue of supply, and so the solution has been to build more housing to meet the growing housing demand. Yet, regardless of how much we build, affordability remains a huge concern, as does habitability, security of tenure, and accessibility. This begs the question, is this a supply issue or a right supply issue? Housing is a human right, and is enshrined in international human rights treaties like the ICESCR (ratified by Canada in 1976) and more recently in domestic legislation like Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act (2017) which recognizes the right to housing and commits all orders of government to progressively realize this human right. So, we recognize that housing is key to peace, security, and dignity, yet we continue to treat housing as a commodity rather than a social good and a human right, and because of that decision we have people all across the country who are either struggling to keep a roof over their head or are sleeping rough outside in below freezing temperatures. Housing is either a human right or a means to drive wealth, but it cannot be both.
If you could travel to one place in the world, where would it be and why?
I would love to travel to Finland. I have had the opportunity to study the country’s Housing First policy and I want to see it in action. It's remarkable that Finland is moving towards effectively eliminating homelessness by 2027- it's inspiring and I want to understand the mechanics behind it. I would love to meet with the policymakers, speak with the activists, advocates, and outreach workers and those with lived expertise that have gone through the housing first program because reading about the policy is one thing but getting to see and experience it first-hand would be amazing. .