Tag Archives: Disability

apartment building

Eviction Prevention for Seniors Initiative – Ways to Participate

Did you know that the number of homeless seniors in Toronto doubled between 2009 and 2013? And that at least 10% of the homeless population of Toronto are older adults?

CERA is working with seniors across the GTA to identify eviction prevention strategies that work for them. We need to hear from senior tenants and their service providers. Join the conversation!

Upcoming Round-Table Sessions & Ways to Participate:

For Senior and Older Adult Tenants:

Round Tables will include a free lunch for participants, and TTC tickets will be provided. Spaces is limited. Please RSVP to 416-944-0087 Ext 3. Please let us know of any accommodations or translation needs in advance.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016  from 1:00-3:00 pm at Bathurst & Finch Hub, 540 Finch Ave West

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 from 9:30-11:30am at the Newmarket Seniors Meeting Place, Hall #1, 474 Davis Drive

Can’t attend a roundtable? You can share your story and thoughts in a variety of ways – fill out a tenant survey online or print a copy to mail in or contact us directly.

For Service Providers & Workers:

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 from 9:00am-11:30am at CSI Spadina, 215 Spadina Ave, 4th Floor. Light breakfast will be served.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016 from 9:30am-12:00pm at Bathurst & Finch Hub, 540 Finch Ave West.  Light breakfast will be served.

Can’t attend a roundtable? We are also seeking  feedback from service providers – please take five minutes to fill out our survey for service provideror stay tuned for opportunities to join the conversation online.

*Please RSVP to katie@equalityrights.org  or 416-944-0087 ext 3 or by Eventbrite.

*This page will be updated as additional sessions are scheduled

 

 

OTFHORIZcolour

Project Update

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde

In 2012, CERA worked with local partners in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Windsor to identify emerging priorities and experiences with housing discrimination. The following arose as key priorities:

• Aging and related changing needs
• Fleeing domestic violence
• Being new to Canada
• Being a visible minority
• Being Inuit, First Nations or Metis
• Having mental health issues

This spring, CERA is excited to be rolling out housing rights workshops targeting these locally identified issues in communities across Ontario. With the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, in the coming weeks we will be re-visiting six communities outside Toronto to work with residents and service providers on identifying and responding to discrimination in rental housing. Our goal is to address these overlapping challenges in locally responsive ways, building capacity among front-line workers and residents to combat discriminatory barriers in housing.

Workshops have already started here in Toronto, where we are partnering with VAW shelters and related programs to work with women who have faced or are fleeing domestic violence.

This round of workshops will inform toolkits for tenants and housing seekers who are facing discrimination by landlords, as well as myth-busting tools for landlords. We’ll be sharing these tools early this summer. Stay tuned for updates!

If you are interested in learning more or finding out if an upcoming workshop in your area is a good fit for you, please contact us at 1-800-263-1139 Ext 3.

We look forward to rolling out these workshops with our local partners, including:

Age Friendly London Network
CMHA Sudbury Manitoulin
Housing Help Hamilton
Kinnewaya Legal Clinic
Voices Against Poverty
and numerous shelters and drop-ins in Ottawa and Toronto

Helping Hoarders

Here at the Eviction Prevention desk we know the hardest cases involve hoarders.  But we didn’t know just how hard they can be.  Two recent cases have shown us the limits of our small organization when it comes to helping combat a very large problem.

In both instances, the clients were long-term tenants of subsidized units.  They were in their mid-50s, with significant mental health issues.  The state of their apartments was almost unlivable.  Their landlords, however, were very accommodating and gave CERA ample time to work with our clients.  We spent months building rapport, discussing options, connecting to other support services.  We really felt we could help our clients clean up their apartments and prevent eviction.

We failed.

Why?  The mind of a hoarder is strange terrain.  Unlike tenants facing arrears, the hoarder often does not see the scope of their problem; even when faced with eviction, they will deny a need to change.  CERA staff were overwhelmed.  We spoke daily with clients, but also tried to co-ordinate property managers, lawyers, extreme cleaners and occupational therapists.  In the end we failed primarily because of our clients’ resistance, but it also became clear that only a more fully-organized response would help the most extreme clients.  What we need is a multi-disciplinary team armed with a consistent city-wide plan that encompasses all aspects of the hoarder’s problem, from initial resistance to possible relapse.  Perhaps this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, especially in the current political climate, but a small initial investment in capital and ideas could payoff big time for tenants, landlords and city services alike.

Trying to find environmentally safe housing

These are the experiences of one of our clients, Jane, who lives with environmental sensitivities and has been struggling to find safe housing.

If you are one of the few Ontarians that doesn’t have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) or doesn’t have a relative, a friend, a co-worker, who has MCS then please read on. If you are one of the more than a quarter of a million Ontarians who have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (217,000 in 2005, Statistics Canada), also known as Environmental Sensitivities (ES), a human rights disability, then you know how desperately important healthy, safe housing is to improving your health, to making life livable.

I had no idea that when I started experiencing increasing migraines, sudden weight gain, rashes, coughing, IBS, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and other symptoms at work, that I was developing MCS/ES. Very small amounts of chemicals found in fabric softener, air freshener, perfume, scented personal care products, detergents, pesticides and more, were toxic to my body — chemically injuring the organs of my body. At first, I would be fine when I returned home, but over many months, the exposures to chemicals caused chronic MCS/ES and my home was no longer safe. I needed, what is known in human rights as ’a scent-free/chemical avoidance’ environment. And so I began the search for safe housing.

My first attempt was completely unsuccessful, mainly because it takes a great deal of research to know what is safe and what is not safe. I can tell you now that living near ‘brownfield’ remediation is not safe, living near a major street or highway is not safe; neighbours using fabric softener, detergents like Tide or Gain and venting these chemicals out of hot dryers; pesticide use in the neighbourhood, industry, rail lines and gas stations nearby; and the list goes on. Also, the house, itself, was not safe. Air freshener residue is very hard, if not impossible, to remove; products such as laminate and carpets ‘off-gas’; mold can make life impossible; and, again, the list goes on.

My last attempt at safe housing seemed to be almost perfect: wood floors, no scented products used for cleaning, radiant heat, no laundry exhaust near my unit from neighbours, no industry, and lots of trees. However, I had forgotten the most important thing of all: “For people with environmental sensitivities, their health . . . rests with the actions of others. . . .” [Canadian Human Rights Commission, The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities, 2007] When I asked for accommodation for my disability, some residents were very co-operative, but some were not — there was discrimination, reprisals, threats, and lots of chemical injury (e.g. cologne worn in the hallway by those who never used it before; cleaning the carpets in the halls chemically instead of using steam cleaning; cleaning common areas with ‘green’ scented products instead of the vinegar and water used before; running a truck motor under my window).

I foolishly assumed that people would understand that the environment is healthier for everyone when it is chemical-free: better for those with asthma, cancer, and respiratory disease; better for babies and children (studies show that the use of air fresheners causes new moms to be more depressed and babies to have stomach and other problems), the frail, the elderly.

I shared information available on MCS/ES, toxic chemicals, safe products: CERA (Multi-unit buildings and accommodating MCS), Canadian Human Rights Commission (policy and two papers on ES), The Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org on product safety, www.lesstoxicguide.ca on products, and many more. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recognizes MCS/ES as a non-evident disability. And The Standards for Customer Service, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, provides for accessibility for all disabilities in buildings with at least one employee, starting January 2012.

However, knowing you have a right to accessibility is very different from being able to get that accessibility, especially when you are dependent on people‘s good will and you have no guarantee that the future will not bring new chemical injuries. After many months of sharing information on MCS/ES, letter writing, record keeping (very important!), taking legal action, it became evident that this was going to be an on-going struggle in a ‘toxic’ environment, both chemical and emotional.

I will be moving once again, hopefully to a kinder, safer environment. And this is the struggle for most people disabled with ES/MCS: finding a safe oasis from a ‘chemically charged‘ world and finding understanding. Attitudes will change over time, just as they changed in relation to cigarettes and smoking. When people realize that they or their loved ones are suffering unnecessarily from chemical exposures, they change. Of course, that doesn’t help the thousands of people with MCS/ES that need healthy housing today — but, if each of us does our part to use only safe products, to spread the word about MCS/ES, to make our homes healthy indoor spaces with good air quality, then our environment, our homes, can become safer for those with MCS/ES, safer for all.

Searching for Barrier-Free Housing

Many of CERA’s clients have mobility impairments and other disabilities that make it very difficult to access and retain affordable, appropriate housing. Here’s an excellent description of one couple’s struggle to find barrier-free housing in Toronto:

There are several landmark events in the life of a young couple. The first knowing glance across the table, the first date, the first kiss… the list goes on.  As the relationship progresses, these landmarks have a tendency to progress in magnitude. One of the most exciting ones for any young couple, it could be argued, is the search for the first apartment together. It is the quest to find that nice little haven where cohabitation can flourish. But what happens when that search comes up empty? What happens when that apartment does not exist? This is the situation that I currently find myself in. And as has become my recent custom whenever anything in my life needs a good rant, I decided to write about it.

Let’s get the parameters of the story out of the way. My name is Tim Rose and I am a 25 year old Canadian student doing my post-graduate degree in law and human rights at the University of Nottingham in the UK. I also have a severe physical disability, cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia if you want to get technical. I spend almost every waking hour confined to a very heavy and equally as expensive power wheelchair. I also, through some twist of luck, have a girlfriend who is able bodied (not that this should matter but it bears some relevance on the story) and currently finishing her masters degree in Occupational Therapy in Canada. Her name is Natalie. We plan on living together upon my return to Canada in August. Now that we have those parameters out of the way, comes the challenge. There is nowhere for us to live.

It’s not that we don’t have money. In fact, we have enough saved up between the two of us to survive (at least for a while) while paying a reasonable rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto. We would be quite happy to do that. The issues arise in the form of the 500 pound beast which I sit in for 16 hours a day, and all of the joys that go along with that. We have been searching for this elusive mirage of an apartment for the last couple of months, asking for the very modest following considerations: a two-bedroom apartment, where we can feel safe and where I can shower (i.e. accessible roll in shower required). These are seemingly impossible demands to fill, as no such place exists without an accompanying waiting list of at least two years. That’s right, individuals with disabilities and their partners are expected to have their lives planned out two years in advance. I’m not saying that I am the picture of spontaneity, but come on!

We have scoured high and low, fired off e-mails left right and center and asked for help, wherever we could think to do so. I am not for a second saying that we do not appreciate the assistance that we have been given, as there have been people who have gone to great lengths to lend a hand in our search, but just that the results have not been promising. Over 2+ months of searching, and we have found one building with a decent sized waiting list, an inflatable roll in shower that could be assembled in a living room or closet, and a suggestion from a couple of sources that I could, in a pinch, go and shower at the local gym or YMCA.

It is true that the “right to shower” is not one enshrined in any international legal document. But, the right to live free of discrimination based on disability has been enshrined in many international and domestic legal documents, including the Canadian ones. And so it is with the greatest of ease that I brand the fight which Natalie and I currently find ourselves in, a definite “human rights” battle.

What we have in this situation is a blatant failure of the legendary Canadian social safety net, which may see an upper-middle-class postgraduate degree holder made homeless by a lack of options. Begging to try and get myself into a facilitated living system, thereby forfeiting my right to live with whom I wish, is not an option that I am considering. What I am considering is working to shed light on the fact that housing options for individuals with disabilities in Ontario suck. It is not only severely limiting of my independence (which interestingly enough, is now directly encased in international law through the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) but also on the independence of my girlfriend. The bottom line is that Natalie and I want to live together, and are not going to stop fighting until a suitable solution is presented to us.

We are not asking for anything specific via this article. Its purpose was to inform you of a situation that is ongoing, and to bring attention to this sad state of accessible housing in Canada and around the world. This issue goes beyond Natalie and I, it speaks to the fundamental freedoms, which in the year 2011, should be granted without problem. It speaks to a continued struggle for individuals with disabilities to have to fight every step of the way in a country that is celebrated for its human rights record. We are pissed off, and want to tell you about it!

After all, what else is a guy to do when he’s all dressed up with no place to go??

Smoking and the Human Rights Code

From a human rights perspective, smoking in apartment buildings can be very challenging.

Ideally, the fact that a resident smokes in his/her unit should not have any bearing on the health and quality of life of another resident. But it does. Buildings and apartments leak, ventilation systems don’t work as well as they should, and second-hand smoke regularly moves from one apartment to another. CERA has many clients with asthma, environmental sensitivities and other conditions who are being made ill because of smoke coming from other apartments.

Where a resident has a health condition that is being made worse by second-hand smoke, landlords and/or property managers will have to take steps address the problem. These can include ensuring that corridors are properly pressurized so that smell and fumes from apartments do not enter hallways, sealing any openings in the resident’s unit (such as openings from plumbing, electrical outlets, fans, etc.), and ensuring that kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans are working properly. Unfortunately, this is often not enough.

If steps to eliminate the transfer of second-hand smoke fail, can a landlord request that the resident stop smoking in his/her unit? What are the smoker’s rights?

In all likelihood, smokers’ rights are protected to some degree under the Human Rights Code. Strong arguments can be made that addiction to nicotine is a disability protected by the Code and, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission states in its Policy on Human Rights in Rental Housing, some people smoke to control the symptoms of other medical conditions. The Commission’s policy also notes that people with mental illness are disproportionately likely to be smokers.

However, even if smoking is considered a disability and associated with other Code-protected characteristics, such as mental illness, landlords are only obligated to accommodate smokers if it is safe to do so. If a resident who is smoking is making other tenants ill, the landlord could argue it would be an unreasonable health risk to permit the resident to continue smoking in his/her unit (assuming the landlord has already taken appropriate steps to minimize the transfer of second-hand smoke between units).

What about smoke-free apartment buildings? This is more problematic. In our view, an all-out smoking ban – which could significantly limit the housing options of people with this addiction – would have serious human rights implications. And unlike the example above, it would be difficult for a landlord to demonstrate that it is an unreasonable health or safety risk to permit residents to smoke anywhere in the building.

Is there a way to balance the rights of smoking and non-smoking tenants other than on an individual, case-by-case basis? One option worth considering would be to have a separately ventilated common-room for people who smoke. This could address the problem of second-hand smoke migrating from unit to unit, while maintaining the housing options of individuals who smoke.

Balancing the sometimes competing rights of individuals can be challenging – but it’s not impossible.

Further Reading:

NIMBY 101

In 2007, the City of Toronto approved the development of a 29 unit apartment building.

This was an as-of-right proposal – no re-zoning was required. No public consultations should have been required. The project met all municipal planning requirements. The approval process should have been relatively simple, right? Nope.

The problem, it seemed, was who was going to live there. The 29 units would be rented to low income individuals living with mental illness.

Some residents didn’t want people with mental illness moving into their neighbourhood. At a city meeting, they asked questions such as, “What kind of illnesses do these people have? What safety measures have been put in place?” The residents urged the city to delay approving the development so there could be more consultation with community members.

A term for this is “people zoning”. The other is discrimination.

People living with mental illness have the right to live wherever they want – and Canadian laws protect this right. Residents cannot decide who can and cannot live in their neighbourhood. Otherwise we have, as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission said in a letter to the Toronto Star on this issue, “the tyranny of the majority.”

Fortunately the City of Toronto recognized this and allowed the development to proceed.

In its comments on the decision, the HomeComing Community Choice Coalition – a group that advocates for the provision of supportive housing for people with mental illness – stated:

In making this decision City Council took a principled stand for human rights. Many councillors said emphatically that people do not get to choose their neighbours. Several councillors made specific references to the human right of people to live in communities of their choice without discrimination on the basis of disability. Others spoke of their own experiences where neighbours were initially concerned and yet, after the housing was complete, there have been no issues. Several councillors spoke of their past, positive experiences with the private developer Mahogany Investments/Alternative Living Solutions and with Houselink, who will be providing support services.

Three years later, the building is ready for occupancy.

But NIMBY continues. On the hoarding around the building there is graffiti calling the local councillor who supported the development a “traitor.” A candidate in the upcoming municipal election sent around a flyer saying that residents have a right to be angry about the supportive housing development in their neighbourhood, that they were not given a fair opportunity to express their concerns.

And which concerns were these? – their concerns about having to live near low income people with mental illnesses.

Congratulations to the City for doing the right thing and standing up for human rights.

For more information on NIMBY, check out the website of the HomeComing Community Choice Coalition.

Housing as a Medical Necessity

Housing and health are clearly linked. Nowhere is this connection more evident than for people with environmental sensitivities.

People living with environmental sensitivities (sometimes called multiple chemical sensitivities or environmental illness) can be made severely ill by the presence of very low levels of pollutants in their homes. It could be the smell from an air freshener or scented cleaning product, off-gassing paint, dust from the carpet, mold, or the smell that comes off of new cabinetry. Most of us don’t realize it, but our homes are filled with pollutants that contaminate the air we breathe.

For people living with extreme environmental sensitivities, having appropriate, “healthy” housing can mean the difference between being able to live an independent, full life, and being totally disabled.

For the past few years, CERA has been working with landlord and property managers to address the needs of tenants with environmental sensitivities and improve the air quality in apartment buildings. While this is important work that could improve the housing conditions of tens of thousands of tenants, the reality is that our efforts will never reach those with the most severe sensitivities.

People with extreme environmental sensitivities will not be able to live healthy lives in apartment buildings – there are just too many environmental variables that they cannot control.

So what can these people do?  If they have enough money, they may be able to find or make a healthy home. If they don’t – and people with severe sensitivities are often unable to work and are isolated from other supports – housing options are usually limited to the rental sector. And within this sector, a large proportion of the housing will be in apartment buildings. That means, for many of these people there are NO housing options – they will be homeless.

These people need safe housing. It is medically necessary. However, there are very few affordable homes in Canada that have been designed specifically for people with environmental sensitivities. Safe Housing Ottawa has been struggling for a number of years to build an environmentally safe housing development, but they’re not there yet.

And I don’t know of any public funds that will assist these folks to make or retrofit a home so that they can live healthy, full lives.

Governments at all levels need to recognize this glaring failure of housing, social and health policy – and fix it!