All posts by CERA Staff

PROJECT UPDATE! Facilitating Local Responses to Housing Discrimination

If our recent conversations with hundreds of tenants, housing seekers and professionals in the housing sector are any indication, discrimination in rental housing continues to be serious problem in communities across Ontario.

Public legal education and knowledge sharing are central to ending discrimination in housing, and CERA is grateful for funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation that has taken us to seven communities across Ontario where we have met with hundreds of Ontarians. Recently completed Housing Rights Workshops in Hamilton, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa, London and Windsor targeted local key priorities, and brought residents and community based advocates together to learn about CERA’s approaches to overcoming discriminatory barriers in rental housing.

Unanimously, workshop participants agreed that opportunities to learn about and discuss the Human Rights Code and related housing legislation is necessary, and that communities could benefit from more frequent workshops or local leaders that work to target housing discrimination specifically. We’re excited to start this work in year 2 of the project.

One young mother who joined us for a workshop at a Violence Against Women shelter in Toronto said she was surprised by “the fact that being pregnant cannot be a reason for being denied housing” under the law. A senior tenant who attended a workshop in Ottawa was surprised to learn that landlords cannot refuse to rent to aging tenants because they may need modifications to the unit to accommodate mobility issues. Participants in many regions were surprised to learn landlords should also not deny anyone a rental unit based on family size.

Ontarians have asked for practical resources so that they can take advocacy around housing rights into their own hands. As part of this Ontario Trillium Foundation funded initiative, we are producing a number of user-friendly resources, available soon online and in print. Together, these resources will enable Ontarians to inform themselves, their housing providers, and their communities about their rights under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

• Want to send a clear message to a landlord about discriminatory practices? Use one of these printer-friendly postcards. More postcards are coming soon:

• Want to share information about your housing rights with your friends or family? Our forthcoming tool kit will be available for download on our website soon, or you can request your hard copy by emailing cera@equalityrights.org.

In the meantime, check out our other useful resources.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The second phase of this project, starting this summer, will see us re-connecting with our partners and workshop participants to develop community-led outreach initiatives that will continue to combat housing discrimination in each community.

Thank you to our supporting partners who helped to spread the word about CERA’s work. We look forward to working with you in the year ahead.

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

Special thank you to our funder, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Charter Challenge refused by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear our Right to Housing appeal. After five years of courageous work by the applicants and our lawyers, this decision ensures that the Canadian courts will not hear our Charter challenge to hold the Canadian and Ontarian governments responsible for the crisis in affordable housing and homelessness.

The courts have said that this issue is political rather than legal in nature. If that’s the case, it’s time for the government to step up and develop a National Housing Strategy that properly addresses homelessness and inadequate housing, and protects the most vulnerable members of our community.

Homeless and precariously housed Canadians can’t afford to wait any longer!

Read the press release here

Read the Toronto Star article here.

Northern Housing Rights – Watch the Video!

Northern Housing Rights (NHR) is a legal education, research and capacity-building initiative directed at Métis, First Nations and Inuit (FNMI) people living in Northwestern Ontario, funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario and undertaken by the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and CERA. The objectives of the NHR initiative were to investigate the experiences of housing discrimination among FNMI people in Northwestern Ontario, provide legal education on human rights in housing, produce human rights resources, and provide recommendations to improve access to supports in these communities.

In May and June 2014, CERA and MNO traveled to Northwestern Ontario, holding engagement sessions and legal education workshops in Fort Frances, Dryden, Kenora, Geraldton and Thunder Bay. It was evident from participant responses that housing discrimination directed at FNMI people continues to be prevalent in the region, creating barriers for those attempting to access and retain rental housing.

“Maria’s Story” is a 20 minute educational video produced by CERA and MNO based on the experiences shared by participants in the NHR sessions:

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Northern Housing Rights Project!

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

Bill C-400 and International Women’s Day

Last week, Bill C-400, a private member’s bill that would put in place the essential components of a national housing strategy, was defeated in the House of Commons. Opposition MP’s and dozens of community organizations put their support behind the bill, but every Conservative MP voted against it.

The Federal Government incorrectly referred to the bill as a “national social housing strategy” and estimated its cost at $5.5 billion annually. Bill C-400 was not about social housing, nor did it have any specific costs attached to it. It put in place a framework for the government to develop a national housing strategy in collaboration with all levels of government, affected communities, and civil society groups which would respect Canada’s human rights obligations.

It was about putting our heads together and grappling with the nation-wide affordable housing crisis. This should have been a no-brainer.

How does this relate to International Women’s Day? It is women in Canada who are disproportionately affected by the federal government’s failure to address housing insecurity and homelessness. Women are more likely to be living in poverty and insecure, low paying employment; they frequently experience housing discrimination because of their lower incomes and their role as mothers and caregivers of children; they are subject to harassment in their housing; lack of appropriate housing options can force them to stay in or return to abusive relationships. Every year, approximately three quarters of the people seeking assistance from CERA’s human rights assistance program are women.

Women in Canada deserved to celebrate 2013’s International Women’s Day with a national housing strategy.

Advocates: Bringing the Law to Life

At CERA we do a lot of advocating for our clients. In fact, we rely quite heavily on the power of our one-on-one advocacy to change or influence landlords’ policies, and in doing so to effect real, measurable and timely change in the lives of Ontarians facing discrimination.

When I am on the phone with landlords, choosing the right words to convince them that their policies or practices are discriminatory, I feel that the law, in this case the Human Rights Code, is at its best. To many people, the Code is simply words on paper: a string of words chosen by the lawmakers of Ontario which look orderly and professional, but seem far from able to compel private landlords to change practices or eliminate barriers. Many Ontarians are not confident that these words can protect them. At CERA we advocate with landlords to make the Code real.  One-on-one advocacy can bring these words to life!

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is of course a crucial part of our human rights system, and it is a necessary venue for the many human rights complaints which cannot be resolved informally. But does every instance of discrimination require claimants to file pleadings, claim damages and wait for months to have the issue mediated or adjudicated? My experience as an advocate tells me that it doesn’t; that in fact, a formal legal approach would often be unproductive. More often than not, people who call CERA for help want to resolve their problems with the landlord informally and as quickly as possible. These people simply want the landlord to recognize that they have the right to enjoy and benefit from housing regardless of their family status, disability, ethnic origin, or any other Code-protected ground.

Individual advocacy allows us to make direct contact with a landlord, often on the same day that the discriminatory actions took place. We can speak with landlords and inform them that what they have done – or have failed to do – is against the law. More often than many would expect, this comes as a surprise to the landlords. If they disagree with our position, we can try to convince them. Even if this takes multiple phone calls or letters, we can often persuade these landlords to reverse their decisions, or change discriminatory policies. In doing so, we are able to assist our clients while also educating landlords so that they are less likely to discriminate in the future. To the Ontarian whose life improves because of this advocacy, the Code is no longer just words on paper, but a tool which has reached into their lives to protect them and ensure their dignity as a human being.

We will continue to assist our clients to file human rights applications at the Tribunal, and the threat of such action may help us persuade some landlords to change their approach to renting apartments. It is, however, important for all stakeholders in the human rights system to realize that the law is brought to life and used effectively every day through one-on-one advocacy. In utilizing this valuable tool, we can help protect the rights of many Ontarians without the need for pleadings, a “courtroom”, or an adjudicator’s orders.

Linden Dales, Human Rights Caseworker