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

Prospective tenant awarded $10,000 for landlord’s discriminatory treatment

A young woman was denied an apartment because she was under the age of 18, something that is illegal under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found Havcare Investments and Ms. Carolyn Goodman had violated the Code, fabricated evidence and attempted to get a witness to lie on the stand.

Recognizing the young woman’s particular vulnerability the Tribunal anonymized her name, noting that she “had been a Crown ward since she was 13 years old, was homeless, and was still in high school. Furthermore, she was dealing with significant personal issues, including a pregnancy.”

The Tribunal awarded the young woman $10,000 in damages for the discrimination and ordered the landlord to hire an expert to develop a human rights policy and train staff.

“This is a significant decision,” said Megan Evans Maxwell, AB’s lawyer who acted for the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and is now counsel at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.  “This young woman had support and was determined to make a difference to other peoples’ lives so she stuck with it,” continued Evans Maxwell.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that Ms. Goodman (also known as Ms. Linton and/or Krebs) had “attempted to influence a witness, Ms. St. John, to deny that the applicant had been denied the unit on the basis of her age.” The Tribunal also concluded that the landlord’s insistence the unit had been rented to another tenant was “fabricated evidence regarding the purported tenant.”

“Housing decisions from the Tribunal are rare,” said Theresa Thornton, Executive Director of CERA. “Most people walk away from the discrimination, desperate to secure a place to live,” continued Thornton.

CERA is the only organization in Canada dedicated to promoting human rights in housing and ending housing discrimination.

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre offers free legal services to individuals throughout Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

For more information or to arrange interviews:

Theresa Thornton, Executive Director, CERA 416-944-0087 ext.2

Jennifer Ramsay, Human Rights Legal Support Centre 416-597-4958 or 416-522-5931 (mobile)

 

Download this press release: here.

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.

Finally, Some Good News

There was a little bit of good news just before the New Year when the Ontario Liberal government announced $42 million in funding to help municipalities develop and implement their housing and homelessness prevention plans for 2013-2014.

The funding will help ease the transition that comes from the elimination of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) as of December 31, 2012. CSUMB, which was available to all Ontarians on social assistance, helped cover unexpected housing costs, such as rental arrears, and was an important tool to help keep low income families housed. The Liberals’ decision to cancel this benefit and pass on 50% of the funds to municipalities was an ill-conceived one; aside from offering less to those who need it most, many of the municipalities did not have programs in place to properly administer the funds.

This is still nothing more than a $42 million band aid. The Liberals have offered no real long term solutions to the problem they created by cancelling CSUMB. Until they do, this gesture towards our most vulnerable citizens will have to do.