Safe, stable and adequate housing is a prime determinant of well-being, health, longevity and economic stability. It is also a fundamental human right.
Too often, governments fail to uphold their responsibility to ensure access to safe, stable and adequate housing. Too often, housing providers fail to understand their responsibility to provide housing in a manner that is not discriminatory and to appreciate the fact that, while often operating as businesses, they are in the business of providing a necessity of life to people. Too often, the public turns a blind eye to this important yet complex issue, often blaming homelessness on people experiencing its effects.
On this Human Rights Day and the 70thAnniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CERA stands proud in its defense of human rights in housing and the human right to housing.
Did you know that less than 5% of CERA’s annual budget comes from donations?
In 2018, we:
provided free legal information and advocacy supports to over 1300Ontario renters facing eviction or discrimination
delivered over 70 education workshops in eight Ontario communities, and continued to develop our unique and responsive plain-language resources for renters
established 17+ new formal partnerships with allies to expand our impact across Ontario
participated in numerous consultations, including for Canada’s National Housing Strategy and the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Canada
Almost all of our funding is tied directly to our project work, which allows us to engage in meaningful initiatives dedicated to improving equity in housing, but it also means that we have very little space to respond to urgent or emerging situations on the ground.
As 2018 comes to an end, we are turning to you for help to increase our capacity to respond quickly to emerging priorities and key issues in human rights in housing in the year ahead. Your donation will support responsive legal actions, public advocacy, research and policy development in 2019 – the important, time sensitive work that our project funding doesn’t cover.
Can you commit to defending equality in rental housing in Ontario with a donation of $20, $100, or $250 – or any amount meaningful to you?
Thank you for your generous support.
Executive Director and General Counsel
The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) is working with five youth-serving groups across Ontario to build awareness about youth housing rights. We are seeking an artist or arts facilitator to co-develop a creative workshop and educational materials for this exciting initiative.
a visual artist or arts facilitator who is interested in working with small charities on important social issues?
familiar with the barriers and challenges to housing that young people face?
able to design in collaboration with CERA’s team a 2-2.5 hour session in which 10-15 participants use visual arts to creatively express their housing experiences?
able to co-design educational materials for a range of audiences?
available to work with us between January and April, 2018?
How to apply:
Our funding includes an honorarium of $2000 for this role, which we are happy to discuss in more detail.
Please contact me if you are interested in working with us! We will be accepting applications until January 10, 2018. Please include a statement of interest and resume or link to your work. Priority will be given to someone who has experiences of housing discrimination and/or homelessness.
CERA envisions an Ontario where every person realizes their housing rights, is treated with dignity, and lives free from discrimination in a stable, safe and affordable home.
CERA defends housing rights and human rights by educating individuals and communities, advancing progressive and inclusive housing law and policy, and providing legal information and services to marginalized Ontarians.
“CERA was formed in the heyday of the equality rights movement in Canada. That’s why it has it that cumbersome name that no one can remember or say. In the 1980s in Canada, “equality rights” were in the air. Equality seeking groups began the decade by fighting for and winning a radical reframing of non-discrimination rights in the new Canadian Charter to have them renamed as “equality rights.” Section 15 of the Charter was reworded to ensure not only that laws and policies should not discriminate, but also that they would provide “equal benefit” to disadvantaged groups. People with disabilities were recognized for the first time. Following on that victory at the national level, hearings were held in 1986 at the Ontario Legislature, into a proposed “Equality Rights Statute Law Amendment Act”, intended to ensure that the Human Rights Code and other provincial legislation conformed with the new understanding of equality in s.15 of the Charter. Of course, the government had left a lot out of its draft bill. That’s when we formed the Committee for Equal Access to Apartments – the precursor of CERA, and got to work. Along with a lot of others…
Those hearings were incredibly energizing and demonstrated a new sense of collaboration and shared purpose among equality seeking groups. The Committee for Equal Access to Apartments mobilized low income tenants from across the province working to advocate for two amendments to the Human Rights Code to address prominent systemic issues in housing at that time. One was to remove an exemption that allowed landlords to designate their buildings as “adult only” and exclude families with children. This had become a convenient way for landlords to “gentrify” their apartments while low income renting families were simply left out the tight rental market. The other was to extend protections from age discrimination in housing to include 16 and 17 year olds in need of housing. We won on both counts, but only after an unprecedented number of compelling submissions at Queen’s Park from low income parents, mostly women, and young people describing the effects of discrimination in housing.
Our own discrete victories, however, were part of a wave of victories in which all the different equality seeking groups collaborated. Sexual orientation was added as a prohibited ground of discrimination; protections for people with disabilities were strengthened and adverse effect discrimination was more expansively addressed. During all of the collaborative work, marginalized groups in housing, particularly those living in poverty, became part of the human rights movement in a new way. It became obvious that we needed an organization to continue to promote human rights in hosing and to make hard won protections work for groups that are too often ignored. We knew it was a daunting task, but I don’t think any of imagined that CERA would still be around three decades later.
CERA’s ideals are perhaps further from being realized now than they ever have been. However, it is hard to imagine where we would be without CERA’s work over the last 30 years. CERA has been a voice for the people who don’t usually get heard. It has changed the way we think about equality in housing, raised awareness of the right to adequate housing and changed the way the international human rights system works. It has achieved precedent setting recognition of income related discrimination, addressed eviction prevention in new and innovative ways and changed the way we think about equality and human rights in housing. CERA changed me and so many others over the years and through all of us, informed what has been done in many other places around the world. It has been an incubator for a more inclusive human rights movement in Canada and internationally.
For CERA to have survived for thirty years without any stable operational funding, surviving through hostile governments and times of austerity measures, is an historic accomplishment, not only for the institution, but also for the ideals for which CERA stands. It has survived because of the dedication and commitment of staff, board, volunteers and members to a vision that has only become more relevant, more necessary, more compelling over the course of those years.
When we opened CERA’s phone line 30 years ago, the thing we would hear from people more often than anything else was this: “You’re the first organization that has really listened to me and taken my concerns seriously.” CERA still does that. The acronym of a little organization, with a cumbersome name has come to resonate for a lot of people who have felt they were heard for the first time and for a lot of human rights advocates and human rights institutions who have learned from CERA how to hear human rights claims in a new way.
“CERA”. It has become a word in its own right, with the historic reference to the equality rights wave of 30 years ago still resonating in its identity.
CERA. 30 years old. Imagine! It makes me feel quite proud of all of us!!”
On April 7th, over 30 community members joined CERA and mural artists at All Saints Church and Community Centre to view murals created by sex workers at recent housing rights workshops in downtown Toronto. Attendees took part in discussions about housing discrimination issues, received information resources about housing discrimination, and shared a community lunch. We heard:
Making the murals “allowed me and participants to illustrate what a city of inclusion means to them.”
“Knowing your rights in empowering. “
“I will share resources with people in my community.”
Thank you to everyone who attended, to all of the mural makers, to South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Regent Park Community Health Centre, and Maggie’s Sex Workers Action Project. And a big thank you to All Saints Church for hosting us.
Out of respect for the privacy of the mural makers, we are not posting event photos online.
Thank you to the Law Foundation of Ontario for financial support of this initiative.
Project Update – Thank you to Maggie’s, South Riverdale Community Health Centre and Regent Park Community Health Centre for hosting CERA’s housing rights sessions for sex workers over the past six weeks. Special thank you to all the participants for sharing their housing experiences and learning about their legal rights as tenant.
Whenever possible, CERA uses creative models of legal education to engage with communities in meaningful ways. 100% of participants said the sessions gave them a better understanding of their rights in housing. 74% said the information they learned will significantly benefit their lives.
The collaborative sessions combined legal education about housing rights with mural making, led by community artist Catherine Moeller.
What we heard from participants about the mural making:
“Great alternative way to express what I have learned.”
“It brought people together and it helped express feeling through art.”
“Provided a means of expression for those who are less verbal.”
“Yes it allowed me and participants to illustrate what a city of inclusion means to them.”
You’ll be able to check out the murals on display the last week of March, location to be announced shortly!
After two exciting years of work, we are bringing our Facilitating Local Responses to Housing Discrimination Project to a close. We are very pleased with the success of this initiative and are exited to share the new resources developed with our partners with you. For this initiative, we collaborated with partner organizations in Ottawa, Hamilton, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, London, Windsor and Toronto. Recognizing that local housing priorities are diverse, our work focused on the specific local needs identified by the communities we worked in, including: challenges faced by urban Inuit, Metis and First Nations renters in Ottawa; discrimination against Aboriginal youth in Thunder Bay; discrimination directed at newcomers in Hamilton; failure to accommodate tenants with mental health disabilities in Sudbury; the housing needs of aging residents in London; discriminatory practices affecting lower-income renters in Windsor; and discriminatory barriers facing women in Toronto.
While discriminatory barriers exist in all housing markets, we know that the specific issues that are acute and emerging differ in communities across the province. Through our project work, we have begun to foster local capacity to address housing instability through community work and knowledge sharing with precariously housed tenants and their housing advocates. Specifically, we have been able to:
• Foster partnerships in seven communities, including six communities outside of Toronto;
• Develop and distribute thousands of resources that are responsive to housing related challenges that are community specific benefiting tenants, service providers, and housing providers who need this information;
• Deliver 26 in person public legal education sessions throughout the province;
• Develop and support Human Rights and Housing Ambassadors in communities across the province; and
• Follow through on conversations and ideas that stretch back to 2012, advancing progress on key issues identified in each community.
After many hours of writing and lots of conversations with our wonderful partners across the province, we developed a large number of new resources for tenants, service providers and housing providers across Ontario. Here they are! Please share them with your family, neighbours, and communities to help fight against housing discrimination.
We want to sincerely thank all of the partners who helped to make this work a success including: Age Friendly London Network, CMHA Sudbury Manitoulin, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, Housing Help Hamilton, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, Odawa Native Friendship Centre’s Drop In, Sistering, Voices Against Poverty and numerous shelters, drop-ins and community organizations in Toronto.
We also wish to thank the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario, for their support of this initiative.
We are excited to announce that in 2017, with the support of Status of Women Canada, CERA will reignite our work on women’s rights by partnering with IRIS and Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Center and a number of other women serving agencies in Toronto.
This project will address systemic barriers that contribute to housing insecurity in Toronto through the development of an action plan that addresses barriers to safe, affordable housing and increases access to housing options for marginalized women across the city.
This project has been funded by Status of Women Canada.
Making Room, Creating Place: Announcing arts-based human rights legal education for sex workers.
This Wednesday, CERA will be joining Maggie’s Sex Workers Action Project for our first housing rights workshop for street-involved sex workers. During these workshops, participants will learn about their housing rights under law; learn skills to self-advocate; creatively engage with artistic message-making strategies.
We are excited to be working the wonderful folks at Maggie’s, South Riverdale Community Health Centre, and Regent Park Community Health Centre. And we’re excited to learn from participants about their experiences.
We know that sex workers face intersectional discrimination all the time, along with significant and distinct barriers to housing. In a survey of 34 sex workers, we heard that:
61% (of 24 responses) have faced discrimination from a landlord
34% face unaffordable rents
67% have ongoing issues with pests
56% have faced eviction
47% have been denied a unit because of their income source
Most respondents said they feel landlords treat them differently for reasons related to their work.
In six sessions over the coming weeks we will be discussing these issues and thinking creatively about self-advocacy. Stay tuned for updates!