Category Archives: CERA Activities

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.

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.

What can we do about housing discrimination?

Over the past few months, CERA, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and COSTI Immigrant Services have been holding housing rights workshops for front line workers that provide housing assistance for recent immigrants and refugees.

We provided a session in Ottawa in October, Toronto in November and London in December. We’ll be holding our fourth and final session in Windsor later this month.

I’m responsible for the segment dealing with housing and the Human Rights Code and, invariably, I’ll see many people nodding their heads during the discussion of the different types of discrimination. Being refused an apartment because your income is “too low”, you have no Canadian credit or references or you have “too many” children, or being required to pay six or twelve months rent in advance is old news for these community workers. It’s what many of their clients experience when applying for an apartment.

Shortly after I see the heads nodding, a hand goes up. The participant asks, “What can we do?”

This is the most difficult question I have to deal with in any workshop. It’s easy to describe the law. The challenging part is making it work for vulnerable households.

Ontario has a human rights enforcement system, but the vast majority of people experiencing housing discrimination do not access it. Many are not aware of their legal rights or the mechanism for enforcing them. Those that are frequently don’t have the resources or time to file a formal human rights application and take it through the Tribunal process – a process which will, in any event, not get them the apartment they were denied. The proof is in the numbers: despite evidence of widespread housing discrimination, housing cases make up less than 6% of all human rights applications filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

In most cases, a person who experiences housing discrimination will just move on to the next apartment ad, try again and, often, be refused again.

During my workshop, I tell these community workers that they or their clients can call CERA and we will advocate with the landlord. The reality, however, is that CERA is a very small organization and we receive no funding to provide human rights advocacy services (we’ve only received dribs and drabs since 1995). Our services are provided almost entirely by volunteers and this limits what we can do.

I can also tell them to contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, but in most cases the intake process at the HRLSC is too long for any advocacy to start before the apartment has been rented. And few community legal clinics provide direct advocacy services related to housing discrimination.

Even if a person can access advocacy services, will anyone follow-up with the landlord to ensure the discrimination doesn’t happen in the future? No.

To effectively tackle housing discrimination, Ontario needs an enforcement process that recognizes the importance of early intervention and monitoring – where housing providers are monitored for compliance with the law and where community and legal workers can be ready to advocate with landlords immediately after discrimination has occurred. A system that focuses entirely on formal complaints, as ours does, will be needlessly expensive and will not respond to the needs of the thousands of recent immigrants and refugees, Aboriginal People and members of racialized communities, youth, people with disabilities, lone parent families, people living on low incomes and other disadvantaged individuals and families who experience housing discrimination.

It will not respond to the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents – because that is who experiences rental housing discrimination.

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.

Stereotyping can go both ways

At CERA, we often see landlords at their worst. Those brought to our attention are typically not landlords that are doing a great job, but those that are potentially violating the Human Rights Code. When we speak to them it is usually because they have (allegedly) discriminated against one of our clients. After 25 years of responding to discrimination complaints, CERA has developed a pretty one-sided view of the rental housing sector.

It’s nice, then, when we can get beyond our own prejudices.

Over the past few months, CERA staff and volunteers have been scanning ads in Kijiji and Craigslist to educate landlords whose ads indicate that they may be violating the Code (see “Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination“). We’ve been picking out ads that say things like, “looking for a professional single or couple,” “seeking mature, quiet individual,” “proof of employment required” or “no kids” and either calling or e-mailing the posters to educate them on the Code and its prohibitions against discrimination directed at families with children, young people, people receiving social assistance, etc.

When we started, we weren’t sure how this outreach would be greeted. Would the landlords hang up on us, yell at us to mind our own business, tell us that they can rent to whomever they want?

We’ve heard all of these things, though more often the landlords have been open to our calls. Most have said they didn’t realize their rental requirements or “preferences” were potentially discriminatory and have been quick to change their ads. Many have also wanted us to forward additional information on CERA and the Code. With most of the landlords, there appears to be a genuine interest in understanding the Code and how it applies to their rental property. And most haven’t been professional landlords (i.e. landlords that should “know better”) – they’re just people renting out apartments in their homes.

CERA counsels others not to generalize or make decisions based on assumptions. When it comes to landlords, it appears that we haven’t always followed our own advice.

Talking About Money

Talking About Money

Someone recently said to me, “talking about money is harder than talking about death”.

CERA, in partnership with Canada Without Poverty (CWP), recently received a grant from TD’s Financial Literacy Program to do what a lot of folks have told us would be impossible: to talk about the taboo, uncomfortable subject of “money” with people from across the country who barely have any.

A few weeks ago we piloted our first session with a group of 18 people who are living on very limited incomes in the city of Ottawa.  And contrary to all warnings – this group couldn’t stop talking.  They were women and men, young and old, Aboriginal, Canadian born, newcomers, disabled and not, single mothers and two parent families.  They had just one thing in common: they are all making ends meet, just barely.

So, why was this diverse group so willing to talk about money?  I think it’s because we did things a little differently this time round.  We turned the tables. We admitted that if this group of people have the lowest incomes in the country and are able to make ends meet, they must have a vast amount of expertise in money management. We asked them to share that expertise with us so that we could document it and then share it with other people, like those who get to make decisions about how money is spent in this country:  Jim Flaherty – the Minister of Finance; bankers; and financial literacy trainers.  And share they did. From rolling loose change, to never buying anything that isn’t 2nd hand, to using foodbanks and pay-as-you-go telephones, to developing sophisticated banking techniques, we learned how the poor endure a whole lot of indignities, to survive.

And we learned something even more important in this session.  By recognizing the participants as experts in managing their money (rather than assuming we are the experts because we have money) we unwittingly provided them with an opportunity to feel some pride in their poverty, even if only for a few hours.

 

 

 

Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination

Over the past few weeks, CERA volunteers have been scanning rental housing ads in Kijij to pro-actively reach out and provide human rights education to landlords who might be violating the Code.

The volunteers have been busy.

They have found dozens of ads – some blatantly discriminatory, others which may not explicitly discriminate, but which are still problematic.

Some of the more obvious examples:

“Require…permanent employment.”

“No children”

“Suitable for mature, working individual”

“Basement apartment for couple/employee”

“You must have a steady full time job”

“Applicants over 40 years old only”

“Professionals only please”

“No government assistance of any kind”

Other ads were less obvious, but still communicated to young people, people receiving social assistance, families with children and other groups protected under the Code that they are either not welcome and will not be treated equally if they choose to apply:

“A professional single or couple welcome!”

“Perfect for couple and young professionals”

“Best place for a single working person”

“Ideal for senior person or couple”

“Perfect for a retired couple”

Unlike rental ads in Viewit.ca, Renters News and most large newspapers, ads in Kijiji and other online “want ads” such as Craigslist, are not screened. As a result, exclusionary wording is common-place. While both Kijiji and Craigslist have mechanisms for reporting problematic ads, they do not make it clear to posters that they must abide by the Human Rights Code.

Kijiji and other free online classifieds need to start being pro-active in promoting human rights and removing discriminatory ads. There are many options they investigate – directly monitoring and removing ads, posting information on the Code, or adding discrimination as a reason for reporting an ad.

It’s time Kijiji and other online classifieds realized that they can play a significant role in promoting housing equality – or inequality.