Category Archives: Housing in the News

Bill C304: A National Housing Strategy

Bill C304: A National Housing Strategy

They said it couldn’t be done. The Bloc Québécois would never change its mind and support Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, without an exemption and compensation clause. And, without Bloc support for the Bill, it was certain to die on 3rd reading as the NDP and Liberals don’t have enough MPs to carry a vote and the Conservatives appear to be categorically opposed to the Bill.

On 20 October 2010, the Bloc did precisely what everyone said they wouldn’t.  They changed their position.  In the first hour of debate at 3rd reading of the Bill, the Bloc indicated that they would support the Bill if it included a simple amendment attesting to their unique expertise and jurisdiction in the area of housing.  As a result, Bill C304 went from being well meaning but ultimately doomed dream to a possible reality.

What was the catalyst for this about-face? Was it the inclusion of human rights principles in the Bill – principles the Bloc believes in and is proud of – and thus reluctant to vote against?  Was it that Quebec housing groups articulated, in no uncertain terms, that they wanted the Bloc to support this Bill? Was it that dozens of national organizations endorsed the Bill? Was it the cross-country day of action – the Red Tent Campaign – held in cities the day before third reading? Was it pressure from the NPD and Liberals who had invested considerably in the Bill?

In all likelihood there was no single catalyst. It was, probably, the result a confluence of all of these factors and pressures. But what we do know is that it didn’t come about by luck or chance.  These days, political victories for marginalized groups, even relatively small victories of this nature, are only won when individuals, organizations, communities and government officials of different political stripes, share a vision, collaborate and work hard till the bitter end.

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.

Fair Housing: CERA USA

CERA is unique in Canada as an organization devoted to challenging housing discrimination. South of the boarder, the landscape is very different.

In an April issue of the New Yorker magazine, there was a full page colour ad showing a “for rent” sign in front of an apartment building followed by the words, “No Kids, No Blacks, No Latinos”. The tagline was, “Discrimination is rarely this obvious, but it is just as real. Just as illegal.” The New Yorker is a major US magazine and ad space does not come cheap. Who had the resources and wherewithal to create and place this ad? –  the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

There are over 100 fair housing organizations and councils across the United States, each with a mandate similar to CERA’s: promoting equality and non-discrimination in housing. Add to this the National Fair Housing Alliance, a consortium of fair housing organizations and state and local civil rights organizations, and the Fair Housing Advocate, an online journal devoted to housing discrimination, and you have a shockingly “un-Canadian” approach to promoting housing equality.

Fair housing organizations in the US developed out of the national Fair Housing Act – human rights legislation that specifically targets housing discrimination – and frequently receive federal government funding through HUD and its Fair Housing Initiatives program.

Canada, on the other hand, has no human rights legislation focused on housing discrimination. Instead, housing issues get lost among employment and services- related protections in provincial and territorial human rights laws. There are also no federal or provincial funding programs that target initiatives promoting housing equality. CERA, the only Canadian organization with a mandate focused on challenging housing discrimination, has no stable funding and, in fact, receives absolutely no funds to provide legal services to equality seeking individuals.

It should not be surprising then that discrimination remains “under the radar” and neglected in Canada, despite substantial research demonstrating its seriousness (see CERA’s recent report, Sorry, It’s Rented: Measuring Discrimination in Toronto’s Rental Housing Market).

Fair Housing. Canada has a lot to learn.