Human Rights, Access and Equity: CERA’s recommendations for the Homelessness Action Task Force
IS HOMELESSNESS IN TORONTO AN ACCESS ISSUE OR A SUPPLY ISSUE?
For years, many people in the housing field have suggested that access to housing is really a supply problem and that for that reason, CERA's work on access issues is peripheral at best. The solution to housing problems, it is argued, is to build more housing.
While we do not deny that supply is an important component of a response to housing problems of vulnerable groups, we believe that the prevailing "supply side" response has vastly over-simplified the problem and often been a clumsy and ineffective response to the housing problems of the most disadvantaged. At any rate, it is simply not a viable option, given current policies at the federal and provincial levels, to propose to solve the housing problems of the most disadvantaged by building housing for all of those who are left out by the market. We have to figure out how to ensure that vulnerable groups can get housing within the existing stock of private market and social housing. The most tragic aspect of housing policy in Canada for the last 15 years is that we have largely ignored systemic barriers to accessing existing stock by pretending that discriminatory exclusion can somehow be solved solely by creating supply.
While homelessness is certainly related to a scarcity of affordable apartments, it is misleading to understand it solely in those terms. There is no straightforward correlation between the numbers of homeless and the vacancy rate. And the problem facing the families in shelters in Toronto is not that they cannot find vacancies. You don't need to find a vacant apartment to get housed, you just need to find one that is turning over, and convince the landlord to rent to you. In order to address homelessness effectively, we have to start to understand the dynamic of apartment turnover, and look at why certain disadvantaged groups are finding it impossible to get into the most affordable apartments which become available.
THE DYNAMIC MARKET: APARTMENT TURNOVER AND WHO RENTS WHAT
We know that some of the most affordable apartments are occupied by some of the most advantaged households. The Background Paper notes that in Ontario big city markets, 54% of low-rent one and two-bedroom apartments are occupied by tenants with above average incomes, over $30,000. Clearly, if we can shift the distribution of affordable apartments so that lower income households are more likely to occupy the more affordable units, we have moved a long way to improving the affordable housing stock for those in need.
Some of the skewed distribution of the affordable housing stock, of course, is related to households' improved income over time. We would certainly not propose that tenants be forced to move out of their affordable units when their incomes improve.
The lever we have on the distribution is on the access side. The question is whether, when apartments turn over, low income households are able to rent the most affordable units.
Attached as Appendix A to our submissions are tables prepared from 1991 census data for CERA by Professor Michael Ornstein of the Institute for Social Research at York University. 1996 data, unfortunately is unavailable.
These tables tell us in a fair bit of detail who rents which apartments when they turn over. The tables divide the rental market in the Toronto CMA, excluding rents which are obviously subsidized, into "thirds" by apartment size and price. Three room apartments (usually 1 bedroom), for example, are divided into the most affordable third (under $479), the middle third ($480 - $610) and the most expensive third ($611 and over). Four room apartments (usually 2 bedroom) are divided into the most affordable third ($546 and under) the middle third ($547 - $714) and the most expensive third ($715 and over). Five room apartments (usually 3 bedrooms) are divided into the most affordable third ($606 and under) the middle third ($607 - 850) and the most expensive third ($851 and over).
Of a total of 548,624 rental households in Toronto CMA in 1991, 155,948 or 28.4% moved the previous year. This corresponds roughly to the number of rental units which turned over in a year. Mobility changes, however, with household characteristics. Singles move somewhat less frequently, larger households more frequently. 31% of low income households (below LICO's) moved in year compared to 27% of higher income households (above LICO's). Higher rent apartments have a considerably higher turnover than lower rent apartments.
What is most alarming about the data provided by Professor Ornstein is how unlikely a low income household or members of particularly disadvantaged groups are to move into affordable housing. One would expect, of course, that low income households would rent the lowest rent apartments - often compromising quality for affordability. The opposite is true. Low income households generally are forced to rent the most expensive apartments - getting low quality and high price. In 1991 74% of single mothers with two children living in poverty who moved rented apartments which were above the affordable third. Astonishingly, more than half rented apartments which were in the most expensive third. 85% of couples with two children were above the affordable third. Only 13% of couples with one child relying on government transfer payments who moved were able to rent affordable apartments.
This is not a market, even in 1991, which is working properly. While low income people generally occupy more affordable units because they have to, it is only by remaining in affordable units that they are able to do so. When low income families enter the rental market as movers or as first time renters, and a third of them each year are forced to do just that, they are frequently forced into the most expensive units on the market. Thus, while it may be understandable that some upwardly mobile households will occupy affordable accommodation for some period time, the corrective mechanism in the market which should be achieved through a 30% mobility within the affordable stock, through which higher income households would be expected to move to higher priced and higher quality apartments while lower income households would move into the affordable stock, is simply not working. Barriers to access mean that tenants are apparently unable to move into apartments they can afford, whether they be in the private sector or in the market rent sector of social housing.
POVERTY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
We will be identifying the most crucial barriers to access and proposing concrete solutions. We do not, however, wish to understate the most important barrier - the barrier to housing, that of poverty itself. The welfare cuts and the erosion of the income base among low income workers, particularly part-time and temporary workers, and particularly women and young people, is clearly the most significant cause of homelessness in Toronto.
The scandal and tragedy of legislated homelessness in Ontario offers a unique opportunity to Canada to reflect on how we have come to permit so pervasive a violation of fundamental human rights in Canada. It is therefore imperative that the Task Force correctly place the issue of homelessness within the framework of basic human rights and to identify solutions within the framework of the recognition of the right of every person to adequate housing.
The City of Toronto is actively celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights yet we are clearly in violation of one of the core rights in the Universal Declaration, the right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing and housing. That right has been clearly enunciated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Canada ratified in 1976. Unlike our neighbours to the south, Canada promotes the recognition of all human rights, including social and economic rights, on the international stage. We identify ourselves as a nation which accepts that governments have responsibilities to ensure that no one is deprived of the social and economic components of a life of dignity and equality.
Canada is reviewed every five years for compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Canada is scheduled for its Third Period Review in November, 1998. At its last review in 1993, the U.N. Committee's stinging criticisms of the extent of poverty, homelessness and hunger in Canada and the inadequate protection from discrimination in housing against low income households drew international attention and considerable publicity and debate in Canada. The U.N. Committee has recently sent to Canada a list of issues to be addressed in the current review (attached as Appendix B). It has asked for extensive information on the effect of the welfare cuts in Ontario and their link to increases in homelessness in Toronto. It has also requested information on the effect of the Federal Governments' revoking of the Canada Assistance Plan Act and the removal of the legal protection in Canada of the most basic social right to an adequate standard of living for persons in need.
The City of Toronto has available to it the resources and expertise to make a compelling submission to the U.N. Committee on the causes of homelessness and to propose recommendations. This is an opportunity for the City to make international human rights work for it in a concrete way to protect the rights of its residents. The City has been willing to devote funds to participation in events such as the U.N. Conference Habitat II and the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Human Rights. The review by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights is the most important review of human rights in Canada which occurs within the U.N. system. The review of Canada in November encompasses all levels of government and should be the occasion for thorough consideration of the compliance of all levels of government with the rights which are binding on Canada in international law. This will provide the City with an opportunity to address those causes of homelessness which are outside of its jurisdiction, such as the revoking of CAP, the cutting of federal transfer payments, the immoral reduction of social assistance rates to a level which is grossly inadequate to cover the cost of adequate housing in Toronto and the changes to the Human Rights Code permitting the use of income information to disqualify tenants.
That the City of Toronto prepare submissions to present to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on homelessness and hunger in Toronto with recommendations as to how all levels of government can work together to solve these violations of international human rights.
That in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ongoing struggle to implement the human rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the City of Toronto create a Human Rights Committee composed of experts in international and domestic human rights, including social and economic rights such as the right to housing, which shall provide an annual report on the enjoyment of all human rights in the City and recommendation for remedying any violations of human rights.
That the Mayor of Toronto be given direction by the Council to acknowledge that homelessness in so affluent a city as Toronto is a violation of human rights recognized in the Universal Declaration and to declare an intention to work with other levels of government to eradicate homelessness in Toronto by the 55th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration.
BARRIERS TO ACCESS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
Dealing on a daily basis with the innumerable barriers facing low income households, particularly those on social assistance, members and staff at CERA marvel that there are not far more homeless families in Toronto. The 1991 census data is bleak with respect to access. We expect it to be much worse in the 1996 census. Given the barriers that have been placed in the way of low income households renting affordable apartments, it is a miracle any are getting housed.
It is immensely frustrating to CERA to hear on a daily basis from families in search of housing how at every level our society has created and endorsed policies which virtually guarantee that vulnerable households will not be able to rent the affordable units on the market, yet we continue to treat the problem of homelessness as if it is such a complex and insoluble problem. Governments spout pious concern but continue to create policies of homelessness. Certainly there are groups among the homeless whose problems are more complex, requiring support services and targeted housing supply programs. But homelessness among the majority of the homeless, families with children, is being created quite directly by policies which disqualify them from the affordable housing stock.
i) Blatant Discrimination in the Private Market
If you pick up a copy of the Renter's News you will see innumerable advertisements which are in blatant contravention of the Human Rights Code. Attached as Appendix C is a few typical pages, including advertisements for professional couples, employed people, etc. It is illegal in Ontario to discriminate against people with children or people who are not employed.
A study by David Hulchanski in 1993 found that the managers of over half of affordable rental units in large complexes admitted that they do not rent to people on social assistance. Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg. Families in shelters with good credit and references inform CERA that they frequently contact several hundred landlords before finding anyone who will rent to a family on social assistance.
While the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission has been a strong advocate publicly for the rights of poor people, the Commission itself has been systematically dismissing virtually all human rights complaints file by people on social assistance. The chances of proceeding to a board of inquiry even on a well documented complaint of discrimination is less than 1 in 20, with the Commission focused primarily on getting rid of the backlog of complaints.
Meanwhile, we witness the spectre in of women and children being bussed out of Toronto because landlords here will not rent to single mothers on social assistance while landlords in other towns say they are "the best tenants."
Such explicit, widespread contravention of human rights provisions is unparalleled in any other area. Employers would never admit so readily to violating the Human Rights Code and no newspaper would advertise such discriminatory advertisements for employment.
This discrimination persists in large part because it is deemed to be acceptable even if it is illegal. At the United Way consultation, there was consensus among advocates and experts consulted that discrimination and human rights were a crucial cause of homelessness. This was reported by the Consultants yet in the "edited" version, there is no mention of discrimination. Even the background paper for the present task force refers to the exclusion of an entire group protected under the Code - people on social assistance - through a 30% rent-to-income criterion as "a prudent business practice". The paper does not mention that the Ontario Human Rights Commission views such policies as illegal or that the evidence of business consultants and statisticians is that such disqualifications are an irrational business practice which cannot be justified by any correlation between default risk and rent-to-income ratio.
We therefore urge this Task Force to acknowledge the unacceptable level of discrimination, particularly against people on social assistance and families with children, as the most serious human rights violation of our time.
That the Task Force meet with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to determine why the Commission is not properly enforcing human rights in housing and why, with evidence of such widespread discrimination, so few cases proceed to adjudication.
That the Task Force recommend that the United Way review its decision to eliminate funding to CERA and other groups addressing systemic barriers to access.
That the Task Force recommend that 2% and the province's over-all housing budget be allocated to groups dealing with access and discrimination issues.
ii) Systemic Discrimination Through Lack of Services and Support for Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities
Systemic discrimination refers to barriers to access and practices which may not constitute intentional discrimination but which result in the exclusion of groups protected under the Human Rights Code. Systemic discrimination may be the result of the failure of governments to provide necessary services or support.
Most of the barriers which we will be identifying below constitute forms of systemic or adverse effects discrimination.
One of the most disturbing issue of systemic discrimination linked with homelessness, however, is the homelessness created among persons with psychiatric disabilities by the failure of governments to provide necessary support. We believe it is imperative that this issue not be described merely in "policy" language but that it be identified as a fundamental violation of the equality rights of persons with psychiatric disabilities.
That the Task Force state clearly that the failure to provide necessary support services to de-institutionalized persons with psychiatric disabilities is a violation of the Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which must be remedied.
iii) Last Month’s Rent Deposit
Next to the changes to welfare rates themselves, the most catastrophic policy change creating homelessness among low income families was the decision by the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto to no longer provide special assistance for last month's rent deposit.
The result, according to a survey by Professor Hulchanski in 1993, has been that people on social assistance are excluded, even without direct discrimination, from between 75 and 90% of available affordable apartments simply because they are unable to provide what the landlord is entitled under the Landlord and Tenant Act and now the Tenant Protection Act, to require.
In response to a legal challenge to the decision brought by a number of social assistance recipients and social agencies, the Province amended the guidelines for eligibility for Community Start-Up Allowance, to include last month's rent deposit where the move to more affordable accommodation is required because of large shelter costs. Virtually no one is ever informed, however, of their eligibility for Community Start-Up Allowance when they are trying to move to more affordable accommodation. CERA has repeatedly intervened for recipients who are clearly within the eligibility guidelines and only after appeals to the administrator, are we able to secure the necessary assistance under CSUB.
Delays in securing last month's rent deposit frequently result in applicants losing accommodation. Affordable units will be rented within a day to the first qualified applicant who provides a certified cheque for first and last month's rent. Given the widespread prejudices against people on social assistance, it is imperative that when they find a landlord who is willing to rent to them, they not be put in a situation of having to negotiate a lease without a security deposit, or waiting several days before it can be provided.
That Metro Social Services and Provincial Family Benefits Assistance offices review policies about providing last month's rent and ensure that Community Start Up Allowance is provided for last month's rent deposit wherever possible.
That every social services office have a "Housing Access Worker" to whom any recipient looking for rental accommodation and any homeless person or household is referred for assistance. The "Housing Access Worker" would be trained by CERA in human rights issues and have the responsibility of ensuring that when a recipient has an opportunity to rent an apartment, everything necessary, including last month's rent deposit, is provided within a day.
When social assistance recipients manage to find a landlord who is willing to rent to them, they are required to have the landlord fill out a Rental Promise Note or provide to social services a copy of the lease. Shelter allowance payments are held up pending approval. It is now becoming increasingly common that shelter allowance payments is further held up by requirements that landlords prove that they own the premises, by providing a copy of a deed. This is often a significant imposition, as the deed may not be available, or the landlord may not a photocopier handy. Most landlords balk at all of this bureaucracy. They will rent to another applicant, feeling that it is fair to rent to the first "completed" application and concerned that they may hold the apartment for the social assistance recipient, only to be told subsequently that the social worker does not approve it.
That shelter allowance payments for new rental units be approved for eligible recipients without any documentation required from the landlord. Proof of payment and address may be obtained subsequently without jeopardizing the applicant's chance of securing an available apartment.
Tenants are required under the Tenant Protection Act to provide two months' notice of termination of tenancy. Landlords will often advertise such units six or seven weeks before their availability date. In order to secure the apartment, however, a payment is required, often of first and last month's rent. In order to provide such payment, recipients would require an advance on their shelter allowance for a subsequent month. Otherwise, they are not able to compete adequately for the most affordable apartments.
That a special fund be established for "advances" on shelter allowance payments to enable applicants to immediately provide necessary deposits for apartments which become available.
iv) Income Criteria, Credit, and Landlord References
The most serious barrier to access to affordable housing for low income households is the use of income criteria, whether a formal rent-to-income ratio requirement of 25%, 30% or 35%, or a "soft" policy of preferring applicants with a higher income. The Background Paper prepared for the Task Force notes that such policies exclude many low income households. In fact they exclude ALL people on social assistance and the vast majority of young families, single mothers, newcomers and other groups protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. As long as landlords continue to disqualify households based on income level, the crisis of homelessness among low income households will continue.
Imagine, for a moment, if such practices were permitted in any other business where a necessity was at stake, such as hydro, telephone or gas. In all of these sectors, corporate actors, without any prompting from the Human Rights Commission, have adopted policies that income level will NEVER be considered in determining creditworthiness. In other words, you will not be denied telephone or hydro service because of your level of income and you will not even be required to provide a deposit similar to that which is provided to landlords, covering two months worth of the service. Low income households are not deemed by these providers to be increased credit risks, even though it makes sense that if you are having trouble meeting your rent and utilities expenses at the end of the month, you are as likely to default on utilities as on rent. Hydro and utilities companies have, on average, a similar bad debt experience as landlords, in the order of 0.6% of revenue, lower than that experience by most other businesses.
The fact is that income level has no relation to creditworthiness. CERA has overseen the most thorough research on this issue that has been done in North America. CERA has been initiating legal challenges to the practice since our inception and the Human Rights Commission has, on this issue at least, agreed with us. A three person board of inquiry was appointed in 1994 to adjudicate three of CERA's long-standing complaints. 23 groups intervened in support of CERA's claimants, representing virtually every group vulnerable to homelessness - young families, teen parents, refugees, poor people, immigrant women, women with disabilities, etc.
The landlords conducted an extensive survey of tenants in their buildings to try to show a correlation between default risk and paying more than 30% of income toward rent. Once their data was in evidence, however, it became clear that their statistician had made an error. Professor Ornstein from the Institute for Social Research gave uncontested evidence that when the survey data were properly tabulated, it showed that there was NO higher risk of default among tenants paying more than 30% of income toward rent than those paying less.
The decision in Kearney et al v. Bramalea Ltd et al. has not yet been released. However, in anticipation of a decision in favour of CERA and the Human Rights Commission, landlords requested that the Human Rights Code be amended to permit the use of income information. They also asked that the Code clarify that landlords are able to use credit checks, landlord references and guarantors in selecting applicants for apartments.
There has been considerable misrepresentation and confusion about CERA's and the Human Rights Commission's position on these issues. Landlords across the province were being told that if we won our case, they would no longer be able to check references, credit or income. In fact, our position was quite simple. Landlords, we believe, should be able to check credit, landlord references and ask about income. They should be able to disqualify a tenant based on a negative reference or a history of default. However, they should not be able to disqualify an applicant on the basis of an assumption that lower income households, or households paying a higher percentage of income toward rent, are more likely to default. Such an assumption is simply false and gives landlord free reign to refuse to rent to social assistance recipients and other protected groups.
In other words, CERA and the Human Rights Commission is advocating that landlords follow the same policies as other corporate actors providing services that are essential such as hydro or telephone. These actors determine creditworthiness without making prejudicial assumptions about low income households, and on the basis of past history in paying for hydro or telephone. They do not require a deposit simply because someone owed money to Eaton's or Zeller's.
CERA and the Human Rights Commission also take the position that applicants should not be disqualified because, as a young first time renter or a newcomer to Canada, they have no landlord reference or rental history. To disqualify applicants on that basis would be clearly unfair and discriminatory against young people and newcomers, who would be left unable to qualify for any housing.
In response to the landlords' lobby, the government introduced an amendment to the Human Rights Code permitting landlords to use income information, credit and references in a manner to be set out in regulations. CERA and dozens of other organizations, including the City of Toronto, urged the government to rescind the legislation. When it was passed regardless, with assurances from the government that they would not permit landlords to use such information in a discriminatory fashion in the regulations, the City and others urged the Minister of Citizenship to adopt regulations in conformity with the approach adopted by CERA and the Human Rights Commission.
The regulations are now released, and are included at Appendix D along with the amendment to the Human Rights Code. There is some uncertainty as to what they actually mean, but it appears that the lobby of CERA, the City of Toronto and others may have been successful. While the regulations allow for the collection of credit and reference information and, if those are requested, also of income information, section 2, subsection 4 of the regulations appears to limit the use of such information to a non-discriminatory use. In other words, if the board of inquiry in Kearney rules that the use of a 30% rent-to-income ratio as a factor in selecting tenants is discriminatory against social assistance recipients, then the use of income information collected according to the regulations would henceforth be limited by that decision.
Similarly, if the board in Kearney or in cases currently before boards of inquiry determine that refusing to rent to young people or newcomers because they have no landlord references is discriminatory, we do not believe the regulations will change the effect of such a ruling.
What should the Task Force be recommending with respect to this most important systemic issue which has, at the same time, become an exceedingly complex legal issue?
It seems to us that what is needed is some initiative outside of the legal and legislative arena, in which the issue has now been tied up for too long. It may, in fact, be more effective to try to persuade landlords to be responsible corporate citizens than to try to enforce a more equitable policy through the Human Rights Commission. It is at least important to pursue both strategies on behalf of the thousands of families who are being refused the most affordable accommodation on the basis of irrational income restrictions.
We are proposing an initiative called HOME, standing for Housing Opportunities Made Equal, in which homeless people and concerned organizations, with the assistance and co-operation of the City, meet with housing providers to ask them to adopt an "equal opportunity and equity" policy in the rental of units. Such a policy would meet the following conditions:
i) Rent to the first qualified applicant for a particular unit;
ii) Applicants may be disqualified or required to provide a co-signor on the basis of a history of rental default, but not on the basis of being a first time renter or on the basis of credit problems in other areas;
iii) Income and employment information may be solicited by will not be used to disqualify the applicant;
iv) Special needs will be accommodated where it would not impose an undue hardship on the landlord; and
iv) Every 10th available unit will be offered to a family currently homeless, as long as they meet the above qualifications.
We believe that if even a significant number of landlords could be persuaded to become "equal opportunity landlords" the family shelters would be virtually emptied within months.
Obviously an "equal opportunity" policy does not ensure housing for everyone. Those with special needs, those in need of support services or those with a history of default, with no access to co-signors, would still be without a remedy. However, this would allow particular projects to focus on those particular needs. Credit counselling might be combined with the provision of guarantors for tenants with a history of default in order to assist them to develop a positive rental history.
That the City of Toronto, with the assistance of the Mayor, meet with landlords to promote the adoption of an "equal opportunity and equity" policy by the City's landlords. The City should investigate ways to encourage such policies, such as providing public recognition of equal opportunity policies and other incentives and providing research to show that such policies will not impose extra costs on landlords.
v) Access to Social Housing
It is imperative that if the City is to promote equal opportunity policies within the private sector, it also adopt equal opportunity policies in its own housing portfolio.
CERA's concerns about access to social housing have, at times, led to a strained relationship with those who are otherwise our allies in fighting for affordable housing. However, whether they are unpopular or not, it is important that our concerns be placed on the table and thoroughly reviewed by this Task Force.
Our concerns, of course, are not abstract, they are based on real experiences with vulnerable groups who are not able to get housing at Cityhome. It is perhaps best to consider Cityhome's access policies as they affect the typical low income households with which we deal.
A typical case would be a single mother with one child, whose child was born when she was 21 years old, and who relies on social assistance.
Such a person could not possibly live in a subsidized unit at Cityhome, unless she had been a victim of domestic violence. She would have to have been on the waiting list since the mid 1980's for a one bedroom apartment, which would be impossible as she would have been about 8 years old at that time, and would not have been permitted to apply for another 8 years. Subsidized units in social housing, under the new chronological system, are unlikely to be occupied by those who are most desperate.
The private market, as we have seen, favours longer term tenants and disadvantages young families. By providing subsidies only to those who have been housed with relative stability for 15 years in order to remain on a waiting list that long is to house the most advantaged of lower income tenants within the market - and those least likely to be confronting homelessness. What is worse is that we are allocating millions of dollars of rental subsidy - essentially a form of supplementary income assistance - not on the basis of need but on the basis of relative stability and advantage.
The special allocations for Persons Disadvantaged in Accommodation (PDA) under the Housing Connections program make hardly a dint in the inequitable results of the shift to a chronological system. There is still a significant wait of years before a person who was homeless, a newcomer or 16 or 17 at the time of application may end up in housing. Thus, while we understand that there are no accurate records as to who has been housed, it is clear that the waiting list in the PDA category is long enough to guarantee that no 16 or 17 year olds or recent Newcomers are actually housed during the time of their disadvantage, when they are first time renters, with no reference or credit.
Jessie's Centre for Teenagers used to house a significant number of teen parents in MTHA when it used the needs based allocation system. There has not been a teen parent at Jessie's housed at MTHA since the chronological system was brought in. Cityhome has never housed teen parents in subsidized units, as far as we can discover.
A young single mother on social assistance living in Cityhome, then, would have to occupy one of the 3,000 market rent units. However, she will be unlikely to qualify there either. The maximum shelter allowance for a single mother with a young child is 52% of the total benefit. Thus, her affordability is not affected by whether she rents a unit that is $400 or $511. Nevertheless, Cityhome requires that such an applicant, paying more than 50% of income toward rent must provide a guarantor and provide proof of ability to pay, such as previous rental history. Anyone on social assistance pays more than 35% of income on rent, and Cityhome requires that such applicants provide a guarantor along with first and last month's rent when they apply for market rent units. They acknowledge that social assistance recipients are rarely able to provide such a guarantor and that they process relative few guarantor applications.
We have also dealt with homeless families who have been refused housing at Cityhome because they are living in a shelter and are therefore unable to provide a landlord reference. We believe that a review of Cityhome rentals would show that virtually no homeless families with children have been able to go from a shelter into a Cityhome unit. There are simply too many hurdles in the way.
How can we expect private landlords to adopt inclusive and equitable policies in the face of the City's own hypocrisy. When poor people and equality seeking groups went to the Board of Inquiry hearings to intervene - all 23 of them - to challenge the most serious homelessness creating policies in the private market, in the Kearney decision, they were confronted not only with best lawyers in the province, paid for by landlords across the province, but by City of Toronto solicitors, representing Cityhome, defending policies that bar disadvantaged groups from the most affordable housing they can find. In our view, it will be difficult for the City to promote equitable policies within the private sector if it continues to allow Cityhome to follow and promote restrictive tenant selection policies that can only be described as fostering homelessness.
RECOMMENDATION # 13
That the use of a chronological waiting list for subsidized units be terminated and replaced by a "first come first served" system without a waiting list (ie. first qualified person to apply for an advertised apartment on a given day) so that those who are currently in need of housing and at risk of homelessness have an equal opportunity to access subsidized housing.
RECOMMENDATION # 14
That the City of Toronto ensure that Cityhome adopts an equal opportunity policy with respect to qualifying applicants for market rent units, consistent with the City's position on appropriate practices by private market landlords.
Thank you for your attention to our concerns. We wish the Task Force well in pursuing its important mandate, and offer any assistance we can provide in terms of data or expertise in access issues.