Tag Archives: Affordable Housing

Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy – Not Worth the Wait

The most heartbreaking part of an Eviction Prevention worker’s job is referring a client to a homeless shelter.  It is very sobering to hear, on the other end of the line, the moment a client realizes she cannot afford to stay in her home.  The mixture of fear, shame and anxiety is quite palpable.

And it seems that there will be more and more heartbreaking phone calls to come.  This week, the Ontario Liberals revealed their oft-delayed, long-term affordable housing strategy and let’s just say it doesn’t seem to be worth the wait. In particular, it fails to adopt a human rights framework and largely ignores the particular housing needs of people with disabilities, women and other equality-seeking groups.  And despite a record number of Ontario households on the waiting list for social housing, Housing Minister Rick Bartolucci announced there will be no new funding for affordable housing.  According to the Wellesley Institute, the success of any long-term affordable housing plan requires some semblance of targets and timelines.  But the province only offers vague promises like “engaging” the feds for more money.  This sounds remarkably underwhelming.

To be fair, there are some encouraging bits in the announcement – simplification of the rent-geared-to-income process, for one – but overall, a plan that does not set any goals is not really a plan at all.

Discrimination and Newcomers to Canada

I regularly facilitate human rights workshops for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes – and each time I’m shocked by what I hear.

In almost every class, a large proportion of the students report having experienced multiple forms of discrimination in their search for housing:

Refused because because you cannot meet a minimum income cut-off? Check. Refused because you have no Canadian credit or references? Check. Required to pay six months rent in advance? Check. Required to provide a co-signor or guarantor because you are new to the country? Check. Denied because you don’t yet have a job? Check. Refused because of the number of children in your family? Check.

Many of these students hit a wall of discriminatory barriers when they first arrived in the country. And this was on top of the fact that there are few affordable housing options. Nothing could have prepared them for this introduction to Canada.

Canadians talk about how they value diversity, that it is something that defines this country. Governments rely heavily on immigration to keep the economy and tax base healthy and they lure people with promises . But when newcomers arrive, they are abandoned to a rental housing market that is unaffordable and often inaccessible.

As a result, new Canadians are often forced to double-up for extended periods with friends and relatives, eat away at their savings in expensive short-term accommodation, or even resort to shelters.

When are governments in Canada going to figure out that ensuring access to good, affordable housing has to be an integral part of Canadian and provincial/territorial immigration policies?

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.