There was a little bit of good news just before the New Year when the Ontario Liberal government announced $42 million in funding to help municipalities develop and implement their housing and homelessness prevention plans for 2013-2014.
The funding will help ease the transition that comes from the elimination of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) as of December 31, 2012. CSUMB, which was available to all Ontarians on social assistance, helped cover unexpected housing costs, such as rental arrears, and was an important tool to help keep low income families housed. The Liberals’ decision to cancel this benefit and pass on 50% of the funds to municipalities was an ill-conceived one; aside from offering less to those who need it most, many of the municipalities did not have programs in place to properly administer the funds.
This is still nothing more than a $42 million band aid. The Liberals have offered no real long term solutions to the problem they created by cancelling CSUMB. Until they do, this gesture towards our most vulnerable citizens will have to do.
It’s November 22nd, 2012. Another National Housing Day.
What do we have to show for it?
We have a federal government that continues to ignore calls for a national housing strategy and that, other than the odd stimulus blip, invests less and less in housing and homelessness programs. Don’t believe what they say about “belt tightening” and sacrifice. The money is there. It’s all about priorities.
We have a provincial government (Ontario) that has a “long term affordable housing strategy” that is free of substance and commitments, and that refuses to set social assistance benefits or the minimum wage at levels that would allow people to afford a good place to live. It is also about to cut a critical social assistance benefit that helps thousands of low income individuals and families get and keep their homes. Yes, Ontario’s finances were hit hard by the recession, but the money is there. Once again, it’s a question of priorities.
We have municipalities that are increasingly responsible for housing needs and associated costs that they are not financially equipped to address – all because higher levels of government refuse to live up to their responsibilities.
We have three levels of government that refuse to take seriously the human right to housing.
Happy National Housing Day.
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.
CERA recently received an e-mail from a woman who is trying to find an apartment with her husband and baby. We were struck by how clearly and powerfully she described the discrimination commonly faced by families, newcomers to Canada, and low income people. We asked her if we could post it on our website.
“My husband and I are newcomers to Canada and we have a 5 month baby…We have been looking for a place to live. When we first got here we where receiving assistance and the only place we could get was a bachelor basement. I got pregnant and now we have a baby growing fast and no place for him to grow. My husband has a job now in the cosntruction business and we always provide the job letter to the places we try to rent, but everytime there is competition and we are always the last.
“We are being very discriminated against. Some places don’t even accept us because of the baby. They say things like: “our place is not big enough for 3 people”, “not suitable for a family”, “suitable for a professional couple only, no babies” and it goes on. We are looking for a small place because that’s what we can afford. We just started our life here we need to start small, but people don’t give us a chance to rent anywhere.
“At other places the discrimination is because we are immigrants. They keep asking questions about where we are from and after that all we receive is calls and emails, ” sorry, somebody else got the place”.
“I’m getting desperate because the baby is growing up fast. We need to move fast but by ourselves nothing is working. We can afford to pay the rent no problem… But everyday I see lots of places that could fit us, they just don’t accept us. My question is is there anything that we can do to make this process easier? Any place that can help us?”
The National Council of Welfare recently released a report which stated that welfare rules are forcing people into destitution. The report explains: “It is tougher to get welfare in Canada today than during the economic downturn of the early 1990s because Ontario and most other provinces force people to drain their bank accounts and spend all of their savings before they qualify for help.” (Toronto Star, 14/12/10)
Ontario welfare rates are as follows: a single person receives $349 for rent, and $211 for basic needs, a total of $560 per month. The average rent for bachelor and one bedroom apartments in Toronto are $758 and $926. Single people don’t get enough to rent bachelors or one bedroom units in Toronto and are forced to live in rooms or become homeless. Single parents with two kids under 12 receive $595 for rent and $571 for basic needs, a total of $1166 per month. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Toronto is $1096, which leaves families with $70 after paying rent. A family with two adults and two kids under 12 receives $647 for rent and $619 for basic needs, a total of $1,266. The average rent for three or more bedroom apartments is $1290. Clearly these rates are nowhere near enough to pay housing costs, food, clothing, transportation and other essential needs. Most families receive Child Tax Benefits but this is clawed back from welfare payments.
The reality of these facts is that once an individual or family is receiving welfare, they have very few (if any) assets and little or no savings. So if they fall behind even one month in paying their rent, it can be disastrous. There is essentially no money left over to pay arrears and keep up with the rent at the same time. An example is a single parent with two children who lost her job six months ago. She is confident she will work again eventually, but for now she is finding it impossible to pay rent and cover all of her costs. She is facing eviction for one month rent. She wants to make a payment plan with the Landlord but she can only afford an extra $50 per month on top of her rent and even that is a stretch for her. The Landlord won’t accept less than $100 per month towards arrears. She was unable to pay that so she now faces a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board in January. “I never in a million years expected this to happen to me.” She says. “I am so scared and I just don’t know what to do.”