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II. Affordable housing

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Affordable, adequate housing is a core necessity for everyone in Ontario. There is an undeniable link between affordable and adequate housing and quality of life.

Ontario is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world. Yet, there are still many Ontarians who do not have access to adequate and affordable rental housing. There appear to be several reasons for this, including a shortage of housing supply, low social assistance and wage rates and discrimination practiced by housing providers. Measures have been undertaken in recent years to address housing supply, for example the much talked about Canada/Ontario Affordable Housing Agreement. However, it is clear that much remains to be done.

Social housing, when properly funded and operated, has been a very effective way to meet basic housing needs. However, issues with respect to social housing programs have resulted in a chronic housing shortage for low-income individuals and families. There are long waiting lists; in some jurisdictions the wait is as much as 7 to 8 years.

There are also concerns with the allocation of social housing. For example, waiting lists may be divided based on whether a person is on social assistance or can afford the market rent. The chronological order of waiting lists can have a negative impact on those who may have a more urgent need for social housing and large families may have an even harder time since larger units are even more difficult to obtain. Denying or revoking social housing subsidies, and the limited options for appeal, may also be a concern.

At the same time, social housing providers face their own challenges. For example, rising energy costs combined with very low energy efficiency ratings mean that more social housing projects may move into deficit situations. Similarly, there is a shortage of money to spend on aging buildings.

Co-op housing is another attractive source of affordable housing for Ontarians. However, once again there are long waiting lists for co-op housing and very few new co-op developments. Co-op housing operates effectively through a system of by-laws and the obligations of members and the co-op to each other. However, this sometimes gives rise to human rights concerns. Some have been brought to the attention of the Commission through human rights complaints, for example with regard to requirements that occupants on social assistance pay the full “shelter allowance” portion of their social assistance as rent, rules with regard to transfers to other units, and participation requirements that may not accommodate people’s disabilities.

There are many barriers to establishing new affordable or supportive housing that would provide accommodation for Ontarians identified by Code grounds such as those with disabilities, low income persons, newcomers to Canada, Aboriginal persons and youth. Municipal planning requirements and practices can have the effect of preventing people from moving into specific neighbourhoods. Many municipalities have implemented by-laws requiring minimum separation distances between certain types of housing, zoning by-laws that restrict development based on the people who will live there, development moratoria, and onerous public consultation requirements. Opposition from local residents to affordable or supportive housing can result in long delays and increased costs in getting these projects approved. Even where new housing is successfully established, there may be design compromises that isolate or stigmatize tenants.

What can the Commission do to support the goal of adequate and affordable housing for persons who experience hardship, disadvantage or discrimination because of Code grounds?

There appear to be issues with regard to social housing and co-op housing that need further consideration from a human rights perspective. What do you think these issues are? Are there examples of discrimination in the social housing or co-op housing contexts that the Commission could address? What challenges do housing providers face that the Commission can assist with?

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