Discriminatory opposition to affordable housing for groups protected under the Code (“Not-in-my-backyard” syndrome or “NIMBYism”) makes it much harder to develop affordable social and supportive housing for people with mental health issues or addictions. In Right at Home, a report on the OHRC’s consultation on human rights and rental housing, the OHRC recommended that government and organizations monitor and combat NIMBY opposition.
The OHRC also made its own commitments and continues to actively challenge discriminatory NIMBYism. In February 2012, we launched a guide on human rights and zoning, entitled, In the Zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning.
NIMBY opposition to housing projects is based on stereotypes or negative attitudes about the people who will live in them. These are often directly related to one or more Code grounds. This opposition can include discriminatory attitudes as well as actions, laws or policies developed by a municipality.
We heard how NIMBY opposition is often directed towards supportive housing for people with mental health issues, because of community concerns that property values would go down and crime would increase. But according to the York Support Services Network and York Regional Police, this is based on mistaken perceptions that link mental illness and criminality.
We also heard about restrictions on the zoning of group homes (for example, requiring minimum distances between homes), which limit options and often lead to higher costs to develop group homes for people with mental health issues or addictions.
People were also concerned about opposition to services used by people with mental health disabilities and addictions, such as homeless shelters and addiction treatment centres. Some municipalities have passed or attempted to pass bylaws to eliminate or restrict services to people with addictions. A representative of an addiction treatment centre said that because people with addictions are perceived more negatively than other Code-protected groups, these restrictions are not getting as much attention as they should from government or the OHRC.
Some voiced frustration that efforts to fight NIMBYism often fall to the organizations developing affordable housing or services. The Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) is asking for clear direction from the provincial government to prevent discrimination at the municipal level. Without this direction, local planning processes may continue to discourage the development of affordable and supportive housing.
We also heard that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which hears land-use planning disputes and has the jurisdiction to apply the Human Rights Code, is an important forum for challenging NIMBYism and respecting human rights.