The Honourable Steve Clark
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
College Park, 17th Floor
777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 2J3
Dear Minister Clark:
Re: Submission on Proposed Regulatory Amendments under the Housing Services Act, 2011 – Reg. 367/11
I trust this letter finds you well.
I am writing today to provide the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) submission on the government’s Proposed Regulatory Amendments under the Housing Services Act, 2011 – Reg. 367/11. The OHRC is committed to bringing a human rights perspective to government strategies aimed at addressing poverty, homelessness and hunger. To that end, the OHRC calls on the government to ensure that its efforts to address issues facing the community housing system work to protect vulnerable, and often Human Rights Code (Code)-protected tenants, and tailor services to suit their needs.
International human rights law has long recognized the right to adequate housing. The government of Canada committed to the progressive realization of this right in the National Housing Strategy Act (2019). Also, the OHRC has called on the Government of Ontario to legislate recognition of the right to adequate housing. Ontario law has long codified being able to access housing free from discrimination as a human right. And more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that housing means more than just a physical space: it lays the foundation for our safety, security and dignity. Based on a human rights-based approach to housing, the OHRC shares this submission on Proposed Regulatory Amendments under the Housing Services Act, 2011 – Reg. 367/1.
Human rights and housing
Because every person has the right to be treated equally in housing without discrimination, it is vitally important to clearly and consistently make the connection between human rights and bylaws, policies and procedures that govern housing. Service managers, non-profit housing corporations and housing co-operatives all have obligations under the Code to provide housing that is free from discrimination. This includes a legal duty to respond to requests for accommodation based on Code grounds, and to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.
While its mandate was not focused on community housing, the government’s recent Report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force commented: “having a place to call home connects people to their community, creates a gathering place for friends and family, and becomes a source of pride.” The report also stated that “we have only recently begun to understand and address the reality of decades of systemic racism that has resulted in lower household incomes, making the housing affordability gap wider than average.”
The OHRC sees the proposed regulatory amendments under the Housing Services Act, 2011 – Reg. 367/11, as an opportunity to make progress in protecting and supporting the human rights of vulnerable and Code-protected tenants in the community housing system.
Homelessness in Ontario and Canada has reached crisis levels. When existing operating agreements end, vulnerable and often Code-protected tenants may be at risk of losing their housing and becoming homeless. Municipal governments and district social services administration boards have human rights responsibilities in their roles as facilitators of community housing. But they must also take steps to apply a human rights lens to decisions that could result in the loss of community housing, and to mitigate the effect of these decisions on people who identify with Code grounds.
Because of the disproportionate impact that housing loss may have on Code-protected groups, the OHRC urges the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) to include baseline provisions in new service agreements that reflect human rights obligations to protect tenants in cases where existing community housing assets are sold and changed for a different use. These provisions must guarantee that no individual or family loses community housing. This could mean prioritizing any displaced tenants for portable benefits/housing allowances or alternate community housing. This could also mean provisions that provide incentives for service managers to support a tenant’s ability to build generational wealth by purchasing their units outright or in a shared equity model with the provider. Recommendation #41 from the Report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force encourages “funding for pilot projects that create innovative pathways to homeownership, for Black, Indigenous, and marginalized people and first-generation homeowners.” Similarly, recommendation #42 calls for providing “provincial and federal loan guarantees for purpose-built rental, affordable rental and affordable ownership projects.”
Service level requirements and access
Many groups identified by Code grounds are more likely to require community housing, including affordable housing, social housing, lodging houses and other low-cost private rental housing, group homes or other supportive housing, and other options. These forms of housing are particularly important for newcomers, people with disabilities (including mental health, addictions, physical and/or intellectual disabilities), people who receive social assistance, Black, other racialized and Indigenous people, older adults, transgender people, women, and larger, young or lone-parent families.
Many individuals from these groups, and a range of housing and community support advocates and organizations, have long raised concerns with the OHRC that the lack of affordable, accessible and suitable housing is a systemic social barrier across Ontario. For instance, many people with disabilities and families supporting children with disabilities struggle to find, and keep, accessible and affordable housing.
The OHRC recommends that MMAH support and provide incentives for service managers to work with affected communities to provide priority housing assistance that is tailored and targeted for Code-protected groups, such as people living with disabilities. One option here is that the benefits could be designed in a way that supports both recipient and housing provider with accommodation and adaptation needs.
Other housing benefits designed with the unique needs of Code-protected groups in mind could include specific benefits for lone-parent families, Indigenous people and newcomers, among others. The OHRC also encourages MMAH to support and offer incentives to service managers to provide different types of flexible housing assistance matched to household need, such as rapid rehousing and Housing First models to support people experiencing homelessness.
Last, the OHRC urges MMAH to support new housing benefits that are full-coverage programs that provide enough assistance to fill the entire affordability gap, so households will have enough funds to pay their rent without having to spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
The OHRC supports MMAH’s aim to update rules that protect tenants in new service agreements and improve access to housing assistance for the people most in need, including Code-protected individuals and families. We believe a human rights-based approach to the proposed regulatory amendments supports these efforts.
 Report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force (2022), pg. 6.
 Ibid. p 21.