The OHRC provided guidance to the Township of Scugog about human rights principles relating to housing, as they considered amendments to their Zoning Bylaw relating to co-owned housing geared toward older Ontarians and people with disabilities. Following input from the community and the OHRC, the Township’s decision was to not create a special category, but treat the housing the same as any other residential housing.
Mayor Chuck Mercier and
Members of the Council
Township of Scugog
181 Perry St., P.O. Box 780
Port Perry, Ontario
Your Worship and Councillors,
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has heard that, in its development of a new Comprehensive Zoning By-law, the Township of Scugog has been considering issues relating to co-owned housing, and has created a new zoning category of “communal dwellings.”
We understand that co-owned, multiple “tenant-in-common” housing has been proposed as an option that may be important for certain groups, such as older Ontarians and person with disabilities, regardless of their family and/or marital status. We see also that the Township has undertaken consultation and internal staff and legal reviews of these issues in relation to planning, and appears to have made a number of amendments to its final proposed bylaw to address the issues raised.
While the Township considers the proposed bylaw, it must also ensure it meets its obligations under the Human Rights Code (the Code). Given that human rights issues have been raised by community members, I would like to take this opportunity to provide information about the Code, OHRC positions, legal decisions, and human rights principles.
First, the Code provides for freedom from discrimination based on age, disability, and family and marital status, among other grounds. The Preamble to the Code sets out the principles of dignity and worth of every person, and the importance of ensuring equal rights and opportunity.
The City must ensure that its bylaws do not directly or indirectly discriminate against groups protected by the Code. This includes the obligation to accommodate the needs of older people, people with disabilities, and other needs relating to Code grounds. When bylaws result in restrictions for groups protected by the Code, a municipality may need to show that they are rationally connected to municipal objectives, they were established in good faith, and that it would be impossible to accommodate the group affected without undue hardship. [British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU,  3 S.C.R. 3; Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario v. Kitchener (City) (2010),O.M.B.D. Case No. PL050611.]
In our policy on disability, the OHRC details the duty to accommodate, including the principles of dignity, integration, design by inclusion, barrier removal, and accommodation (Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, section 4.1). We have also affirmed the importance of “aging in place” as a central consideration with regard to housing options for older Ontarians (Policy on Discrimination Against Older Persons Because of Age, Section 6, p. 21).
In our public consultation on human rights and older persons, we heard that housing for older persons, including private housing, should:
- be accessible and allow people to live wherever they want,
- allow people to “age in place” with in-home services as needed,
- adapt to the changing needs of people as they age, and
- ensure that people can remain in their own community, whether rural or urban.
(OHRC consultation report, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians, pp. 42-45)
The OHRC has also taken a number of positions in its work on housing that may be useful for the Township to consider with regard to the distinctions between the categories of “communal dwelling” and “single detached dwelling.” For example, the Commission’s position is that:
- despite provision of services, or the management of the dwelling by an outside body, group homes are still a residential use, and should be allowed throughout residential areas
- rental housing, whether owned/managed by resident or non-resident owners/companies, should not be excluded from residential neighbourhoods.
In zoning, the focus should be on legitimate land-use planning rationales. We acknowledge that other relevant laws and bylaws, such as relating to health and safety and property maintenance, continue to apply to all forms of housing. (For more information, see the OHRC guides, In the Zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning, and Room for Everyone: Human Rights and municipal housing licensing).
We encourage the township to:
- Consider whether any elements of the Comprehensive Zoning By-law will limit the housing options for older residents, persons with disabilities or other vulnerable people in your community
- Include references to the Code in any regulatory bylaws. These references educate the public about their rights under the Code, and reaffirm the City’s commitment and understanding that nothing in its bylaws can contravene the Code
Reviewing bylaw amendments through a human rights lens can help you make sure your communities are inclusive and meet the needs of all residents.
I hope this information is helpful to you. If you would like to discuss matters relating to human rights and planning, please contact Jacquelin Pegg at 416-326-9863, or via email at Jacquelin.Pegg@ohrc.on.ca.
Barbara Hall, B.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (hon.)