The OHRC knows that low social and economic status is a common factor in many types of housing discrimination. People identified by Code grounds are disproportionately likely to have low incomes. The shelter allowance rates for people and families who receive social assistance are far below market levels. This, together with a limited supply of adequate and affordable housing in many parts of the province, puts such people at a significant disadvantage when seeking shelter.
The Code provides protection against discrimination in housing based on specific grounds, including “receipt of public assistance.” The inclusion of “receipt of public assistance” allows some individuals with low social and economic status to file human rights claims where they have been subjected to differential treatment in housing. However, many people with low social and economic status will not be in receipt of public assistance (e.g. people earning low wages, homeless people, etc.), but will still experience differential treatment in housing.
In many cases, given the strong link between low social and economic status and membership in a Code-protected group, these people will be identified by one or more Code grounds, and may experience discrimination based on an intersection of low social and economic status with other grounds.
Example: A housing provider denies a lone working mother with two children a one-bedroom apartment, even though she cannot afford a larger apartment. Although the grounds for the claim would be marital status and family status (receipt of public assistance does not apply as the woman is working), it is her social and economic condition that forces her to rent a one-bedroom apartment.
In such cases, planners, decision-makers and housing providers need to consider the impact that low social and economic status have on the overall discrimination the person experiences.
The Government of Ontario has acknowledged the connection between poverty and human rights. Section 2.(2)3 of the Poverty Reduction Act, 2009 recognizes, “That not all groups of people share the same level of risk of poverty. The poverty reduction strategy must recognize the heightened risk among groups such as immigrants, women, single mothers, people with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and racialized groups.” Section 2.(3)3 of the Act recognizes that “housing” is one of the key determinants of poverty, and section 4.(1) requires annual reporting on indicators to measure its success.
Because of the close connection between low social and economic status and membership in a Code-protected group, measures that subject people who have low social and economic status to differential treatment will frequently raise human rights concerns. Government, housing planners, policy-makers and housing providers should make sure that their policies and practices do not have an adverse impact on people identified by Code grounds.
Poverty Reduction Act, 2009: www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/statutes/english/2009/elaws_src_s09010_...