Approximately one in four households receiving social assistance, South Asian households, and Black lone parents experience moderate to severe discrimination when they inquire about an available apartment in Toronto, according to a new study published Tuesday by the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA). When the housing seeker has a mental illness, the research finds that one third will experience discrimination.
While these numbers are cause for concern, CERA says they may only represent the tip of the iceberg because the Ontario-based human rights organization only tested the first stage – the initial telephone inquiry – associated with the rental application process. Individuals could still be treated unfairly when they go to view the apartment or when they fill out and submit an application.
During the testing, CERA and over twenty volunteers conducted telephone-based housing discrimination “audits”, matching two individuals for all relevant characteristics other than the one that might lead to discrimination, of almost 1,000 apartments across the City of Toronto. One of the advantages of this testing methodology is that it can capture hidden discrimination. While the research found that discriminatory comments from landlords were relatively common, the bulk of the discrimination was hidden.
A caller would not know, for example, that the allegedly rented apartment was still in fact available, that the landlord returned another caller’s, but not her, call inquiring about the apartment, that he wasn’t offered the “free TV with a 12 month lease”, or that the landlord was applying particularly rigorous application requirements.
CERA says they now need to go further and look at different types of discrimination and different communities. For example, what kinds of barriers do youth face when trying to rent an apartment? What about recent immigrants or refugees who have no Canadian credit or landlord references? What affect does perceived sexual orientation have on rental opportunities? Will a person with a physical disability experience a high level of discrimination?
In CERA’s view all of these questions could be tested effectively and affordably through telephone-based discrimination audits in communities across Ontario. In the meantime, CERA says their study, "Sorry, It's Rented: Measuring Discrimination in Toronto's Rental Housing Market, demonstrates that discrimination is indeed a significant barrier for many communities in their attempt to access housing, pushing individuals into over-priced or inadequate apartments – and potentially into homelessness.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, CERA recommends that the Ontario government fund housing discrimination audits across the province; establish and fund a system to monitor housing discrimination; provide adequate funds to ensure that equality seeking communities can access targeted advocacy supports; and provide adequate funds for human rights education targeted at housing seekers, tenants and housing providers.