Affordable housing, services, and the Code:
Affordable housing is important to many individuals and groups protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), such as students and other young persons, larger or single-parent families, persons with disabilities, Indigenous or racialized persons, and people who receive public assistance. Opposition to this housing, and to certain services, such as social services or methadone clinics, is often based on negative stereotypes and attitudes about the people who need the housing or service.
Rules, policies, or bylaws that restrict or reduce affordable housing and much-needed services can have a disproportionate and negative effect on many Code groups – and leave the municipality at risk of discrimination complaints. These comments are based on OHRC policy, guides and other public statements, such as letters to municipalities.
Links to planning
The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) 2014, under the Planning Act, includes language that is consistent with the Code relating to accessibility and the importance of affordable housing. It also specifically addresses human rights obligations:
- S. 1.1.1 emphasizes the importance of:
- 1.1.1 (b) accommodating an appropriate range and mix of residential (including second units, affordable housing and housing for older persons) and other uses, and
- 1.1.1 (f) improving accessibility for persons with disabilities and older persons by identifying, preventing and removing land use barriers which restrict their full participation in society
- S. 1.4.3 requires planning authorities to provide for an appropriate range and mix
of housing types and densities to meet projected requirements of current and future residents, including by:
- establishing and implementing minimum targets for the provision of housing which is affordable to low and moderate income households, and
- permitting and facilitating:
- all forms of housing required to meet the social, health and well-being requirements of current and future residents, including special needs requirements; and
- all forms of residential intensification, including second units.
- S. 4.6 requires that the PPS be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Municipal Councillor’s Guide (S. 3) also reminds councillors of their human rights obligations under the Code and Charter.
Affordable housing is a stated and required provincial interest that intersects directly with human rights. Reducing human rights barriers in housing increases inclusion, and also helps municipalities meet their affordable housing targets.
The OHRC has developed a number of resources to help municipalities identify, prevent and remove barriers.
In 2012, the OHRC released In the Zone; Housing, human rights and municipal planning in 2012 to assist municipalities in removing human rights barriers in zoning and planning processes. In February, 2015, the OHRC sent out a letter to update Ontario municipalities about recent legal and regulatory developments, and a planning expert’s report stating that MSDs are not appropriate or justifiable for group homes, and should be removed (Appendix C).
Despite these advances, many barriers remain in municipalities across the province. Zoning bylaw review processes provide an important opportunity to identify and remove these barriers. The OHRC has created a new resource list with links and information about recent legal decisions and settlements, regulatory changes, social science research, and MMAH and OHRC resources (Appendix A). This can help planners, elected officials and municipal counsel identify and remove planning barriers, and address community concerns that can impede human rights and equal access to housing and services.
Recommendations and considerations
The OHRC recommends that Ajax and other municipalities take the following steps to increase inclusion, remove human rights barriers in planning, and prevent human rights complaints:
- Zone all housing as residential.
- While some people need services in their housing, and while landlords have a business interest in it, affordable and rental housing are people’s homes, and should be zoned as such.
- These are not business, service, institutional or public land uses.
- Allow affordable housing as-of-right in residential neighbourhoods, consistent with built form.
- Make planning decisions on genuine land-use principles, not on people-zoning.
- Do not base decisions on discriminatory opposition, such as:
- bias, stereotype, and assumptions about certain groups of people, or
- worst-case, exaggerated or hypothetical scenarios about the impact the affordable housing or service will have on the neighbourhood
- Do not use MSD requirements to restrict and distinguish between residential uses, such as group homes, lodging houses, rental housing, and other affordable housing. If these MSDs already exist, remove them.
- MSDs are appropriate for separating residential from other land uses, (such as industrial or livestock), but not to distinguish between residential uses.
- Remove arbitrary exclusions, numerical limits or other limitations to affordable housing, such as:
- Restrictions and bylaws applied only to certain neighbourhoods based on who lives there (for example, in student areas based on bias and assumptions about where and what kind of housing students should live in)
- Limits to or exclusion of affordable housing in lower-density residential areas
- Restrictions targeting areas with higher concentrations of affordable housing, social services or persons with disabilities or who receive public assistance
- Limiting affordable housing to the outer edge of residential neighbourhoods or
to arterial roads/corridors
- Do not set other design/planning requirements (such barrier walls or fencing, parking, floor area requirements that exceed Building Code requirements) that treat affordable housing differently than other housing, unless they are based in a genuine health and safety or other legitimate municipal rationale.
- Do not require additional meetings for affordable housing proposals.
- While consultation is important in planning, requiring extra meetings for affordable housing is an inappropriate response to discriminatory opposition.
- Municipalities must not give the false impression that people have the right
- to choose their neighbours.
- Extra meetings create delays and add costs for housing providers.
- Opposition to affordable housing must be handled differently than NIMBY opposition to things like an industrial use, casino or high-rise condo, because it has legal human rights implications.
- When holding public meetings for housing or services, take steps to make sure meetings are non-discriminatory.
To date, the OHRC’s work on municipal planning has focused largely on housing, and on certain services such as methadone clinics and non-profit social services. There are many other aspects of planning that have, or have been asserted to have, human rights implications. For example:
- If “day cares” are defined in zoning bylaws only as being for children, adults with disabilities requiring similar services may be excluded
- Planning rules have been asserted by different religious groups to inappropriately restrict their faith-based activities or location of houses of worship
- The PPS sets out obligations relating to the interests of Indigenous communities
In considering whether any decision, rule, process, practice or bylaw is consistent with the Code, municipal staff and decision-makers can ask themselves two questions:
- Is the purpose to target or regulate a certain group of people?
- Will it negatively affect Code-identified groups?
The OHRC has been pleased to see several municipalities change their practices, bylaws and official plans to remove barriers to comply with the Code. Many have decided to drop or amend zoning or licensing restrictions to remove discriminatory elements affecting services or housing. Several have opted for better enforcement
of existing municipal bylaws to address particular concerns, such as parking or noise issues, rather than by inappropriately using zoning or licensing.
The OHRC believes that this shift shows that municipalities are taking up the challenge to increase inclusion and human rights. Zoning bylaw review is an excellent opportunity for municipalities to be proactive. By applying a human rights lens, municipalities can identify and remove barriers, reduce discrimination, and ensure that communities across the province are truly welcoming to all Ontarians.