Affordable and supportive housing are important to many protected groups under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), such as young persons, younger or single-parent families, persons with disabilities, racialized and Indigenous persons, and people who receive public assistance. Opposition to affordable and supportive housing is often based on negative stereotypes and attitudes about persons who will live there. Rules or policies that restrict or reduce affordable and supportive housing may be discriminatory.
1. Group homes and supervised residences
Group homes and supervised residences can be important for persons with a range of different disabilities, whether intellectual, psychological, physical or some combination of these. They are also important for some groups relating to family status, age, marital status, and other Code grounds. The Draft Plan’s treatment of these forms of housing raises human rights concerns, including:
- How they are defined
- Their categorization as “institutional” or “public facilities”
- Zoning restrictions.
Our recommendations for addressing these concerns focus on increasing inclusion and decreasing the likelihood of human rights complaints.
The Draft Plan limits group homes to 3-8 residents; however, the Municipal Act, 2001 allows for up to 10 residents.
- “Group home” is defined, both in the Draft Plan and in London’s Zoning Bylaw (“Group Home Type 1”), as (among other criteria) being for 3-8 residents.
- “Supervised residence” is similarly defined in the Draft Plan and Zoning Bylaw, but houses more than eight residents (and is subject to more zoning restrictions).
- The Municipal Act, 2001, s. 163. (3), defines group homes as being for 3-10 people.
- Amend the official plan (and the zoning bylaw) definition, to allow group homes to have up to 10 residents, consistent with the Municipal Act, 2001.
- Amend the definition of “supervised residence” to be for more than 10 residents.
“Institutional” and “public facilities” categories
The Draft Plan refers to both group homes and supervised residences as “institutions,” and to supervised residences as a “public facilities.” However, both are residential uses and single-housekeeping units, and are not public or institutional in nature.
Group homes are treated differently in different parts of the Draft Plan. For example:
- Policy 1007 refers to them as “smaller institutional uses,” and
- Policy 1170 lists them as an example of “small scale facility or institution”
(where it is the only residential use listed), but
- Policy 1016 (in “Urban Place Types – Institutional” section) refers the reader back to the “Neighbourhood Type” section.
Supervised residences are classed as institutions and public facilities, even though they are housing, not open to the public, and are the same as group homes except for the number of residents:
- Related policies (1024-5) are found in the “Urban Place Types – Institutional” chapter.
- Policy 367 includes them on a list of “public facilities.”
The Draft Plan does not define “institution.” Aside from group homes, supervised residences and correctional residences, all other examples listed are non-residential uses, and relate to larger public bodies, public facilities and public services, such as colleges, universities and hospitals. The City’s Zoning Bylaw definition of “institution” describes publicly accessible, non-residential facilities provided by the municipality or other groups without profit.
The Municipal Act, 2001 definition of “group home” and London’s Zoning Bylaw definitions of group homes and supervised residences describe them as single-housekeeping units and residences. This underscores that these are both residential uses.
Categorizing group homes and supervised residences as “institutional uses” is inaccurate, as these forms of housing are residential both in nature and by definition.
It is also problematic from a human rights perspective, because this label:
- Makes a distinction between housing that is designed for persons with disabilities (and other Code-related groups), and other housing, and
- Is linked to limitations on the availability and location of such housing (discussed below), thus creating barriers to inclusion for Code-protected groups.
- Remove references to group homes and supervised residences as “institutions.”
- Re-categorize supervised residences as residential rather than institutional use, subject to the same limits as other housing based on land use principles.
- Remove reference to supervised residences as “public facilities.”
Zoning restrictions for group homes and supervised residences
We are pleased to see that City’s second Draft Plan:
- Allows group homes throughout neighbourhoods
- Has removed mention of minimum separation distance requirements (MSDs)
for group homes.
This is consistent with OHRC advice, legal trends, and an expert planner’s report which found no land use planning rationale for MSDs for group homes in Toronto.
However, we are concerned that London’s Zoning Bylaw (s. 4.8) still includes a 250m MSD requirement for “Group Home Type 1.”
- Does the City plan to remove the MSD restrictions from its Zoning Bylaw?
- If so, when?
- If not, what is the rationale for this requirement?
As discussed above, supervised residences appear to be essentially the same as group homes, except that they house a greater number of residents. The OHRC has concerns and questions about limitations on this form of housing for Code-identified groups.
The Draft Plan sets out several zoning restrictions for supervised residences. For example:
- Policy 378 states that the locations of supervised residences in place types where public facilities are permitted will be subject to a zoning change
- Separation distances may be used (policies: 378, “Public Facilities and Services”; and 861, “Urban Place Types – Neighbourhoods”)
- Within the neighbourhood place type, supervised residences are only permitted on civic boulevards and urban thoroughfares, rather than neighbourhood streets or neighbourhood connectors (Table 12)
- Supervised residences face the additional barrier of having to seek a zoning bylaw amendment to be permitted in the neighbourhood place type
- Why are supervised residences paired with and given the same restrictions as correctional residences, which would more appropriately be considered institutional uses?
- Why are supervised residences not allowed where seniors’ residences are allowed? (Table 12, pg. 250)
- Seniors’ residences are not defined in the Draft Plan or Zoning Bylaw. How is land use different for seniors’ and supervised residences?
Rationale for using Minimum Separation Distance requirements (MSDs) for housing
While the Draft Plan does not itself refer to MSDs for group homes, it says they may be used for supervised residences (policies 378, 861, 1025). The rationale provided for these MSDs is that they prevent concentrations of supervised residences in specific areas of the city, and ensure that they are well distributed.
While avoiding centralization may be a valid planning goal, this goal must be balanced by human rights obligations [Kitchener OMB File No. PL050611]. In addition, there are many factors that can prevent group homes, supervised residences and other housing
Providers of these types of housing operate on tight budgets, often with strict governmental controls. They generally find very limited available real estate that they can afford and that meets their other specifications. For the benefit of their residents, some may also need to be located near other community services, which generally are not equally dispersed and tend to be in more central areas.
There are many positive steps municipalities can take to encourage affordable housing, which could also encourage a more even distribution. For some examples, see the Municipal Tools for Affordable Housing Handbook, from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (online at www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx%3Fdid%3D9270).
MSDs for supervised residences and group homes simply limit the availability of housing for Code-protected groups. They restrict rather than enable, and are not consistent with the positive initiative called for by sections 1.1.1 and 1.4.3 of the PPS.
- Remove MSD requirements for group homes from the Zoning Bylaw.
- Remove the Draft Plan’s requirement for zoning bylaw amendments for supervised residences, and allow them as of right in residential areas.
- Allow supervised residences throughout all Neighbourhood Place Types, consistent with scale of other housing and/or intensification goals in the area.
- Remove language from the Draft Plan that allow MSDs to be applied to supervised residences.
2. Lodging houses
Lodging houses are another form of affordable housing that is very important for certain Code-protected groups. We are pleased to see that they are included in the Neighbourhood Place Type. However, like supervised residences, they are only allowed on civic boulevards and urban thoroughfares (Draft Plan, Table 12).
Lodging houses are not defined in the Draft Plan, but the Zoning Bylaw sets out that they are residential buildings providing housing for up to three (Class 1) or for more than three (Class 2) lodgers. It is not clear why lodging houses should be confined to civic boulevards and urban thoroughfares, rather than throughout neighbourhoods, consistent with the other housing, density, and/or the intensification plans, in the neighbourhood.
- Allow lodging houses as of right throughout Neighbourhood Place Type, consistent with other housing or the intensification plans in the neighbourhood.
3. Methadone clinics and pharmacies
The Draft Official Plan refers to restrictions for methadone clinics and pharmacies that treat these facilities differently from other medical offices and clinics. These restrictions may be discriminatory, if they:
- Are based on negative assumptions about the people who require the services; or
- Have a disproportionate impact on persons being treated for addiction disabilities, such as by limiting the options for treatment locations, complicating their access to treatment, and subjecting them and their necessary medical services to greater public scrutiny and/or discriminatory neighbourhood opposition.
For example, for methadone clinics and pharmacies, the Draft Plan:
- Includes MSD requirements, so that they must be at least 300 metres away
from schools, libraries, arenas, pools and the Western fairgrounds (policy 1021).
- Requires all proposals for new and expanded clinics and pharmacies to be subject to a public site plan process (policy 1023).
Any regulations that municipalities choose to impose on methadone clinics and pharmacies are subject to section 1 of the Code, which prohibits discrimination in services against people with disabilities, including addictions. Bylaws and regulations should neither target, nor have a discriminatory impact on people with addictions.
People receiving methadone treatment are a highly stigmatized group. Behaviours are often attributed to them based on stereotypes about addictions. It is important to avoid making decisions based on stereotypes about people who use methadone, such as their being undesirable, prone to criminal behaviour, or not part of the community.
Discrimination can compound the effects of living with addiction disabilities by making it harder to seek treatment, triggering or making the disability worse, and making it harder to recover by limiting available supports.
Municipal imposition of different rules because of the people who will use the clinic is comparable to people zoning relating to housing. As with housing, we recommend that
municipalities look at their approaches to methadone clinics from a human rights perspective, and ask questions such as:
- Is this more restrictive zoning based on any discriminatory views about clients, instead of on legitimate planning purposes?
- In what ways might the municipal planning of methadone clinics and pharmacies limit the availability of methadone services to people with addictions?
- Are there other, less intrusive alternatives that can address any legitimate planning concerns?
We have written to several municipalities (including previous correspondence with London) where we have seen a need for a human rights lens to be applied in planning and licensing affecting services such as methadone clinics or dispensaries. We are encouraged to see that staff and planning committees in some municipalities (such as Windsor) are beginning to incorporate a human rights lens when considering health services, and are preventing or removing barriers when regulating methadone clinics.
- Remove any zoning or licensing requirements that restrict the locations of clinics and pharmacies in ways that have an adverse and discriminatory impact on Code-protected groups, such as persons with addiction disabilities.
 While the City’s Zoning Bylaw defines “Group Home Type 1” and “Group Home Type 2,” our discussion here is only regarding “Group Home Type 1.”