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Deputation to the Toronto PGM Committee, May 29, 2014 – Minimum separation distances

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May 29, 2014

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Deputation to the City of Toronto Planning and Growth
Management Committee – May 29, 2014

Re: Report PG 33.2, “Amendments for all Zoning By-laws Group Home
Separation and Occupant Numbers

Presenter: Dianne Carter, Executive Director, OHRC

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  • Hi, I’m Dianne Carter, Executive Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
  • I’m happy to appear today, on behalf of Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, in support of the report that is recommending removing Minimum Separation Distances for group homes across Toronto.

Group homes, disability, Code.

  • Group homes are an essential form of housing for many people with disabilities, both physical and psychological.
  • They provide people with the supports they need to fully take part and contribute to their communities.
  • So when bylaws or regulations restrict group homes and other housing options, they also restrict opportunities for some of our most vulnerable residents … and that can be discrimination, under the Human Rights Code.
  • The Code applies to the Planning Act and the City of Toronto Act.
  • It applies to planning decisions and bylaws, and prevails when there are conflicts.
  • Zoning that restricts housing for people with disabilities – without a legitimate land-use rationale – is a form of systemic discrimination, and is prohibited under the Code.
  • Many cases of systemic discrimination arise because people do things “the way we have always done them,” and don’t make the connection between human rights and the decisions they are making.
  • We suggest it’s time to move beyond the usual way, to make sure bylaws respect the human rights of everyone in a neighbourhood.

Minimum Separation Distances

  • Minimum separation distances for group homes make neighbourhoods less inclusive.
  • They limit the sites available for development, and·force housing providers to turn away from otherwise ideal housing opportunities – to the detriment of many people who identify by Code grounds.

Community opposition to housing

  • In our work and in the news, we have seen that many people incorrectly believe is okay to prevent certain groups of people from living in their neighbourhoods.
  • Or they think it’s okay to control or limit how people with disabilities take part in our communities.
  • Resistance to group homes is often based on stereotypes and misconceptions about the people who live there.
  • But we do not have the right to choose our neighbours, or to keep people out.
  • People with disabilities are part of every community, and shouldn’t be made to feel otherwise.
  • Government needs to remove barriers to inclusion, and not reinforce or build new ones.
  • This report’s recommendations are an important step in removing these barriers.

People zoning

  • Zoning bylaws should be based on a legitimate planning rationale, and should not “people zone.”
  • Decisions have to be based on the use of the land or the buildings, and not on the people who will live in the housing.
  • Courts have ruled that zoning by-laws that define and restrict the location of dwellings based on the characteristics of their users, instead of the type of building structure, are discriminatory.
  • So the proposed bylaw amendments today can help put the City on the right side of the law.

Homes not institutions

  • Group homes are first and foremost “homes.” They provide residents with the individual supports they need in places where they can be part of a community.
  • Group homes have the same housing footprint and form as any other housing in the neighbourhood.
  • So we’re asking you to treat them the same as other neighbourhood housing, not to isolate them based on perceived differences.

Legal work

  • The Commission has intervened before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to say that zoning by-laws requiring minimum separation distances between group homes are inconsistent with the Code.
  • And we have settlements supporting our position.
  • We also have been involved in two cases where the OMB stuck down a city’s attempt to restrict group homes by using MSDs … in Hamilton and Kitchener.

Human rights delayed are human rights denied

  • Removing MSDs for group homes is the right thing to do in cities across Ontario, and in Toronto.
  • Removing MSDs supports the goals of your own housing charter.
  • Even Dr. Agarwal, your own planning expert, has said there is no planning rationale for keeping MSDs and recommends removing them.
  • We continue to be involved in the Dream Team’s challenge of the City’s MSDs for group homes at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario – but a solution based on the City’s initiative is always better.
  • This issue has been the subject of much discussion – since 2009 – and the public has had many, many opportunities to comment.
  • Human rights delayed are human rights denied, so it’s time to move past the discussion. It’s time to act.
  • The bylaw amendments staff are proposing today are the right thing to do to enhance inclusion and advance the human rights of vulnerable people across Toronto.