Housing New Canadians
Research Working Group - Toronto
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"Each type of discrimination makes it easier to enforce other types.... Together, all of these forms of discrimination lead to low incomes, which make price and human capital discrimination easier.... No matter what type of discrimination is examined, it is reinforced by other types. They exist in a system of mutual support. When all are viewed together, no white perceives great economic losses from discrimination. Consequently, there are only minor economic pressures to put an end to it." - Lester C. Thurow (1975)

Most discriminatory acts are undertaken without clear motivations other than generalized habit; those engaging in such habitual responses may simply have few personal or contextual characteristics in common. What does seem clear, however, is that agents' stereotyped beliefs about the characteristics, beliefs, or preferences of others form the dominant cause of discrimination in housing transactions." - George C. Galster (1992:654).

The term discrimination is variously defined in the literature to mean: treating a person differently for irrelevant reasons; the unequal treatment of equals; and, whether deliberate or unintentional, any action that has the effect of limiting opportunities by the use of irrelevant criterion (skin colour, gender, religion).

Discrimination against one group inevitably benefits another group.

"In its most usual contemporary sense, in both ordinary discourse and the social sciences, it denotes the unfavourable treatment of categories of persons on arbitrary grounds. In this usage it refers to a process or form of social control which serves to maintain social distance between two or more cat-egories or groups by means of a set of practices more or less institutionalized and rationalized. The practices employed involve the arbitrary attribution of inferiority on grounds which have little to do with the actual behaviour of those discriminated against, and are frequently in conflict with accepted ideas of justice and fairness." (Moore, 1964:203)

One major objective of the Housing New Canadians research initiative is to study the nature, extent and impact of housing-related discrimination in Toronto's housing system. In our questionnaire we define discrimination as follows:

"Housing discrimination refers to actions by landlords or their staff which means you are refused an apartment for unfair reasons, and/or have to pay higher rent than others for no valid reason, and/or have fewer neighbourhoods to choose from than others simply because you are a [Jamaican or Polish or Somali] newcomer." - From Part 8 of the Housing New Canadians Questionnaire.

In research carried out for the Ontario Human Rights Commission the focus is on one particular "rule of thumb" exclusion criterion called a minimum income qualification. It is in common use by Toronto's larger corporate owners and managers of rental housing. Some, but not all, applicants are denied any further consideration if the rent is greater than a certain percentage of their cash income.

Our research has identified 10 categories of barriers that affect access to housing and thus the housing trajectory of newcomers in the Toronto area.

  • level of income (for example, landlords' use of minimum income criteria);
  • colour of skin as a signifier for 'race';
  • source of income and receipt of social assistance;
  • ethnicity/culture/religion, which lead to lifestyle stereotypes;
  • knowledge of the housing system, including application procedures, discrimination, and so forth;
  • gender;
  • language or accent;
  • household type and size;
  • knowledge of institutions and culture; and
  • experience with the dominant culture.

Some barriers are forms of illegal discrimination, others are not. Canada does not have the detailed empirical studies of housing discrimination available in the United States. It is clear, however, from our findings that there are numerous barriers to equal access to housing opportunities in Toronto, in both private market housing and in social housing. Negative stereotypes, prejudice and ethnocentrism are common. These barriers put some groups at a disadvantage in finding housing and, in the long run, in their housing trajectory.

There are many barriers to housing access that adequate newcomer advisory and support services could address. These barriers can result in:

  • fewer choices among the available vacancies;
  • fewer choices among locations or neighbourhoods;
  • higher rents;
  • longer searches;
  • more frequent moves;
  • overcrowding;
  • psychological impacts.

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