Measuring Discrimination in Toronto’s Rental Housing Market

Do landlords prefer to rent to couples over single parents? What if the single parent has a Caribbean accent? Do they prefer to rent to people in low paying employment over individuals receiving the same amount from social assistance? Do they avoid renting to people associated with a mental health organization? Will a person with an identifiable South Asian accent have a harder time finding a place than someone with a so-called “Canadian” accent? During the summer of 2008, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and over twenty volunteers conducted telephone-based housing discrimination “audits” across the City of Toronto. Discrimination audits – or paired testing research – involve matching two individuals for all relevant characteristics (such as occupation, sex, marital status, income level, etc.) other than the one that might lead to discrimination. In the housing sector, paired testers apply for an apartment and the treatment they receive is closely monitored. For this research, CERA created profiles that tested discrimination against lone parents, Black lone parents, individuals with mental illness, South Asian people and individuals receiving social assistance. As illustrated in the summary chart on the right, the study found significant levels of discrimination associated with all five profiles. From our research, we estimate that approximately 1 in 4 households receiving social assistance, South Asian households, and Black lone parents experience moderate to severe discrimination when they inquire about an available apartment – discrimination that would act as a substantial barrier to accessing housing. When the housing seeker has a mental illness, our research finds that more than one third will experience discrimination. These numbers, alone, are cause for concern, but as will be discussed in the report, they may represent the tip of the iceberg. From this research, it is clear that policy makers need to bring discrimination into their discussions of housing and housing policy. Strategies developed to address homelessness and housing insecurity must take account of the reality that – even where rental housing is available – thousands of marginalized individuals and families cannot make it through the door.

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