By Kelly Skjerven Staff Reporter
Newcomers searching for a home in Toronto’s tight rental market face “alarming” levels of discrimination, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights
In a phone audit of rental listings that appeared this year, CCHR researchers found that women who called about a unit and said they were a newcomer faced a 62 per cent increase in discrimination when they had accents that presented as racialized versus women newcomers who did not have a racialized accent.
Men who said they were a newcomer over the phone faced a 267 per cent increase in discrimination when they had a racialized accent, compared to newcomer men who did not have a racialized accent.
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Newcomer women in the phone audit faced a 563 per cent increase in discrimination when they told the housing provider they were caring for a child, compared to when parental status was not revealed.
“All of this is really just so alarming to learn because these are real barriers for newcomers seeking rental housing when they arrive in Toronto, especially if they are racialized or they have children,” said Bahar Shadpour, CCHR director of policy and communication.
Volunteers, CCHR research assistants, and staff contacted more than 1,300 housing providers by phone or email during winter 2022. CCHR matched two individuals on all relevant characters such as income level and gender identity except for one or a combination of a small number of factors “for which the rate of discrimination was to be assessed.”
Through their research the CCHR found both men and women disclosing newcomer status (someone who arrived in Canada in the last 10 years and looking for their first home here) elicited some form of discrimination, whether they were told a move-in date different than what was listed or a caller was told a unit was no longer available whereas another caller was told the unit was available.
As part of the report, the CCHR also surveyed 74 people from newcomer organizations within the city. Of the respondents, 60 per cent said they were able to secure housing since they arrived in Canada. Of the 40 per cent who were unable to secure housing since arriving in Toronto, 62 per cent were receiving social assistance.
Newcomer Women’s Services executive director Sara Asalya says newcomers that come to their organization for help also face financial barriers when it comes to securing a rental.
“I feel sometimes there is more focus on employment for example, because these newcomers are very interested in getting jobs right away but that might come at the expense of educating them around things like financial literacy,” Asalya said.
The CCHR report noted that not having a credit history in Canada or a guarantor is one way housing providers can deny a newcomer’s application. Knowing this, the report states, the provincial and federal governments “should establish no-fee guarantor services to support newcomers to access housing upon arrival in Canada.”
Shadpour also noted that access to housing is equally as important as housing affordability.
“We can’t just increase the supply of housing without really thinking about who’s accessing it and what barriers are there for people to be able to live in those homes,” Shadpour said.
A lawyer with Advocacy Centre for Tenant Rights Ontario, Dania Majid, said the experience and hardships newcomers face is not a new issue and it’s getting worse.
“We can’t settle these refugees that are coming into this country and now that Canada is set to welcome even more immigrants annually, the question becomes, is the housing going to be there for them?”
Earlier this month, the federal government said it plans to boost immigration to 500,000 per year in 2025.