Toronto: The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is organizing a mass delegation to Mayor John Tory and Councillor James Pasternak (chair of the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee) to demand an immediate end to the discriminatory and unjust practices built into the City’s Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). The HSF is a critical fund that poor people in crisis can access to obtain or retain housing. However, a new report, Left in the Lurch: The Destabilizing Reality of Toronto’s Housing Stabilization Fund, just released by OCAP and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) exposes how the city is systematically discriminating against disabled people and families with children in its administration of the HSF. The discriminatory policies and procedural injustice affect over 30,000 social assistance recipients who apply to the fund each year.
The Toronto Star reported on the release of the report this Saturday by profiling the case of Laura Bardeau, a disabled women with two children, who was initially denied the fund, but with OCAP’s support fought the City and won access to the fund. Over the course of that fight the City was forced to release policy documents guiding the adjudication of the fund, which had thus far been kept under wraps. The documents revealed how the city is violating the applicants’ rights under theOntario Human Rights Code, in addition to their right to procedural fairness.
The discrimination arises from the City classifying a certain portion of the money people on social assistance receive as “excess income.” This “excess income” is money families receive to raise their children, such as the Canada Child Benefits, and allowances disabled people receive such as the Special Diet benefit, or the Service Dog stipend. When people apply to the fund, the City deducts their “excess income” from the amounts they request, effectively nullifying or greatly reducing entitlements for people with disabilities and families with children.
“The City is penalizing poor people for having disabilities and for having children,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer at the OCAP and one of the authors of the report. “It expects people living well below the poverty line to redirect money set aside for managing disabilities and raising children to pay for emergency housing costs,” he adds.
Systemic discrimination isn’t the only problem with the HSF. The administration is also plagued by rampant arbitrariness in decision making.
“The City has refused to release publicly the policies that guide the administration of the fund,” says Karin Baqi, staff lawyer at the SALCO, and the report’s co-author. “This means when people’s applications are refused or they are issued amounts that are less than what they requested, they have no of knowing if the decision was made in accordance with the policy or if an error was made. To top it off decision letters the City issues are vague and often provide no explanation of the rationale behind the decision,” she adds.
“The City is effectively telling people already struggling to eat to forgo meals, it’s telling disabled people their needs don’t matter, and it’s telling children living in poverty their care can be further compromised. It is shameful and it’s hard to believe that the bureaucrats and politicians defending this policy would apply the same standards to themselves and to their own families,” says Acharya.
At the mass delegation today, we will demand that the City immediately end its discriminatory practices, change its policies and add an additional $13 million to the fund to meet the actual need.