Sask. Human Rights commissions report says landlords discriminate against low-income, Indigenous renters

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has released a report on its consultations with Saskatoon renters, and it identifies discrimination against single mothers, those on social assistance and Indigenous people by landlords in the city.

Report asserts rental rates are high in the city and social assistance isn't covering housing costs for many

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has identified several areas of discrimination against renters, especially low-income individuals.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has released a report on its consultations with Saskatoon renters, and it identifies discrimination against single mothers, those on social assistance and Indigenous people by landlords in the city.

During consultation, which started in 2015, stakeholders in the sector — including social workers, people on social assistance, renters and others who work in the sector — spoke about their experiences and the overt discrimination they've faced.

Some said landlords even advertised "no welfare," or "no single mothers" in online ads.

Public assistance falls short

In preparing the report, which was released Wednesday, four public consultation sessions were held in Saskatoon.

Submission forms were also given to 15 community agencies which distributed them to people who may be affected by discrimination in the area of rental housing.

"We met with a number of stakeholders, over 30, plus written reports from over 40 sources, including the Ministry of Social Services, the City of Saskatoon, and a variety of others," said Chief Commissioner David Arnot

"One of the important features is to build relationships between these stakeholders and acknowledge the issues identified are legitimate."

The report was created using a systemic advocacy approach, which resembles multi-party negotiation.
David Arnot, Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, says the province is leading in finding systemic solutions to social issues by working collaboratively with stakeholders (SHRC website)

Stakeholders, including renters, are involved in the consultation process and the eventual solutions which come out of it.

"We just got the ability in law to explore systemic solutions to systemic discrimination in 2011," said Arnot.

Together with the Ministry of Social Services, the local landlord association, and others, renters will be able to be part of the creation of systemic solutions.

"They work together. We foster those discussions," said Arnot.

Participants in the stakeholder consultations often mentioned their inability to cover rent through social assistance benefits, according to the report.

The problem goes beyond falling short on rent, the report said, and some people said they are forced to live with roommates they don't know very well to make ends meet.

Some parents mentioned their children were exposed to violence and addictions, because the family was forced to live communally with roommates.

Others reported theft by roommates. One man said his landlord pressured him for sexual favours in return for lower rent.

When the provincial government released its 2018 budget, it announced Saskatchewan is phasing out a program that aims to help low-income families and individuals with disabilities pay rent.

The Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement won't be taking any new applications starting this summer.

The government identified low rental housing rates as one of the reasons for phasing out the program.

High vacancy, high rents

When vacancy rates rise in a city, logic would dictate rents decrease, but in Saskatoon, the rate of vacancy does not match up to the marginal drop in rental prices, the report says.

The report suggests a dramatic increase in the cost of real estate could be to blame.

Many participants told the commission during consultations that they've had to dip into their food budget to cover housing costs. Others resorted to using food banks or foraging.

The report also indicated there is a need for more affordable housing (also known as social housing).

There are 14 companies offering rent-geared-to-income and affordable rental housing in Saskatoon, but the commission maintains it is not enough to meet demand.

Multifaceted solution needed

Shaun Dyck is the executive director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership. (CBC)
Shaun Dyck, the executive director of Saskatoon's Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP), is familiar with the issues in the commission's report. He hears them all the time.

He says to fix the systemic issues in Saskatoon, a multifaceted approach is needed.

"It's not just [discrimination against] someone on social assistance, it's also people with pensions."

SHIP has been monitoring online rental ads for several months and staff have noticed ads asking anyone on social assistance not to apply.

Even when people are accepted as renters, social assistance may not cover their rent. 

"They receive anywhere from $300 to $500 or so for shelter allowance, but average rents are in the $800 to $1,000 range," said Dyck.

For some, programs like social assistance are hard to access, because case workers are overloaded.

Education may be part of the solution, Dyck suggests.

"To help people understand their role and their rights but also their responsibilities as a renter," he said.

Dyck suggests education for landlords may have a positive impact, too.