Woman upset after being turned away from faith-affiliated social housing building
A Toronto woman who has been on a waitlist for a social housing unit for years claims she was discriminated against after she was denied a spot in a building reserved for members of a specific branch of Islam.
For nearly a decade, Rose Raill has been paying more than she can afford on her current apartment. But when she found out a space had opened up at a social housing building located at 3001 Finch Ave. W., she was overjoyed.
"I get a response. They had a vacancy for me so I was rather happy," Raill said.
That happiness, however, was short-lived.
Raill received a letter explaining she would not be eligible to live in that building because the social housing provider requires tenants to be a member of a specific faith.
"If none of the individuals in your household are a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at … you will be removed from the waiting list," the letter said.
Because the building is owned and operated by a social housing provider that receives subsidies from the City of Toronto, Raill says she is being discriminated against over her religion – or lack of.
"That's just being racist," she said. "This is a multicultural country. The government has to step-up to this."
More than a dozen people have come forward, saying that they too were denied tenancies in the building because of their religious preferences.
But it was the city that signed-off on the arrangement in the first place.
A council-approved mandate allows social housing providers in Toronto to restrict their units to residents belonging to a specific ethnic or religious group so long as the provider can prove the Ontario Human Rights Code is being followed.
"Part of fairness and equity in our housing unit is having a diverse range of housing options to service everybody," said TCHC board member and Coun. Joe Cressy. "If you're a senior, a person of a different background, whether you’re Chinese or German or Hungarian or a Christian or Muslim, we should have options that service you."
Other experts also say the building is not violating any laws or regulations by denying spots to Raill and others.
“It’s not a racist situation,” said Shane Martinez, a human rights lawyer. “It resembles nothing of racism. It is arguably religious discrimination, however, there’s a test that has to be met under the human rights code to determine whether or not that’s the case.”
The property manager of the building says turning away would-be tenants on religious grounds is not personal and has been fully cleared by the human rights lawyers.
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at provides extra services in this building which are of interest only to the members of Ahmadiyya,” said Karim Ahman Tahir, the building’s manager. “If I’m providing a service which is not of interest to you, then you don’t get a benefit out of that.”
While management of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at building has provided references for buildings that it says would accept Raill’s application, Raill says she's worried it could now be years before she's taken off the social housing waitlist and placed into a home she can comfortably afford. There are 91,000 families on the TCHC's waitlist.
There are eight social housing buildings across Toronto that requires tenants to be of a specific ethnic or religious background, according to the city. The real problem, the city says, is an overall lack of affordable housing.
But Raill says allowing buildings to discriminate based on religion and ethnicity only makes the situation more difficult.
“We’ve all got to live together,’ she said. “We’ve all got to help each other.”
With a report from CTV Toronto's Natalie Johnson