Housing discrimination often “consists of any behavior, practice, or policy in the public or private sectors that directly, indirectly, or systematically causes harm through inequitable access to or use and enjoyment of housing by members of historically disadvantaged social groups” (Novac 2002). From this definition alone, we can see that housing discrimination can be both overt and covert. Below you will find the different forms housing and homeownership discrimination can look like:
Landlords refusing to rent units to tenants based on race, disability, socioeconomic factors, and/or others
Imposing unequal rent
The difference in fees and leasing requirements
Subject to different degrees of scrutiny
Racial steering: intentional segregation of different races to different areas
Historically, land ownership and housing in Canada were restricted based on race. Following the American Revolutionary War, Black loyalists were promised “freedom and farm” in exchange for the British’s support. Unfortunately, many did not receive the land grants they were promised. The few that did were confined to smaller and lower quality land, often far from the white settlers (Henry 2019)—little changed from this as Canada moved towards restrictive covenants, a codified agreement that often discriminated against racial minorities through the intentional refusal to either rent or sell to “Black, Asiatic, colored or Semitic blood” (Clément 2018). Once restrictive covenants became illegal, housing discrimination became more spread out and nuanced.
Presently, housing discrimination is more implicit. The bases for bias have widened to include discrimination on sex and gender, sexual orientation, social, economic status, disability, land use planning, and family structures (Novac 2002). Yet, discrimination based on race is still the highest. More Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are coming forward to share their experience in finding housing in Canada. In three separate cases, a black man, a black woman, and an Indigenous couple face discriminatory behavior from different landlords (Alini 2020 & Johnson 2019). In each of their cases, the individuals found that their requests went smoothly until they showed up to view the housing. Once the landlords saw the individual’s faces—showing their race—their inquiry was cut short. Novac et.al suggests that these cases are often because of “statistical discrimination [that] consists of judging people, not on their characteristics, but according to their membership in certain groups” (2002). The relevance of this becomes more apparent to the experiences of the above individuals when we consider one of them—who was told that the unit is no longer available—chose to ask her white friend to schedule a viewing of the same unit that the landlord said was available (Alini 2020). The method employed above is referred to as “paired research/audit” that consists of sending two nearly identical individuals on all levels that differ in racial identity to view the same unit. In doing so, the researchers look for any differential treatment that suggests discrimination based on race.
While Canada does not have many recent studies that use paired researchers or auditors, the experience of BIPOC indicates that this is a gap the government needs to fill. More information on housing discrimination matters because it limits BIPOC of chances of finding adequate housing. Just because the research isn’t there doesn’t mean that housing discrimination doesn’t exist.