It’s a situation that could happen anywhere, but let’s say it happens in social housing in Toronto: two neighbours have a verbal dispute that leads to threats.
As of September 23, if you live in social housing, that situation could result in you being banned from having a home for five years – even if no criminal action is taken.
The Government of Ontario has given the green light to social housing providers (like Toronto Community Housing Corporation) to refuse applications from people who have been evicted in the last five years for an “illegal act” in a social housing building.
The province claims the move will protect “vulnerable seniors and children” in community housing buildings. But excluding people from social housing will only exacerbate the homeless crisis, and further punish Ontarians living with mental health, addictions and disabilities. It will make our communities less safe.
Ontarians living in social housing, in particular racialized residents and those living with mental health issues, are already over-criminalized.
For low-income people who get caught up in the justice system, banishment and exile from social housing represents an additional punishment that will affect them long after they have served their sentences.
Shockingly, Ford’s sanction could be used to deny housing to an entire family where one member of the household has been evicted for an illegal act in the past five years. Collective punishment is a repressive measure that only serves to destabilize already-struggling families and communities.
Take, for example, a dispute between two neighbours where threats are exchanged. That single verbal altercation could give rise to an “illegal act” eviction order, regardless of whether or not there is a criminal conviction.
That means the entire family, and anyone else on the lease, including their children, could be subject to the five-year ban.
A person with an opiate addiction rooted in chronic-pain management could be caught up by the ban even after serving a criminal sentence for simple possession, completing rehabilitation and receiving treatment.
For many, social housing is often the ”housing provider of last resort.” When a person gets evicted, they and their family members don’t just disappear. They may end up on the street, trapped in a cycle of survival and destitution that is almost impossible to escape.
Those evicted tenants become displaced from their communities and social supports. Those who are lucky take on market rents in substandard and precarious housing conditions.
Removing this critical safety net from people already stuck in a cycle of poverty will only further entrench the conditions that led to legal troubles in the first place.
Stable housing and appropriate social supports are foundational to safe and healthy communities. Nobody benefits when a person is sentenced to five years of homelessness.
The government must invest in policies and programs that help support Ontarians with mental health and addiction issues – not punish them. It must invest money in our crumbling social housing infrastructure, strengthen rent control and improve social assistance so that those in social housing have more power over their lives.
It must invest in policies that work instead of fear-mongering against those who need support the most.
Amy Slotek is a Toronto-area lawyer. Brendan Jowett is a staff housing lawyer at Neighbourhood Legal Services in Toronto.