How discrimination impacts York Region's housing crisis - New Canadian Media
Aurora resident Brei Twa. (Joseph Quigley/NewmarketToday)

How discrimination impacts York Region’s housing crisis

Service organizations say marginalized communities can be disproportionately impacted by housing struggle due to identities

This article was produced as part of an Inclusive Journalism Microcredential offered by New Canadian Media and Seneca Polytechnic. It was originally published on March 16 at Learn more about NCM’s microcredential here.

Aurora resident Brei Twa has experienced what it is like to lose a home due to her identity.

Twa, a trans woman, can recount a time when living in Brampton in 2017, when she appeared on a television news story for a trans-focused job fair. Her landlord, previously unaware of her identity, saw the broadcast.

When Twa got home, her landlord demanded she leave, giving two weeks’ notice. She decided not to fight it.

“‘You didn’t tell me you were transgender and this was a woman’s boarding house, so you’ve got two weeks to pack your stuff,’” Twa quoted. “That’s what the problem is with some landlords … they’re holding your vulnerability on you.”

Amid a worsening homelessness crisis in York Region, service and advocacy organizations are raising concerns about the larger impact the crisis can have on marginalized communities.

Pflag York Region has noted how the housing crisis can have a disparate impact on the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, voicing the concern when expressing support of a rejected Aurora shelter proposal Feb. 13. President Tristan Coolman said though there has been progress, members of the community are still asked to leave their homes due to an 2SLGBTQIA+ identity.

They are “disproportionately represented within the homeless community and homeless population because of that,” he said. “They are also more likely to be low-income earners as well and have a number of different health struggles.

“We see homeless as a queer issue, in addition to a Black issue, a number of different intersections are impacted by homelessness,” Coolman added. “It’s important to look at the diversity and to look at the populations who are disproportionately impacted by this.”

That is also observed by York Region youth homeless organization 360°kids, chief operating officer Bonnie Harkness said. She said there are a high number of LGBTQ kids in their programs. Black youth also face discrimination in housing, particularly black males, Harkness said, with some landlords having an unfair perception that they are more dangerous.

The rise in homelessness impacts those communities, Harkness said.

“We’re seeing it more and more in certain marginalized groups … We see a lot of kids, marginalized groups, because of their sexuality and race, landlords don’t rent to them.”

Employment barriers are also part of the issue. Harkness said about 40 per cent of youth using their employment programs are Black youth.

“That tells us Black youth are having a much harder time finding employment,” she said, adding that can lead to a trickle-down effect. “It’s a system issue, and we absolutely participate in helping to change that system.”

Housing difficulties have caused members of the LGBTQ community to leave York Region, Coolman said.

“When we do hear it, it’s quite disheartening,” he said.

360°kids is mindful of inclusivity and has tried to make efforts toward that, Harkness said. For instance, they try to ensure homes in the Nightstop program — volunteers who offer to house youth temporarily — are diverse.

“You can imagine going into a stranger’s home, and that stranger is also very different culturally,” she said. “For the kids, to see themselves in their hosts is very important.”

The organization is also working on a new program, a Black youth housing project, housing them and providing wrap-around, culturally appropriate services. If all goes well, Harkness said they hope it is a model that could spread beyond York Region.

“We’re trying to help them see the value and learn about their own culture,” she said.

Support services exist in York Region, Coolman said, however, affordable housing availability remains an issue.

“I don’t think York Region residents are well aware of the homeless youth problem we have in York Region. It’s quite extraordinary,” he said, adding that the regional housing team “do an incredible job to ensure supports are intersectional … but overall, they know the struggle with spacing.”

Harkness said governments need to provide more funding toward the problem, with social assistance being too low to keep pace with housing costs. Having too many strings attached can also be harmful, she added. She further said governments would do well to take advice from those with lived experiences.

“We don’t do this work alone. It’s with partners, with community,” she said. “We really need to help these young people so they don’t become lifelong takers on the system.”

Twa said though she has had some negative experiences with discrimination, she has fortunately not faced troubles in more recent years and has stable housing now. But she added that she is helped by not necessarily getting identified as trans by prospective landlords.

“It wasn’t very difficult for me, but it can be very difficult for other individuals,” she said. “We should accept everybody, but unfortunately, it’s not always the case.”

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Joseph Quigley

Joseph Quigley is a municipal politics reporter working at daily news site NewmarketToday. With eight years of experience in small local newsrooms, he has covered every beat in the communities he serves. He has a passion for social justice and sharing the stories of the marginalized.

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