My Silence should NOT be Tolerated: Racism and Discrimination in the Rental Market
by Katherine Eagleson
What has been taking place in the United States as a result of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Lorenzo Dean, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and so many others, is a horrific tragedy, and we should be forced to look at the systems in place that allows this to happen, again and again.
I am white, and I have immense privilege.
“We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up one’s privilege to be ‘outside’ the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is part of the system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and equalitarian my intentions.” – Harry Brod, “Work Clothes and Leisure Suits: The Class Basis and Bias of the Men’s Movement,”
Today, to be silent is to be complicit.
I have seen throughout social media that my fellow Canadians are so “thankful to be Canadian”, as if we are not struggling with our own systemic racism. As Canadians, we must remember that not much time has passed since at least three Indigenous people in Saskatoon died at the hands of police officers when they were abandoned individually and on separate occasions in temperatures as low as -22 degrees as part of “starlight tours”. We must remember Frank Paul, a Mi’kmaq man, who died of exposure and hypothermia in a Vancouver alley after he was dumped there by police even though he was intoxicated and wet. We must remember Andrew Loku a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police because he was walking towards the officers (8.5 meters away) with a hammer. We must remember Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins and Kevin Andrews, all Indigenous victims, separately killed by Winnipeg police over a 10-day period. We must remember the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. We should know, that in the period from 2000-2017, Black people made up 36.5% of the fatalities involving Toronto police, despite accounting for just 8.3% of the population.
These stats are heartbreaking, and could go on, right here in our own backyard. I have struggled recently to reflect on my own privilege, and question what I can do. What power do I have to change institutions? As a property manager the answer becomes clear.
Discrimination in housing egregious. A report completed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission has found a variety of discriminatory stereotypes and biases exist today in Canada’s rental market. There is already an automatic imbalance of power between the landlord and tenant. With a lack of affordable housing combined with discrimination (whether overt or subtle), many people are forced to pay higher rents than they can afford or must resort to poor quality housing.
People experience discrimination in housing for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to):
Sex – Women are no strangers to harassment and discrimination in ordinary life, and obtaining housing is no different. Women may be disadvantaged after the breakdown of a relationship, wherein they are on their own without a credit rating or landlord references. Reports indicated that some landlords may seek sexual favours from low-income women in lieu of rent. We have seen an increase of these reports on a global scale during the COVID-19 crisis.
Gender Identity – Transgender people may be harassed, stereotyped, or exposed to comments that undermine their dignity during a tenancy. They can also have difficulty making it through the screening process to gain housing in the first place.
Age – Young people have been frequently stereotyped as being irresponsible, having too many parties, not paying rent, or destroying property and have difficulty finding homes. They are more likely to find housing in high-risk areas or return to abusive family situations.
Disabilities – People with disabilities may be screened out of the tenant selection process because of concerns about having to meet the duty to accommodate.
Race – Aboriginal, African-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, and other minority immigrants have difficulty accessing housing for a variety of reasons rooted in racism, such as stereotypes about too many children, criminal activity, alcohol and drug abuse, or concerns about “cooking smells” and “extended family”.
I have personally heard from the mouths of landlords that they would prefer to or not to rent their units to a particular race of people, followed by explanations, either intentionally or in ignorance, dripping in discriminatory stereotypes and overt racism. As a white woman participating in the conversation my response was always, “yes, I understand your position” and then stand in silent awe, knowing how truly wrong these statements are.
I have been wrong in my handling of these situations, and I am sorry. I am in a system that gives me privilege and I must find the courage to stand up, shine a light on and say no to discrimination, particularly in housing because this is where I have the power to fight the system. I cannot stand idly by, politely smile and nod when I see or hear the injustice. My job is to find the best tenants for the home and community. We complete our due diligence to vet and qualify individuals to ensure they meet the necessary requirement and these people could be a person of colour, Indigenous, young, female, transgender, or disabled.
I can no longer be silent, and politely remove myself from the conversation, on racism and discrimination in Canada.
To learn more and know how you can help, please visit the following resources.
Understanding White Privilege by Francis E Kendall, Ph.D. https://www.cpt.org/files/Undoing%20Racism%20-%20Understanding%20White%20Privilege%20-%20Kendall.pdf
Find and support Canadian Black owned businesses and entrepreneurs https://www.afrobiz.ca/
A collection of resources for ending anti-Black racism in Canada from the Canadian Women’s Foundation https://canadianwomen.org/blog/ending-anti-black-racism/
A collection of resources from Black Lives Matter on where to donate, volunteer, and petitions to sign https://bit.ly/blmcollection