Housing Discrimination in Canada: Urban Centres, Rental Markets, and Black Communities

How can housing discrimination be measured, detected, and addressed?

This executive summary lays out highlights from the report Housing Discrimination in Canada: Urban Centres, Rental Markets, and Black Communities, written by Max Bell School Master of Public Policy students as part of the 2021 Policy Lab.

Access the summary and presentation below, and read their full report here.

This research was conducted by graduate students setting out to inform the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) on how the federal agency can address housing discrimination. Recognizing the massive scope of this problem, we considered where housing discrimination happens most, which communities are among those experiencing significant risk, and among whom the outcomes of discrimination are most dire. We arrived at focusing on urban centres, Black communities, and renters as opposed to homeowners or prospective homeowners. In the Canadian context, housing discrimination is insufficiently understood, researched, and addressed, but its impacts can be devastating, in both numbers and consequences. Tenants may be discriminated against if they are Black, Indigenous or racialized; 2SLGBTQI+; living on a low-income; single parents or guardians; newcomers and/or refugees; living with a disability, including a serious mental illness; belonging to a religious minority; in possession of a record of offenses, or for other reasons related to their identity and socioeconomic status. At first glance, housing discrimination can look like a problem between tenants and landlords. This report will demonstrate how it is also a matter of policy failures at a system level, and importantly, how to address those failures.

While instruments exist to protect individuals against discrimination –including international covenants, the constitution and other federal laws, and provincial and territorial human rights codes –many barriers and gaps exist. Examples of these challenges include that landlords and tenants frequently do not know their responsibilities and rights; not all of the aforementioned populations are effectively protected by provincial and territorial human rights codes; time, financial resources, and a high burden of proof make it difficult to hold housing providers accountable; and an unprecedentedly expensive housing market means renters are even more vulnerable. It is also worth noting that housing discrimination can happen when prospective renters are turned away when seeking a unit; when active renters are neglected, such as in ensuring a living space is made accessible or repaired; and when renters are evicted. Policies or legislation that enable private actors perpetuating discrimination include those that inadequately protect tenants or make rejecting applicants or evicting renters easier. There are also policies through which the state directly perpetuates discriminatory and inequitable outcomes, such as by not sufficiently investing in deeply affordable or social housing, not researching housing discrimination or acting on the work that does exist, failing to collect disaggregated data, or by displacing communities. With the latter, we will not only consider housing discrimination in the present but interrogate times when the government participated in demolishing whole communities, such as Africville in Halifax and Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver. With these significant impacts in mind, it is critical the dialogue about housing discrimination, which is frequently one about landlords and renters, comes to include systems and policies. This report outlines three categories for recommendations to address housing discrimination: data and information, accountability, and the housing supply.


In recent years, CMHC and the Government of Canada have increased efforts to foster more equitable outcomes in housing, through the launch of the National Housing Strategy (NHS) and the Housing Act, and the incoming Federal Housing Advocate. This report offers another important avenue to consider in realizing those goals: addressing housing discrimination. This includes addressing inequitable outcomes in housing as well as the explicit barriers some communities face in acquiring affordable, accessible, and adequate housing.

Our recommendations cover a wide range of areas in which change is needed, urgent, and possible. Most of these areas have been investigated and documented by CMHC itself in some way or another, materially decreasing barriers to implementation. While many of these recommendations have been suggested to address other issues, and not necessarily solely discrimination, our intention is to provide the government a roadmap for ensuring policymakers prioritize discrimination as they continue to address an ongoing and interrelated housing crisis.

Opportunities in the State of Information and Data

It is difficult to ascertain the full impact of housing discrimination in Canada, as there is no uniform definition used in the country; there is an absence of consistent national data and disaggregated data to inform real policy action; and tenants and landlords are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities, including legal protections prohibiting discrimination. These conditions have challenged policymakers’ ability to identify the problem, measure its prevalence, and implement appropriate policies and programs.

Recommendation #1: Define Housing Discrimination

Recommendation #2: Increase Information to Tenants and Landlords on Rights and Responsibilities

Recommendation #3: Champion Disaggregated Data

Recommendation #4: Introduce a National Audit on Housing Discrimination Opportunities in the State of Accountability

Housing discrimination is mired in what can be considered an accountability gap at multiple intersections and different levels, from the individual to the systemic. First, there is a pervasive lack of accountability between individual landlords and tenants. There is also a failure from all levels of government to recognize and act on how laws, regulations, and policies enable widespread housing discrimination. Finally, there is a critical lack of accountability at the jurisdictional level, where housing policy has historically suffered from poorly delineated jurisdictional responsibilities.

Recommendation #5: Expand Landlord Licensing

Recommendation #6: Address Illegal Evictions

Recommendation #7: Fund Tenant Support Agencies

Recommendation #8: Focused Strategies and Efforts with Black Populations

Recommendation #9: Fund Atonement Efforts

Recommendation #10: Increase Jurisdictional Coordination

Opportunities in the State of the Housing Supply

A lack of housing supply – and more specifically, a lack of affordable, accessible, and appropriate housing supply – is one key contributor to housing discrimination, as it can create a market in which landlords have even greater power and can restrict the ability for those living on a low-income to access housing. Canada is in the midst of a housing crisis, one that has been particularly marked by a lack of affordable rental homes in urban centers across the nation (Bulowski, 2020). As a result, one key element to addressing housing discrimination is working to create more affordable rental homes through various policy methods. Our recommendations aim to provide innovative solutions to the ongoing affordability and availability issues, and they are particularly well-equipped to address ongoing and future discrimination.

Recommendation #11: Increase the Social Housing Supply

Recommendation #12: Support the Creation of Community Land Trusts

Recommendation #13: Expand Rental Support

Recommendation #14: Prioritize Underserved Communities in New Developments

These recommendations are about eradicating systemic discrimination in housing, but they are also about creating a radically different future, one with thriving communities, where well-being is prioritized over profits, and where housing is realized as a human right.

Download the full version of this report here.

This Policy Lab was presented by our MPPs on July 15, 2021. Watch the video below:

About the authors

Alexandra Ages

MPP Class of 2021

Mariel Aramburu

MPP Class of 2021

Rebecca Charles

MPP Class of 2021

Ricardo Chejfec

MPP Class of 2021

Rudayna Bahubeshi

MPP Class of 2021




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