Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Mentally Ill, Homeless Hurt By Zoning Bylaws

Planner urges changes to allow more housing

Feb 15, 2008 04:30 AM
Laurie Monsebraaten
Staff Reporter

Ontario municipalities are discriminating against the mentally ill, the homeless and other disadvantaged groups through their zoning bylaws, says a Toronto urban planner who has released a research paper on the issue.

Restrictive bylaws that have been in municipal official plans for years allow neighbourhoods to oppose new group homes for psychiatric survivors and others struggling to find affordable housing and should be wiped off the books, said Lilith Finkler, who presented her research at an international conference on planning law and property rights in Warsaw this week.

Her paper comes two weeks after a group of mentally ill Torontonians launched a human rights case against Liberal MPP Tony Ruprecht (Davenport) for saying his west Toronto community has enough "crazed individuals" roaming the streets and can't support another supportive housing development.

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, which is representing the group, hopes Finkler's research along with the activism of disabled people themselves will help to outlaw restrictive group home bylaws.

Finkler's research found that of Ontario's 45 largest municipalities, 42 have group-home bylaws. Of those, 35 also have "minimum separation distance bylaws" for group homes.

It means group homes cannot locate within a certain distance of another group home or supportive housing development. Distances range from 75 metres in St. Thomas, Ont., to 245 metres in Toronto and 800 metres in Mississauga.

Both provincial and municipal politicians have justified restrictive zoning for group homes as a way of encouraging community acceptance and to ensure no neighbourhood has too many.

It might sound reasonable, but when you consider who lives in this housing, it smacks of discrimination, Finkler said.

Finkler said the bylaws are regularly used by residents to bar the homeless and psychiatric survivors from their neighbourhoods and to support the kind of discrimination displayed by Ruprecht's comments to Toronto's committee of adjustment last August, she said. He has since apologized.

In Toronto where there are about 10,000 supportive housing units, at least 2,000 more are needed annually to keep up with the demand, according to the city's affordable housing office.

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