Protecting tenants’ human rights in social housing: The case of Mackenzie v. Ottawa Community Housing

September 15, 2022

Canada’s growing housing crisis has prevented many households, particularly those living on lower incomes, from finding and keeping an adequate, accessible and affordable place to call home. As rents continue to soar and affordable housing options dwindle, it’s crucial to protect the few affordable housing options that are available.

Rent subsidies are a much-needed tool that governments use to help ensure lower-income households can afford a home. However, in Ontario, social housing landlords have the power to revoke a tenant’s subsidy in some circumstances – for example if a person has not provided the correct paperwork. This power held by these landlords is discretionary – meaning that, even if there are grounds to do so, they can choose not to revoke a subsidy. This is an important choice which can have tremendous consequences for households who are living in poverty and who likely do not have the means to secure an affordable home without a subsidy. A household that cannot afford an unsubsidized rent could face eviction due to the inability to pay a higher rent, and their eviction could also lead to homelessness.

Given the potentially catastrophic consequences when a person loses their rent subsidy, the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR) is deeply concerned about an Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) tenant, Charlas Mackenzie, who lost his rent subsidy. In 2019, OCH chose to revoke Mr. Mackenzie’s subsidy because of minor reporting errors. In making its decision, OCH chose not to consider Mr. Mackenzie’s circumstances when deciding whether revoking his subsidy was reasonable or fair, nor whether losing his subsidy would likely render him homeless or separate him from his young children.

Since losing his subsidy, Mr. Mackenzie has appealed OCH’s decision, with no luck in reversing it to date. On September 20, 2022, the Ontario Court of Appeal will hear Mr. MacKenzie’s appeal, and the Court has granted CCHR intervenor status because of our expertise in human rights in housing. This status will allow CCHR to present arguments during the appeal hearing to promote Mr. MacKenzie’s right to housing and the rights of his children. We will assist the Court by arguing that OCH should have exercised its discretion in a way that was consistent with the right to housing and the rights of the child.

Since OCH’s decision to revoke a subsidy will effectively evict Mr. MacKenzie, CCHR will argue that, under the requirements of the right to housing – which Canada recognizes in the National Housing Strategy Act (NHSA) and various international human rights treaties – OCH should have considered whether eviction was a necessary and proportionate response to a minor issue, and whether the issue could have been resolved without resorting to eviction. CCHR will also argue that, under the rights of the child, OCH should have considered the impacts of its decision on Mr. Mackenzie’s children.

The Court’s decision will set an important precedent for households living in social housing across Ontario. We hope that CCHR’s intervention will help establish that social housing must be managed in a way that respects tenants’ human rights.

CCHR’s factum is available here.

CCHR extends many thanks to Jackie Esmond, Aminah Hanif, and Danielle Bisnar of Cavalluzzo LLP for their pro bono representation on this case.

Resources for renters

If you are facing a loss of subsidy issue in Ontario, visit Legal Aid Ontario to find a clinic near you that may be able to help.

If you are facing eviction anywhere in Canada, these resources may be able to help you:

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