Two years ago today, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Office of Residential Tenancies (ORT) issued a joint open letter about rental housing. At that time, and with near-zero percent vacancies in many communities, people receiving social assistance reported consistent difficulty in finding safe and affordable housing, and encountering discrimination when trying to secure accommodations.
When that letter was published, the Commission began a public consultation process, with the City of Saskatoon serving as a focal point. People looking for lodging, stakeholders, and service providers came forward with their stories, expertise, and insights.
The feedback and preliminary findings corroborate many housing-related issues faced by people receiving public assistance. This includes:
Lack of affordable housing options despite increasing vacancy rates,
Receipt of public assistance being used to deny housing, and
Disability, race, and mental health compounding access to accommodation.
Throughout the public consultation process, participants discussed how The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in the area of rental accommodation. As well, that receipt of public assistance is defined as a protected ground in Section 2(1) (m.1) as “assistance as defined in The Saskatchewan Assistance Act or a benefit as outlined in the Saskatchewan Income Plan Act.”
Through this consultation, the Commission found a willingness to address inequity and discrimination, discuss the relevant issues, and an interest in increasing awareness between renters, landlords, and support agencies. Frank and open information exchanges were hallmarks of this process, and we expect this dialogue to continue.
To that end, and over the coming months, the Commission will meet again with those who have been involved to discuss the interim findings and clarify any issues that are identified. Following that, the SHRC and the ORT will determine stakeholder interest in pursuing systemic solutions that can be used to assist, guide, and support the housing rights of people in our province.
David Arnot, Chief Commissioner Anne-Marie Cotter, Director
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission Office of Residential Tenancies