Subtle discrimination in Ontario’s rental sector over race, age or social standing will be among the problems targeted in a new housing policy this fall from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the chief commissioner said yesterday.

In its first annual report released since widening its mandate to focus on broader societal issues rather than just individual complaints, the commission found the “issue of discrimination in housing kept coming up,” said Barbara Hall.

It was the first time anyone has focused on the human rights component of rental housing, Hall said, adding the problems were provincewide.

The commission plans to release a new housing policy in early October which can be used to guide landlords and tenants alike.

“There may be some tools for people who face discrimination in housing to get rid of barriers using the human rights process,” said Hall.

Housing discrimination amid a tough economy is an issue of increasing concern for many.

“The report is showing the pain is not being shared equally. Some groups are bearing a bigger burden,” said Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing at the Wellesley Institute, an independent policy think tank.

Shapcott said seniors, people of colour and those with physical and mental health issues find it hardest to secure a decent place to live. “It’s a real wake-up call for people in Ontario,” said Shapcott. “Housing is absolutely a necessity in terms of human health, it’s difficult if not impossible to hold a job if you don’t have a home.”

At least one housing association warned the commission has to guard against compromising the rights of one group while trying to protect another. “It’s really based on one’s perspective,” said Sharad Kerur, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

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