By Firi Fombo and Dhriti Gupta
Black students in Toronto are subjected to racial discrimination along every step of the rental process
Fourth-year engineering student Denzel Edwards had just arrived at an apartment viewing with his girlfriend one year ago. When they reached the unit, the landlady told them the apartment was unavailable after taking one look at them.
“She just said no outright and closed the door on my girlfriend’s face,” Edwards said. “That discouraged me for a while. It really sucked because it was a really nice place.”
When he inquired if the place was still up for rent later that day, the landlady responded with showtimes saying it was available.
As a young Black student, Edwards said these sorts of interactions aren’t uncommon while searching for housing in Toronto.
Based on 2016 Census data, the Toronto Star previously reported that Black people in Toronto primarily live outside of the core city, in the old city of York, Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough.
Activist and writer Desmond Cole deems this a “segregation problem,” saying many young Black people are missing out on opportunities because they have to leave the city to find housing.
During another viewing of a basement apartment, the owner insisted that the ceilings were too low for Edwards. Despite the ceilings being seven feet high, and Edwards repeating that it doesn’t bother him, the landlord was persistent that the unit wasn’t right for him.
“[The landlord said] ‘I don’t think you should live here…I don’t really think it’s for you.’”
The Housing Help Centre (THHC) is a non-profit organization helps people in Toronto access and maintain affordable and safe market rent accommodation.
THHC supervisor Ambi Sinna said that it’s difficult to hold landlords accountable because of how potential tenants are denied.
“I don’t think you should live here…I don’t really think it’s for you”
Sinna said that THHC can usually convince landlords they work with on the clients’ behalf when it comes to racial issues. However, landlords are often careful not to outrightly reject tenants on the basis of race.
“Discrimination is a daily complaint we get from clients,” said Sinna.
“The landlord is always pointing out some other factor, saying the potential tenant doesn’t have a job, or the landlord doesn’t have enough space,” she said.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission Code (OHRCC) code describes the “subtle screening methods” used by landlords to bypass racialized persons in the rental process.
According to OHRCC, “racialized persons may be advised that an apartment has already been rented only to have a white friend inquire about the availability of the accommodation and be told that it is still available.”
Second-year entrepreneurship student Hansel Smith also experienced this form of discrimination from white people, as well as other non-Black people of colour.
In his first year at Ryerson, he scheduled a viewing with a landlord from Kijiji, but when he showed up, the landlord became unavailable. After waiting for an hour, Smith left and had his white friends call to view the property, to which the landlord agreed and showed them the place.
“Even after that day, I tried calling and texting the landlord but he never responded,” he said. “At this point, I was sure it was racism and I didn’t see a reason why a person of colour will do that to another visible minority,” Smith said.
Both Smith and Edwards said they have experienced housing discrimination online as well.
When looking for houses on Kijiji, Edwards noticed that he wouldn’t get many responses when he had a profile picture of himself. However, when his Asian friend inquired about the same properties on Edward’s behalf, he would get responses.
“Eventually, as it started to get closer and closer to the school year, I needed a place to stay,” he said. “So I took down my picture and I just put up a blank white profile, and I started getting more responses.”
Edwards said that when he did get responses with his actual picture, they were mostly for properties that were farther away from the main city.
After house hunting for an entire year, Edwards was able to find an apartment in Chinatown.
“My landlady rents to people of diverse races and doesn’t care much about race as long as you pay on time,” he said. “Though she was surprised I was Black. She said my voice was too polite for a Black person.”