Religion

Toronto Man Furious After Being Removed From Subsidized Housing List For Religious Reasons

| by Nathaly Pesantez

A Toronto man who had applied for subsidized housing was removed from a city apartment waiting list for not meeting the religious criteria required to live there: being Muslim.

"It doesn't make any sense," Austin Lewis, 21, told Global News. "I lived in Texas; that doesn't make sense even there."

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Earlier this week, Lewis, who lives his life in a wheelchair, was reportedly informed through Housing Connections, a subsidized housing management organization, of his removal from the apartment waiting list for a building operated by Ahmadiyya Abode of Peace Inc.

"The vision of this community includes providing housing for households in which at least one person is a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at," part of the letter sent to Lewis reads. "This means if none of the individuals of your household are a member … you will be removed from the waiting list."

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Lewis's mother, Laura Whiteway, believes this constitutes as religious discrimination.

"If it's legal, it should not be legal," she said. "It's insulting, that's what it is."

John Gosgnach, communications manager for the City of Toronto, confirmed that it is legal to allow only certain people to live in a building based on ethnicity or religion.

"Ahmadiyya has received approval under Council authority to enter into an Agreement to establish a Mandate to restrict tenancy to 'members of the Muslim Jama'at' in accordance with the requirements approved by City Council in November 2002," Gosgnach said.

He added: "The City's mandate policy allows social housing providers to restrict their housing to individuals belonging to identifiable ethnic or religious groups if specific conditions are met."

Other groups that partake in the measure include seniors, artists, individuals with AIDS, and other ethnic and religious groups including Christians and people of Lithuanian, Macedonian, Greek, Chinese, Hungarian and German origin, according to Gosgnach.

Lewis said he wouldn't mind living in a building occupied by Muslims or anyone else. 

"People are people, they do what they do," he said. "They can pray to a tree. I don't care; it doesn't impact me."

Lewis is one of many Torontonians vying for a subsidized, rent-to-income accommodation in the area. The number of people on a waiting list for social housing was 171,309 as of June 30, a rise from the 170,060 tallied on May 31, according to Housing Connections. 

The waiting list for affordable housing in Ontario has been on the rise since 2006. The number of households on a waiting list hit record highs in May, with nearly 3,600 households joining over 168,000 waiting, according to The Star. The wait time is an average of four years.

Sources: Global News, The Star, Housing Connections

Photo Credit: The City of Toronto/Flickr, Wladyslaw/Wikipedia CC