Biracial family accuses Milton Place Co-op of discrimination after request for bigger unit denied

Milton Place, one of Montreal’s largest social housing co-ops, is under fire for its selection committee’s handling of one of its members’ bid for a larger unit.  

Sascha Astles says her family’s request to be transferred into a new apartment that was better suited to her large family, was rejected based on social conditions and racial discrimination.

According the selection committee minutes, the request was denied because a majority of members on the committee believed that the family would not be able to afford the higher rent associated with the bigger unit. The family doesn’t believe that was the only factor.

“There have been instances of things being left on our stairs, a jamaican flag was placed on our stairs at one point, also dog feces were placed on our stairs,” Astles told reporters in the offices of the Center for Research-Action for Race Relations (CRARR). “We have had instances of neighbours calling my husband the N-word and I have been pursued and asked questions, like, ‘your husband is black, huh?’ by people who have lived there longer than us and know quite well that he is.”

Asltes is referred to in the selection committee minutes from August of 2011 as "Sascha Caribbean." Her husband is Jamaican and their five children are biracial. She says the family has been dealing with racial hostility from some of their neighbours, since around the same time. She believes these attitudes may have played a role in the way her family was treated.

The family of eight is still living in the same unit that they moved into in 2009, but with the children now grown, they do not have enough room in their cramped three bedroom apartment.

“We have no communal living space,” Astles said. “With one bathroom it can be very difficult for us to get out of the house in the morning.”

According to the co-op bylaws, when considering an internal transfer like the one the Astles had requested, the selection committee can only consider the applicant’s payment history, and whether they have any outstanding fees. Based on these two factors, the request should have been almost automatically accepted, Astles said.

However, the family said they were treated more like outsiders rather than people who had been contributing to the co-op community for nearly a decade.

The committee’s decision to ultimately deny the Astles’ request based on their low income status constitutes a violation of the organization’s bylaws, said Fo Niemi, Executive Director of CRARR. The organization is helping the family bring their case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

The Milton Place Co-op has not responded to CJAD 800's request for comment.