'That cannot be tolerated': Local woman said she faced discrimination in rental housing market

A Kitchener woman is advocating for change in the housing market after she said she faced discrimination while looking for a rental unit.

Jeneka Johnson thought she found the perfect rental listing on Facebook Marketplace. It was a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment in Kitchener that checked off all her boxes.

“Naturally, I reached out to the lister to set up a viewing and I noticed that my message was opened but I didn’t receive a response,” said Johnson.

She assumed her message was overlooked and followed up. Again, her message was read without a reply.

“At that point something for me shifted in my gut,” said Johnson. “As a Black person, it’s just inherent, when something doesn’t feel right and you know when you’re being ignored because of your skin.”

“I messaged two of my friends, one white and one Black and asked them to reach out to the lister just to kinda confirm the suspicions that I had."

She said within the hour, her white friend received a response and her Black friend did not.

“This lister is discriminating against folks based on their skin and that cannot be tolerated in Kitchener-Waterloo, or anywhere for that matter.”

When Johnson confronted the lister and posted her experience online, she said the lister responded by calling the police and “that, in itself, is an exercise of white privilege and white fragility.”

She said as much as she is outraged, she is also tired of facing discrimination. Johnson adds that incidents like this happen so often, it’s part of the Black experience.

These incidents are commonplace, said Kathy Hogarth, associate professor in the school of social work at Renison University College at University of Waterloo.

“This practice of denying, excluding, particularly Black folk from rentals, it’s been with us for decades,” said Hogarth.

Hogarth said the Ontario Human Rights Code states people cannot be refused housing based on the colour of their skin. She adds, she was also denied housing in the region nearly 20 years ago.

“All too common, underreported, but it’s illegal,” said Hogarth.

In 2009, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), which advocates for fair access to housing in Ontario, conducted a study that found 1-in-4 Black single parents, experienced discrimination in the housing market.

Annie Hodgins, manager of operations at CERA said discrimination has worsened in the housing market since the study was released and many incidents have likely not been reported.

“The housing market has heated up and as it’s been more competitive for people trying to access housing, landlords have more power.”

In a statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a representative said in part, “The Landlord and Tenant Board may be able to consider discrimination if it relates to an application under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (RTA). In other situations, the tenant may have to take their case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.”

“All tenants have the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination and harassment. You cannot be refused an apartment… because of your sex, race, religious beliefs, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, family status, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, age.”

Johnson hopes to see change soon, so people are not unfairly denied housing.

“I would love a vetting process to be implemented for landlords, I want harsher consequences for any case that includes discrimination and restitution for anyone who’s experienced this, especially during the pandemic,” said Johnson.

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