Cedar Hill Bylaw Violates Rights of Poor and Disabled, Municipal Board Says

January 16, 2010
By Terry Pender, Record staff

KITCHENER-A city bylaw that aims to clean up a downtown neighbourhood violates the rights of poor and disabled people and must be changed, says a provincial tribunal.

The Ontario Municipal Board, which rules on land-use disputes, is giving the City of Kitchener 15 months to make the Cedar Hill bylaw conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

They bylaw in question banned new social housing and social services and some forms of rental housing from a 10-block area called Cedar Hill, which is adjacent to the downtown.

The decision is being hailed as a partial victory by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, a Toronto-based group that takes on human rights cases related to housing. Tenants Ontario took the City of Kitchener to the Ontario Municipal Board in a bid to have the bylaw struck down.

Ken Hale, a lawyer with Tenants Ontario, said he's glad the board agreed with the organization's arguments that people with disabilities, receiving social assistance or using social service establishments were hurt by the bylaw.

"The board recognizes those people were not treated fairly by the process the city set up," Hale said. "That was really important to us."

The 2005 bylaw banned lodging houses, social service establishments that provide crisis care or onsite counselling, residential care facilities, small houses, or single detached houses with more than two bedrooms. Owners have to live on the premises of new rental housing.

The bylaw was put in place following years of complaints from Cedar Hill residents about absentee landlords who do not maintain their properties, street prostitution, drug dealing and other social problems.

A study of the area found that about eight per cent of the 2,400 residents are disabled and another 12 per cent live in assisted housing. It said the area was in danger of becoming the region's first low-income ghetto unless action was taken.

The city responded with the 2005 bylaw that was strongly supported among homeowners in the area.

The municipal board ruling gives the parties 15 months to change the bylaw and develop policies to provide positive supports for the location of social housing and social services in other neighbourhoods. Simply put, banning that type of housing from Cedar Hill must be countered with policies to establish it elsewhere.

"In this way the board put the responsibility back on the municipality to address these issues," Hale said.

"There never were positive inducements anywhere else - it was the deliberate targeting of a vulnerable population," Hale said.

The board said the city failed to consider the need to improve accessibility to housing and services for people with disabilities. The city bylaw also failed to take into account the importance of housing for people with low incomes, physical or mental challenges or other health issues.

Hale said Tenants Ontario is ready to work with the city to bring the bylaws into line with the Charter, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Planning Act. But he doubts that is possible with all of the measures the city put in place.

"I am not sure they are really going to be able to do that," Hale said.

Cedar Hill is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the region. This hilltop collection of narrow streets, old homes and highrise apartments is populated by a rich mixture of people - recent immigrants, high-tech workers, homeowners and renters.

It is well served by public transit and popular with people who like urban living, walking, cycling, being close to the downtown, Victoria Park and the Iron Horse Trail.

Christina Weylie represents the area on city council and has long supported the efforts of residents to crack down on absentee landlords, prostitution and drug dealing.

"I call it a non-decision," Weylie said of the municipal board ruling. "It's disappointing there is no decision. But I don't look at it as all bad - for another 15 months (the bylaw) is still in place."

Lori Gove is a longtime resident of Church Street, where she and her husband Peter lovingly restored a handsome heritage home and carriage house.

Gove said the municipal board ruling is disappointing but not surprising.

"We used to immerse ourselves in the issues of the neighbourhood, but with results like this, more and more of the same all the time, you start to pool your time elsewhere," Gove said.

tpender@therecord.com

Reproduced from http://news.therecord.com/News/Local/article/657236

More all disability articles.