CPCHE’s RentSafe initiative: Advocating for safer housing for low-income tenants and families

by Kathryn Laferriere

CPCHE Logo - englishThe Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health & Environment (CPCHE), a long time CEHE collaborator, is leading an ambitious initiative that aims to address housing-related environmental health risks for low-income populations. The focus will be on low-income tenants and their families because they tend to be disproportionately affected by housing insecurity (e.g. renter insecurity, substandard housing) and to face higher exposures to indoor environmental health risks (e.g. mould, lead, pests, among others), which can lead to a wide variety of poor health outcomes.

In Ontario, 1.57 million people live in poverty (Government of Ontario, 2014), with the highest rates in single mother households and the income gap between renters and owners continuing to grow (Hulchanski, 2002). The lack of affordable housing is rising as rents increase faster than inflation and renter income (Hulchanski, 2002), which could force renters to opt for unsafe or substandard housing. For example, in Toronto in 2006 there were 66,556 households on waiting lists for social housing (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2007). Tenant issues in rural areas on the other hand, where owning a home is more prevalent, are less well explored, yet low supply can make accessibility an important issue for low-income renters (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2007). Furthermore, tenants in both urban and rural areas can face significant health risks if landlords refuse to mitigate indoor contaminants.

To date, not enough has been done to improve knowledge of indoor health risks among tenants and service providers, or to increase organizational capacity to support those who are affected. With the RentSafe initiative, CPCHE and the partnering organizations will aim to help low-income tenants by assessing gaps in information and training within public health and social services organizations about indoor environmental health issues and increasing awareness of housing-related risks.

This three-year initiative, launched in December 2014, is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Environmental Health Institute of Canada serves as the lead CPCHE partner organization, with other partner/affiliate organizations, including CEHE, leading specific project components. The first year will be spent creating a baseline assessment and report of indoor environmental health issues affecting low-income tenants and existing capacity in the social services sector. To account for the heterogeneity of housing experiences, infrastructure, and social services capacity between large urban cities, small towns, and rural areas, tenant focus groups and other baseline work will be led by Toronto Public Health, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Grey Bruce Public Health Unit, and Lanark and Renfrew Community Health Services. The second year will involve a multi-stakeholder roundtable hosted by the McMaster Institute for Environment and Health to determine what actions can be taken to address these issues. The focus of the third year will be on capacity building and education for relevant service providers to address indoor environmental health risks faced by low-income tenants. The central aim of the initiative is to provide tenants with the information they need to improve their housing conditions and protect their families.

Updates on the RentSafe initiative can be found on the CPCHE website at: http://www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca/collections/rentsafe

Government of Ontario. (2014). Realizing Our Potential: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2014-2019). Retrieved fromhttps://www.ontario.ca/home-and-community/realizing-our-potential-ontarios-poverty-reduction-strategy-2014-2019#fn2

Hulchanski, D. (2002). Housing affordability in Ontario: Anatomy of a crisis. Retrieved fromhttp://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/pdfs/elibrary/Hulchanski_Housing-Affd-Ont.pdf

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2007). Human rights and rental housing in Ontario: Background paper. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/sites/default/files/attachments/Human_Rights_and_Rental_Housing_in_Ontario%3A_Background_Paper.pdf

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