A young wheelchair user has been taken off the waiting list for a publicly subsidized apartment because he is not a member of the Muslim community that established the building — a practice that, while legal, raises concerns that accommodations for cultural and religious groups could be limiting access to affordable housing.
According to a letter that arrived at his mother’s house last week, Austin Lewis, 21, was removed from the waiting list at the Ahmadiyya Abode of Peace building on Finch Ave. W in North York because he is not a member of their faith.
The supposedly moderate, peaceful Ahmadiyya’s. Like all Muslims, they still enforce the same sharia.
“It was mostly confusing, more than anything else,” he said. “Why would a government segregate its own building?”
The 16-storey building, which provides a range of services to its residents including a prayer room that accommodates 250, was actually approved in the 1990s as part of a provincial program to encourage non-profits and religious groups to build affordable housing, according to its property manager.
Lewis, who has used a wheelchair since a disease attacked his spinal cord when he was 8, says he applied to more than 100 accessible buildings in Toronto, Brampton and Peel Region, and there was no notice that any of them were restricted to a certain community.
“We had no idea. The letter came as a complete shock,” he said.
The city provides a $1.7-million subsidy for 94 rent-geared-to-income units under a five-year agreement, which began Jan. 1, that restricts tenants to “members of the Muslim Jama’at.”
His mother, Laura Whiteway, is incensed that her son could be turned away from a wheelchair-accessible building.
“They’re being given a licence to discriminate. It’s just wrong,” she said.
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