Affordable Housing a Top Priority for New Immigrants to Canada

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Canadians are struggling to survive. According to a recent Statistics Canada survey on the shelter cost-to-income ratio, of the 34,973,090 households examined nationwide, 2,682,765 need housing.  

George Porto Ferreira is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia from Florianopolis, Brazil, who moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in September of 2022 with his family of five, including two children under the age of five, a teenage stepson and his wife. After waiting almost a year, he lives in subsidized housing on the UBC campus. “If you spend half of your salary on housing, what is left over for food, transportation, and other needs?” he wrote in a statement to Immigrant Muse Media. “It is a paradox to think that more immigrants are needed to meet this demand, and at the same time, more immigrants increase the demand for housing even more.”   

Ferreira believes the government should help marginalized communities with the money people make from rental properties in Vancouver. A portion of this income should serve as a tax to be re-invested to construct new non-profit housing cooperatives, along with subsidies and financial assistance for people who cannot pay their rent.  

In British Columbia, 30,000 people live in cooperative housing, according to Sarah Goldvine, Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs at BC Housing. BC Housing recognizes that the current housing crisis hurts British Columbians, especially newcomers, regarding affordable housing.  

The provincial crown agency points to a Statistics Canada report on migration data focusing on Canada’s population estimates in the third quarter of 2022 which indicates a record-high regarding migration numbers to British Columbia. There were 122, 145 Canadian immigrants welcomed, the second-highest number of immigrants in any third quarter since 1946.   

Canada’s population increased as people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine entered the country. With 106,459 NPRs in Ontario, 39,429 in BC and 34,299 in Quebec, accounting for 80 per cent of the increase.   

Scott Aitchison, Opposition Critic for Housing, Diversity, and Inclusion

In an emailed statement to Immigrant Muse Media, the Opposition Critic for Housing, Diversity, and Inclusion, Scott Aitchison, writes unequivocally, “Canada is in a housing crisis.” “Young people, immigrants, and first-time buyers are shut out of the housing market.” He believes that homeownership is achievable for every Canadian. To make that a reality, he recommends the government use federal infrastructure dollars to build new homes, remove gatekeepers who block new housing construction, and earmark 15 per cent of underutilized government properties for housing.  

“Canada is in a housing crisis. Young people, immigrants, and first-time buyers are shut out of the housing market.”

SCOTT AITCHISON, Opposition Critic for Housing, Diversity, and Inclusion

This sentiment is shared by BC Housing, pointing to the importance of collaboration to keep pace with the rapid population growth in the province, as federal funding is not proportional to immigration totals. “That is why the province is calling on the federal government to tie housing funding to population growth so we can ensure that both British Columbians and new immigrants have the housing and healthcare supports they need,” says BC Housing.   

Phillip Siekmann came to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2015 from Pennsylvania due to a job offer. At the time, he stayed at his mother’s condominium in Kitsilano and only had to pay for the strata and property tax. But now, he lives with his fiancée, Nadja Muller, in New Westminster and writes, “it’s not sustainable.”  

Siekmann adds, “why should immigrants and residents of the Lower Mainland suffer when the housing crisis is caused by our own local governments’ inability to limit foreign investments.” “We truly believe home prices have skyrocketed over the last decade due to foreign investment. People from Asia purchase vacant homes as an investment that is out of the hands of their government back home. Canada should end this immediately and put policies that punish those who abuse BC real estate and reward those who live here and contribute to BC.”  

He wrote that they “struggled in the beginning like most new immigrants figuring out how to get into the workforce”, but he is thankful they no longer need to pay rent after purchasing a condominium last year and paying about 25 per cent more on a mortgage compared to rent.  

Mutsumi Matsumoto, who has been in Canada for over 27 years and moved here from Japan in 1996 with her family, wrote in a statement to Immigrant Muse Media, “the houses [back then] were cheaper. We purchased a two-bedroom ranch at 200,000 dollars.” She adds, “considering the current cost of housing and living, if I were to be choosing now to immigrate, I wouldn’t choose Canada.”  

The Canadian average home price is forecast to decline 5.9 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022, according to a housing market report in January 2023 quoted on the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) podcast. Looking at the overall perspective, the CREA forecasts a slight 0.5 per cent decline in sales for 2023.    

Guillaume Dumas, a media relations representative from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), feels that 30 per cent of a Canadian’s income should not go to rent because it is not sustainable. However, Dumas believes the Housing Accelerator Fund helps people get into homes. “We are looking to collaborate with various stakeholders and help people find affordable and secure housing, which gives them a foundation to build off of,” he says. 

In addition, Leonard Catling, Media Relations at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), points to the government of Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy (NHS) in 2017 as “a historic investment to ensure all Canadians, including newcomers, have access to safe, affordable housing that meets their needs. It is a human right and a necessity to build strong and inclusive communities in a Canadian economy where we can all prosper,” he says.  

Furthermore, Catling stated that the NHS has an 82 billion strategy on various initiatives that address the needs of Canadians along the housing continuum. “Just recently, we announced a project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) that created two homes for two immigrant families in Brook, Alberta,” he wrote. “As part of the recent expansion of the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI), the federal government has already committed funding that will create nearly 15,000 affordable housing units across the country for the most vulnerable communities, including newcomers.” 

“In addition, the Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI) aims to increase the supply of purpose-built rental housing for middle-class Canadians by building new housing in markets where there is a need for additional rental supply,” stated Catling. 

 ”Budget 2022 provided four billion dollars over five years starting in 2023 to launch the Housing Accelerator Fund, which will reduce systemic barriers to housing supply and provide incentives for municipalities to modernize and build new housing.”  

Catling adds that the federal government works with municipal and provincial partners in developing the annual Immigration Levels Plan, which sets the number of newcomers and permanent residents that Canada welcomes every year. He points to the Budget 2022 as an example, with 534.5 million going to municipalities and provincial partners to help provide housing and ease the pressures of the influx of newcomers, asylum claimants, and refugees.   

The Canadian government has introduced a new temporary act prohibiting temporary residents from buying houses in Canada. What does this act entail, and how effectively does it tackle housing affordability in Canada?

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