Everywhere we turn, we are told that an unchecked rise in immigration is causing skyrocketing home and rent prices.
Newspaper opinion pages across the country have echoed this connection. Bloomberg News recently warned that “Soaring housing costs risk eroding support for immigration.” Another columnist urges “Amid Canada’s housing crisis, immigration needs to be slower.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford insists that Greenbelt rezoning (which we now know was determined by developers) is necessary to build homes “for the 1 million newcomers.” Maxime Bernier, the ever-classy leader of the far-right People’s Party of Canada, has been tweeting that Canadians will soon be forced to take immigrants into their homes.
The story we are being told is simple supply and demand: there are more immigrants, they are buying and renting more, causing prices to go up, and the solution is to slash the number of newcomers. This isn’t true. The truth is that we need more affordable, social and public housing, and freezes on rental profits and rental increases. The massive increase in housing and rental prices is simply not proportional to the increase in demand nor to the increase in immigration—it’s about the fact that investors and developers are able to set any price that they want and they are doing so unchecked. Simply building new homes won’t relieve the pressure.
While immigration and housing are connected, as everything is, one is not causing the crisis in the other. Here’s why.
1. There hasn’t been a massive increase in permanent residents
Many politicians and pundits point to an increase in immigrants by pointing to the 431,645 permanent residents that were approved in 2022.
But why this number? In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada brought in 156,000 fewer permanent residents than it intended. To cover for that shortfall, approximately 50,000 more immigrants are being admitted in 2021, 2022 and 2023 than initially intended. This skews the data. People who point to the sudden spike when compared to 2017 and 2018, when the numbers were lower, are missing the whole picture.
2. Many ‘new’ permanent residents already live here
Even more importantly, last year, about 45 per cent of new permanent residents were people who transitioned from temporary status. In other words, they were already living here. Their change in status would not affect overall housing demand.
A more accurate number would be about 285,000 “new” permanent residents who came to Canada last year.
3. Most newcomers are migrant workers, students and refugee claimants
Canada has seen a steep rise in the number of people who come as temporary migrants, however. There were almost 460,000 more temporary permits issued in 2022 as compared to 2018, an increase of nearly 63 per cent. This number includes migrant workers, students and new refugee claimants.
New permits do not necessarily mean that there has been a net increase in population. While new people come, others leave, and some renew their permits in the same year they were first issued, meaning they get double counted.
4. Migrants are poor and are not buying homes
According to the 2021 Census, 41.8 per cent of non-permanent residents live in poverty, and 16.1 per cent of recent immigrants. That’s far higher than the national average of 8.1 per cent and the average for all immigrants, which is 9.1 percent. Many of these workers—those in agriculture, fisheries, care work and more—live in employer-controlled and incredibly inhumane housing. In agriculture in particular, migrants are warehoused without their families, potable water or privacy.
Many of these workers are not even competing for rental housing—let alone purchasing homes. Others, like international students, tend to rent but still often in precarious, exploitative conditions.
Many immigrants are also poor and like temporary migrants, they are not the ones increasing the demand for housing. They are the people facing a housing crisis.
5. Housing prices are rising far more quickly than population
Even if all new population growth is caused by immigration, the argument that immigration is causing housing prices to rise still doesn’t make sense. The population increase in the last two years was 3.9 per cent, but rental prices shot up an astronomical 20 per cent. The benchmark price to purchase a home has also increased more sharply than the population has, shooting up 6.3 per cent in just the last year.
Moreover, Canada has a declining birthrate. A country needs 2.1 children per woman for population replacement, while Canada’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 1.4 children per woman in 2020.
For the foreseeable future, all of Canada’s population growth will be because of immigration. But without immigration, Canada’s population would fall and the country would experience a corresponding collapse in industry and quality of life.
For the first time in a long time, population increase is happening in the young adult and adult cohorts and not in children. The population is also aging and living longer. The social and economic needs of this new population dynamic require different infrastructural decisions, everything from more accessible transit and housing to better health care for the elderly.
Real housing solutions would benefit everyone
Calling for a stop to immigration is not the solution to Canada’s housing crisis. If permanent immigration declines, employers will surely complain about labour shortages and ask to bring in more exploitable temporary foreign workers. Many of those people will eventually leave or become undocumented when their temporary status expires.
This is exactly what has played out in Quebec. Premier François Legault has publicly opposed immigration to the province. But since his election in 2018, the number of temporary foreign workers who enter Quebec every year has increased by 117 per cent, compared to the national increase of 61 per cent.
Repressing immigration doesn’t stop newcomers from entering Canada—it just means that those who do come have even fewer rights.
Real solutions, like freezing rental increases and ramping up production of public housing, would benefit everyone struggling with astronomical housing costs. They would also allow immigrants and migrants who do vital work like building and cleaning homes; growing, packing and delivering foods; and taking care of children, the sick and elderly, the security to stay in the country with dignity.
We need to oppose the racist linking of migration to housing prices. Migrants in the country need more rights, not fewer, and that means permanent resident status for all. At actions across the country on Sept. 17, migrants and their allies will be calling for just that.