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.

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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. 

High rise buildings are constructed in downtown Vancouver. Vancouver was ranked the third least-affordable housing market in the world in 2022. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

In May 2023, protests across Canada called on Parliament to support status for all. Credit: Migrant Rights Network/Facebook

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. 

A crowd gathered in Ottawa to march for full immigration status for all people in Canada. The rally was organized by Migrant Rights Network. Credit: Migrant Rights Network/Facebook

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.

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I see your “progressive values;” your “rigorous standards” elude me. This piece is long on rhetoric and short on reasoning. Everyone needs a roof over their head. We are short of roofs. The more heads we have, the more roofs we need. We don’t have enough construction workers to keep up with demand, so we keep falling behind. So bring on the immigrants . . . if they know how to build houses. We don’t need more and more foreign students on temporary visas or aging grandparents as permanent residents at this point in the housing crisis. We could also use more doctors, nurses and care workers, not more accounting or private college diploma students.

A recent article I read in “The Walrus” newsletter (by economist Ricardo Tranjian, The Walrus, Aug. 7, 2023) effectively argues that there is no housing crisis in Canada. Tranjian writes, “Canada’s ‘housing crisis’ is a permanent state of affairs that harms people in, or in need of, rental housing; roughly one-third of the country’s households. The other two-thirds own homes whose values rise much faster than other investment options.”
What we have right now is greedy, opportunistic developers and landlords, some in collusion with politicians seeking party donations, who have invented a country-wide housing crisis.
The Federal government is using this false crisis narrative to distribute quotas to pressure municipalities across Canada into pushing through large high rise and townhouse complexes in areas that don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them, E.g., currently in my community of North Delta, BC. These large complexes, while some contain a token 10-12 apartments designated as below-market-price seniors housing, and even much needed daycare space, will benefit an already rich demographic of society that includes developers, landlords and investors not an increasing demographic of renters in need of affordable housing who are being gouged by rising rental prices.
The huge pressure exorbitant rents put on families and individuals won’t solve their housing needs. It will only make life more miserable for them. It will undoubtedly lead to greater societal harm from increased spousal abuse, divorce and family breakdown.

Great article! Not all media scapegoats immigrants in relation to anger at the housing scandal, but by avoiding the causes, they leave the door open to scapegoating.

Until the mid-1990s, federal and provincial governments, in cooperation, built 15-20,000 units of social housing per year. In the 1960s and 70s, it was 20-30,000. Funding was stopped in the mid-90s, and Ontario (at least) removed rent freezes for vacant units shortly afterwards.

The present article refreshingly offers real solutions: “freezing rental increases and ramping up production of public housing”.

If we were able to build truly affordable housing and effectively regulate rents in the past, we can do so again. Hope to see more articles like this one here and in mainstream media.

I have been wondering if slowing some immigration might be helpful in the short term. I’m not racist, I don’t believe. If we don’t have enough housing and we aren’t getting enough construction workers to build the housing, then aren’t we adding fuel to the fire? Like you said, ouroarbrecent immigrants are the most vulnerable. There are many more factors, including AirB+Bs, greed, etc. (maybe my pension I’m checking). Of course more social/affordable housing is crucial, especially if the poor developers can’t profit enough from multi unit or smaller/more sustainable homes. Something is askew. Shouldn’t we look at all factors?

I question Hussan’s warning that without immigrants, the Canadian economy would crash. Here’s what he wrote: “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.”

Yet even at our current levels of global consumption, we are creating one species-threatening threat after another, starting with climate change and the 6th great extinction of the world’s plants and animals.

I suggest Hussan do some research on proposals coming out of the “de-growth”
movement, where people are looking at how we might restructure the economy to achieve a “steady state,” including bringing global population growth to an end.

Shortage of ‘rooves’ is controlled by the developers who know the results of supply and demand. Housing prices are controlled by these developers, and they are the same people forcing rentals to record high. Each time they are ‘permitted’ to develope, they must be required to develope some low income portion as well.

The policies that corporations have long developed around the world revolve around the million-dollar business of rental houses. Every day in all Canadian cities we see a large amount of construction, large tower buildings to rent apartments in the most expensive and best-located places. Provincial governments allow this to happen and some of the leaders hand over public land to develop these projects. This is not a situation of the last 10 years, this began at least 60 years ago when wealthy and opportunistic businessmen discovered that housing, rather than being a right linked to a dignified life, was a business opportunity that would provide them with multimillion-dollar profits. How many buildings and apartments are built every day to rent at a high cost in Canada? Which people could access those apartments paying those expensive rents? Even more, how much do Canada and its provinces give to those constructor businesses as subsidies with the excuse they are helping to resolve the housing problem?

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