Newcomer Settlement Front Line Worker View on Immigration Flows and Housing Prices

Executive Summary

The author, who works within the immigrant settlement process, presents an up-close and personal view of the housing and employment issues plaguing new arrivals. These are the same issues with the same causes destroying the lives of many Canadians but Queiruga goes into the kind of detail only a front-line worker can provide from the immigrant perspective.

Using various expert commercial economic reports and individual on-the-ground experiences, this report covers the issues from personal grief to macro-economics. Here are some of the points made in this extensive report:

  • Housing prices are the result of supply and demand dynamics.
  • Demographics have the largest long term impact on housing prices.
  • Queiruga steps out of the social worker mold and calls for dramatically reduced levels of immigration to 100,000 annually.
  • He suggests which categories to cut.
  • The issue of underfunded education is discussed as a driver of the foreign student influx.
  • Cheap labour and it’s critical relevance to outdated and highly subsidized business models.
  • The difficulty of starting a conversation on the media’s sacred cow and the growth industry’s profit foundation.
  • On the dark humour side, the author quotes one bank report’s reference to immigration as a “support for home appreciation”. Everyone else would call it housing inflation but those interests who depend on inflation for their income are smart enough to use more promotionally correct phrasing.

This report makes no mention of the biophysical realities Canada and the world face nor does it cover quality of life, equality levels or structural fiscal deficits. But its fine detail does bring the disconnect between buffoonish political claims and real human impacts and well-being. This has exactly the kind of perspective you will never read in the corporate media whose interests are so closely bound to endless growth.

The report is about a 15 minute read.

Newcomer Settlement Front Line Worker View on Immigration Flows and Housing Prices

By: Eduardo Queiruga

I have been working with immigrants for 25 years. I have worked in several immigration programs with different categories of immigrants and in various cities in Southern Ontario.

The situation of housing prices today, as the reader knows full well, is critical. There are many factors that affect housing price such as interest rates, building costs, foreign investors, land costs, urbanization, etc. I will focus on population growth which is usually cited as an important factor.

One of the basic laws of economics is called the supply and demand curve in price formation. If supply and demand are the same, prices are stable. If demand is more than supply, prices tend to rise. If supply is more than demand, prices tend to fall.

The housing issue can be seen as having two sides, the demand and the supply side. Demand being how many people are looking for housing at anyone time and supply how many units are available at any one time.

The solutions to the housing crisis also goes along these two lines. There are people who suggest supply side solutions and there are others that suggest demand side, or both.

In order to get my point across in a clear way , I’m only going to put emphasis on one factor, the demand side. I’m going to argue for something which is a hot political potato which is temporarily lowering certain categories of immigration inflows in order to lower demand and thus balance demand and supply pressures in the short term.

To support this argument, I am going to rely on documented experience from my front line work with immigrants as well as recent statistics and reports.

I am going to argue for lower immigration inflows because this policy can be implemented much faster than the supply side suggestions of building more housing stock ( see study that shows price reduction 3 months after immigration was cut by Andrey Pavlov y Tsur Somerville called Immigration, “Capital Flows and Housing Prices”) . I agree with building more housing stock by the way. But that would take years and the immigrants I work with are in a dire the situation and they can’t wait years. I think lowering flows is a good short term policy.

I want to make clear that although I argue about lowering immigration inflows, I am not against immigration. I am not against refugees. On the contrary, I think we should accept refugees into Canada, as a matter of fact, there is room to increase our intake which has been historically low in comparative terms to other countries. I am arguing to lower economic class incoming immigration flows because I want the newcomers I’m working with already here to be able to find a place without competing with a steady and increasing flow of newcomers every year. I am arguing to reduce immigration flows to benefit immigrants already here as well as local populations.

We should lower immigration flows from the following three classes: permanent residents, temporary workers and international students. In 2022, these three sources accounted for 1.1 million entries. ( (stats Canada, the Daily, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230322/dq230322f-eng.htm) In just one year! This is a influx without precedent in our country. The government official line is about the 500 thousand permanent residents coming in 2025. This is already an eye popping amount per year but it’s not the whole picture. The inflows were more than twice that amount in 2022 if we count temporary workers and international students!!

In the Wellington/Guelph region where I work now which includes a university city, the problem is compounded since along with local residents, newcomers already here, recently arrived permanent resident newcomers , temp workers, we have to add International students. All looking for the same places to rent.

Now we all know Canada is a huge country, but most immigrants are coming to the GTA, Vancouver and Montreal areas. Most immigrants come to the cities. Immigration is an urban phenomenon. These areas are overwhelmed and do not have the housing infrastructure to accompany the pace of immigrant inflows. I think this is evident and becoming increasingly so.

The following stories from our frontline settlement worker case loads will give the reader a snap shot of why the sense of urgency about housing: ( I omit all possible identifiers, but all these cases are taken from actual caseloads we keep)

*The cost of their apt is so high a newcomer family cant afford their costs so the father went back home to Dubai and sends money to the family back in Canada so they can pay their rent. This in itself is heartbreaking but it also goes against one of the pillars of our immigration act which is family reunification. This family is separated because of the housing price.
*A single female has been asked to leave her apt since the landlord told her it is his best apt and he needs to rent it at a higher price. You may think he cant do that but yes he can, there are many loopholes landlords use. We don’t know yet how we are going to find a place for her since there aren’t any. She might have to leave our area although she doesn’t speak English and has health issues.
*A newcomer client has applied for priority status on the housing list since she is abused by spouse. Domestic abuse is granted priority status on waiting list but there is a one year waiting list even in this case!
*Two newcomer families are sharing a two bedroom apt living in crammed conditions and taking turns to share the kitchen.
*Another newcomer family are living in a hotel room. I visited them and was appalled at the crowded conditions they lived in, the smell of marihuana in the hallway was unbearable. They have a 1 year old.
*Many other families have left our area due to lack of affordable housing because I simply couldn’t find a place for them to rent. The University of Guelph housing residences are at full capacity and the International Students have to look for housing elsewhere in the city and region thus contributing to inflate demand which is already high. We have one of the lowest vacancy rates in Ontario. Some townships in our area have 0 vacancy rate.
*Many other families have left our area due to lack of affordable housing because I simply couldn’t find a place for them to rent. The University of Guelph housing residences are at full capacity and the International Students have to look for housing elsewhere in the city and region thus contributing to inflate demand which is already high. We have one of the lowest vacancy rates in Ontario. Some townships in our area have 0 vacancy rate.
* A newcomer family on the subsidized housing waiting list can take up to 10 years or more to get a social housing unit.
*A person rented the basement of his house and also the upper level. One day he gets a call from the upper level tenant that there were lots of people in the basement. When he goes to see what s going on, there were 16 people with their luggage. The basement tenant told him they were just visiting and were moving away soon!!
A young couple in Toronto were just about to sign a condo lease when the owner calls them and tells them that unfortunately she chose to rent the unit to another tenant. An International Student whose father had wired a full year s worth of rent up front to the condo owner!!!

I’m not going to keep enumerating the many cases that we have . I think you get the point. These are individual cases I cite but they represent tendencies, for every one case I cite there are many more. And they represent tendencies because people will do whatever is necessary to be able to have a roof over their head. People can be very creative under conditions that are increasingly difficult and in some cases critical.

Even if the government decided to build a million houses now, they wouldn’t be available for years. Building more is a solution, I agree but it’s a long term solution. We have to do something now. To buttress my point, this from a BMO report from May 2023 which discusses the increasing supply argument :

“ But there are at least three reasons why we simply cannot rely on supply alone to do the job. First, and most obviously, housing supply can only respond gradually, and is essentially fixed in the short run, whereas demand can change in a moment. Second, even over a more extended period of time, there are clearly limits to how quickly supply can respond, given Canada’s existing skilled trade workforce, availability of serviced land, and materials. Third, and perhaps more subtly, any success in improving affordability (i.e., lower prices) will sow the seeds for less building in the future.”
(https://economics.bmo.com/en/publications/detail/34d60afc-5f9d-4110-a19b-ba9b160782f2/)

There are several studies and reports that echo what we frontline workers see on the ground. From the same BMO meta study report cited above :

“ Beyond that, Canada’s strong population growth is no doubt a steady source of support for home price appreciation. Over the short term, the housing market can be swayed by cyclical factors such as interest rates, unemployment and income growth. But over the longer term, demographic trends have the biggest weight on home prices. Evidence from 18 large advanced economies since the start of the century shows that real home prices are closely correlated with population growth over time (Chart 6). For example, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have seen both the fastest growing populations (aside from Ireland) over that period, and the fastest rise in real home prices, while Japan and Italy have been at the other end of the spectrum on both counts. “

It is a fact that population increase has a relation to housing price increase. I am not saying there aren’t other factors at play. Of course there are. But I am saying that immigration does put pressure on housing prices. It is also a factor. One last report that substantiates the claim that immigration flows affect housing price is from a study by Andrey Pavlov y Tsur Somerville called Immigration, Capital Flows and Housing Prices, the authors discuss effects after the government suspended an immigration investor program in Vancouver:

“ ..we show that immigrants can raise neighborhood house prices, at least in the case of the wealthy immigrants that we study. We exploit a surprise suspension and subsequent closure of a popular investor immigration program in Canada to use a difference‐in‐differences methodology comparing wealthy immigrant destination census tracts to nondestination tracts. We find that the unexpected suspension of the program had a negative impact on house prices of 1.7–2.6% in the neighborhoods and market segments most favored by the investor immigrants.”

So their study shows that 3 months after investor program was cancelled, house prices decreased. This not only shows a relationship between immigration and housing price but points to the fact that when immigration slows down, the effect on housing price is short term (3 months in this case). Another reason to argue for lowering immigration flows since the effect on price is almost immediate as demand decreases. Much better than building housing and waiting 10 years. Although this is not an either or argument. I argue for both polices , one short term , looking at immigration flows, and one longer term, building housing. I also agree the government should get back into building housing on a non profit basis. That would be an ideal solution since the market has not been good at allocating resources here in Canada. As a matter of fact, the market has not been the optimal option when it comes to housing.

We have historical examples of best quality of life city studies throughout the world and one of the cities that always comes up on top is Vienna. The special thing about Vienna is that about 60% of its residents live in government housing. So this is a very doable idea. It works.

So if I argue about revisiting immigration flows, what do I suggest we should lower them to? There are some studies that show that for every 1 % of immigration increase there is a concomitant 3% rise in price of housing. See this excerpt from an article in the Canadian press of Augunst 2023:

“ BMO published an analysis in May that estimated that for every one per cent of population growth, housing prices rise by three per cent. The rebound of the Canadian real estate market this year also shows how immigration is helping to maintain demand for housing, despite decades-high interest rates. “Strong population growth from immigration is adding both demand and supply to the economy: newcomers are helping to ease the shortage of workers while also boosting consumer spending and adding to demand for housing”

So there we have one guide to look at. Another idea would be to allow in as many students as we can house. For example, I mentioned the university issue and lack of housing for their international students. Well, one idea would be they can only accept as many as they can house. That is not done today. Another suggestion out there would be to lower intakes to 100 thousand a year and monitor pricing levels. And adjust up or down accordingly to absorptive capacity of infrastructure. There are many more suggestions but the main idea is whether we are willing to even consider looking at immigration flows, if there is a will, there will be a way. This issue has become a sacred cow and just mentioning lowering immigration makes one a persona non grata. I don’t think why this should be the case given our critical housing urban environment.

Particularly after most serious studies on housing identify immigration as a factor in rise of housing price. I have cited a couple above. But we also have the caseload evidence I cited as well as anecdotal evidence

increasingly becoming more evident to more people. Horror stories of people living in cramped unhealthy conditions. You have heard about these also I’m sure. And what is even more worrisome to me, this situation does not seem to be improving or stabilizing but it is getting worse by the day.

The situation of international students ( Int’l) and housing is critical in the area I work in . Over the past few years (especially 2022), students have had a difficult time finding accommodation. In fact, for the first time the University of Guelph announced that they no longer guarantee residence space! The going rate in Guelph for a room is anywhere between $700-1100 per month. For one room! There are horror stories also, recently about 25 international students at Canadore College in North Bay are living in tents on the side of the road. ( https://torontosun.com/news/provincial/international-students-living-in-tent-on-side-of-road-in-north-bay)

Surrounding university cities are also suffering lack of housing for INT’l students. In some university cities ( Cape Breton, read article here : https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/frustrated-residents-ask-cape-breton-university-to-stop-intake-of-international-students-amid-housing-crisis-100848256/ ) , people are calling for a moratorium on the influx of INT’s students. I think these calls to stop the flows of these students will grow to other university towns. Some argue it is not the fault of the students but of long standing government policies that have led to this , ( read article here: https://rabble.ca/politics/canadian-politics/punishing-international-students-wont-solve-strained-rental-market/) . Although I agree it is not the students’ fault, I nevertheless think a moratorium is reasonable until we can find a more permanent housing solution for the students. There are several initiatives that are promising, some using the private sector , some non for profit construction. In 2012, the city of Waterloo launched a special urban development plan for the Northdale neighbourhood, which sits between Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier university. This plan uses private developers and rentals can be expensive. Another initiative is the Concordia Student Union’s partnership with UTILE (L’unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant), a non-profit developer in Quebec. The student union collected a fee from its members, and leveraged other financial partnerships, in order to raise funds to develop accessible student housing with UTILE. These initiatives are worth pursuing but they take years to implement. In the meantime if we keep increasing number of INT’l students, the problem becomes critical for the communities involved. As previously mentioned, I think a reasonable short term solution would be for Universities to bring in only as many students as they can house on residence until such time other housing options have been made available .

University administrators argue that their government funding has been decreased considerably and INT’l students are a source of funding that partially make up for the funding they have lost. This is true. But it is part of a whole other issue and the solutions involve much broader political implications. If students are being used as sources of funding without regard to their global needs, surely this is wrong. A student is a fee payer and pays for education but a student also needs housing. This latter need is not a priority for the University. And this is wrong. A student is also a tenant. A university cant have the cake and eat it too. They can’t just download the housing issue of the student to the surrounding community which is already at a limit. The University has to be responsible for housing their INT’s students. It is only common sense.

When it comes the other two classes of immigrants, residents and temporary workers, I talk to local employers and they tell me they need workers. Which in some cases is true. I see local fast food places staffed mainly by temporary foreign workers right now, most of them from a single source country.

Employers tell me they can t find local workers because of the pandemic benefits the government gave out. They also mention that people are lazy and don’t want to work. When I ask that another way to attract workers is to raise the wages, they say they can’t do that. That their business model wouldn’t support it. I think if the business model doesn’t support an increase in wages, we need to review that business model. Because in the long term it doesn’t build community. These businesses, large and small, are dependent on a flow of cheap labor to carry on with their business. I see this in my area but reflects a problem Canada wide and at another wider economic level. We know Canada has very low productivity growth rates. One of the reasons for this is our dependence on cheap labour. Instead of investing on machinery and R &D that would make us more competitive and allows us to pay better wages, we rely a lot on low wage labour. This reliance has the same problem as I mentioned above with the INT’s students. The incoming foreign worker is treated only as a worker. But in reality, he is also a tenant for he can’ t sleep on the street outside the fast food place where he works. Several workers in our area commute an hour or more to other cities and come back here for work. Because we simple don’t have the vacancies. Our rental market is at a limit and places are very expensive and increasingly so. Im not going to list the rental prices in our area because the reader already knows rents are ridiculous. Some places have increased rent by 50 % in the last couple of years. This trend is not slowing down. There is a disconnect between incoming workers and available spaces for them to live. Businesses don’t want to be made responsible for housing their employees and pass the buck to government. Different levels of government pass the buck to each other. No one does anything significantly impactful about housing and at the same time government keeps increasing the immigration inflows citing lack of workers. What about the lack of housing for those workers? A worker is a worker but she is also always a tenant /housing consumer. We are looking at immigrants as workers only. This is wrong. We have to have a wholistic view of the worker and also accommodate his housing needs. People don’t just need a job but a place to live.

The government is addressing the issue now and made some announcements. But I think it s too little too late. These announcements are focusing on the supply side and that as I mentioned above, will take years. In the meantime, immigration flows will increase to historic highs raising housing demand pressures and housing price inflation. We must lower demand in the short term . Why? because it is an easier policy to implement by the federal government and because its effects on housing price kick in faster than building housing in the long term (which should also be implemented). One thing doesn’t exclude the other. I am arguing for a two pronged approach to the critical housing price issue: in the short term focus on solutions to decrease demand pressures and in the long term build more multiple purpose housing, including deeply affordable units. I am arguing for urgent measures to decrease demand and price because the newcomers I am working with are at a limit. Their situation is critical. I also see the local citizens are going through the same thing. Too many people chasing too little housing. Its all fine and dandy to talk about building more housing. But to me it is a matter of utmost urgency. We have to do something now, in the short term because the situation has been critical for some time now. We have much evidence to confirm this, some of it cited above , some of it we can see with our own eyes everyday , things such as encampments growing throughout Southern Ontario Cities. How much worse does it have to be? When will our governments realize we have to do something now? Not in 5 years or 10? What will it take? People freezing in the winter due to exposure?

I am a frontline worker working with immigrants everyday. I see what they are going through. I see our housing system has collapsed. I see they spending more than 60% of their income on housing. Having

little money left for other expenses. They don’t even talk about saving anymore. That ship has sailed a long time ago. They are lucky if they are able to pay for their rent or mortgage and food. My clients transmit to me a sense of doom and dread about their situation. To the extent we don’t put in place emergency measures focusing on demand now, we run a risk of alienating and excluding a lot of people. We know that if more people become homeless, it is more expensive for the taxpayer. As it is now, to house a homeless person in a motel in Guelph today costs the taxpayer 200 dollars per day!

Continuing with the same policies is not only dumb politically but also financially inefficient .

I hope I am able to convey to the reader the sense of urgency my newcomer clients are living through everyday. Let us reduce future immigration for the sake of the immigrants already here. It is already late.

Eduardo Queiruga,
Working with newcomers in Southern Ontario.

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