Porter: It’s OK to ask whether immigration is intensifying our housing crisis

Reasonable question as many have increasingly been asking. Of course, housing availability and affordability affect everyone, Canadian-born and immigrants:

According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s population grew by 1,050,110 people in 2022. International migration accounted for 95.9 per cent of this growth.

Some have questioned whether Canada’s immigration policy is at odds with its efforts to address the housing crisis. Paul Kershaw of UBC has pointed out that newcomers, through no fault of their own, will amplify demand for housing and drive up home prices. CIBC CEO Victor Dodig recently expressed concern that increasing immigration levels without first increasing housing supply risks triggering Canada’s “largest social crisis” over the next decade.

Others argue that it is too simplistic, even xenophobic, to ask whether high levels of international migration could be intensifying our housing crisis. They argue that the blame for the housing crisis lies with government, which has failed for decades to build sufficient housing to accommodate predictable population growth, and that individual migrants are no more responsible for our housing crisis than they are responsible for overcrowding on public transit.

While this argument has superficial appeal, it suffers from three fallacies.

First, it conflates immigrants — individuals who, by definition, have just moved to Canada, and therefore can’t possibly be responsible for our long-standing housing crisis (indeed, they’re probably victims of it) — with immigration policy, which is set by government and is a proper subject of political debate. Individual immigrants are clearly blameless, but it is legitimate to ask whether our government could be exacerbating the housing crisis through its immigration policy.

Second, it confuses the ultimate cause of our housing crisis with its proximate causes. A multi-decade failure by government to build enough housing for our growing population may be the ultimate cause of the crisis. But that doesn’t mean that high levels of international migration to Canada in 2022 were not a proximate cause of the market conditions that tenants experienced last year, including low vacancy rates and an 18 per cent annual increase in average rent for a vacant unit.

Third, it implies that by asking whether our immigration policy is intensifying the housing crisis, we are effectively blaming immigrant families for the crisis. This is an in terrorem argument that uses fear — fear of making immigrants feel unwelcome, or fear of being labelled xenophobic — to discourage us from honestly examining the effects of our immigration policy and openly debating whether the benefits are worth the costs.

Canada’s population grew by over a million people last year, in the midst of a housing crisis that sees more than 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually. It is reasonable to ask whether maintaining such high levels of international migration will lead to mass evictions, displacement, and homelessness for tenants; and, if so, how many tenants we are willing to sacrifice to achieve the benefits of population growth. 

Refusing to ask and answer these questions does a disservice to ourselves and to the migrants who will someday call Canada home.

Source: It’s OK to ask whether immigration is intensifying our housing crisis

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: