Scarborough researchers found the link between multi-generational households and COVID-19. What it could change about housing in years to come

Good and relevant study even if not particularly surprising:

A new study by three Scarborough researchers shows that the places that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 are also the places where multiple working adults or families are all sharing a household. 

The study by the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership and the University of Toronto found that the maps that showed which areas in the GTA have high rates of COVID-19, shared a lot of overlap with areas that had the most households of what they call “mutually dependent adults.” One of those areas being Scarborough, where all three researchers reside. 

The findings confirm some assumptions people have made about why COVID-19 has spread the way it has, disproved some others, and reinforced why information like this is crucial to an effective pandemic response. 

But looking to the future it also shows that as more people live in bigger households like this, it’s time we get ahead of this issue, and build homes that can keep the people living inside healthy.

What does mutually dependent mean?

Using special-ordered Statistics Canada data from 2006 and 2016, the team parsed data on “mutually dependent adults” — combinations of households that could be a group of roommates, a grandparent living with a single mom, a family who rents out a room in their house — pretty much any situation where multiple working-age adults are living together under one roof, rather than independently, or as just a traditional couple. 

Between 2006 and 2016 as housing costs skyrocketed, the amount of working-age residents living together and depending on one another also grew by about 13 per cent across the country.

The most being in the notoriously expensive Toronto and Vancouver, where in 2016 mutually dependent adults were 27 and 25 per cent of the population, respectively. 

Multiple-family households and COVID-19

When broken down by neighbourhoods in Toronto, overall, the 10 with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases had just over twice as many mutually dependent adults at 37 per cent of the population. These were mostly found in Scarborough, northwest Toronto and some areas of York and North York. 

Meanwhile neighbourhoods that had more independent households also had fewer COVID-19 cases. 

The same held true in the GTA, with areas like Brampton. which has 37.2 per cent of adults in these kinds of households, and the highest average household size in the GTA — 3.5 people compared to Canada’s overall average 2.4. At the end of last year, Brampton also had 68 per cent of Peel Region’s COVID-19 cases.

John Stapleton, social policy expert and one of the study’s authors, said pooling resources in this way is both a solution to the high cost of living in Toronto, and to improve quality of living. It’s a way for people to potentially get more space — a house with a yard, for example, rather than living independently in smaller homes. But it created a higher risk for a virus like COVID-19. 

“What it was doing was creating an accelerant for a pandemic of this particular sort,” Stapleton said. 

Through the pandemic, Stapleton noted the assumptions that were made about why racialized people have seen disproportionate rates of COVID-19 — gathering for holidays like Diwali, language barriers. “It has very little to do with it,” he said. 

“Having so many people in a household and a number of adults working … and most likely working right in key sectors that you can’t do the work from home … that means that those households will be more vulnerable to COVID spread,” said David Hulchanski, a housing and community development professor at U of T.

“It’s demonstrating in yet another way what is wrong with having such a huge gap in income and wealth, which then affects all aspects of our life,” Hulchanski said. 

Seeing the overlap in the maps reaffirms that it is wise to focus treatment and resources in these highly-affected areas.

“In other words, it’s telling you, yes, you should have the vaccines (for) Scarborough. You should be doing this stuff by postal code,” Stapleton said.

Still with the vaccine rollout, Ontario only allotted 25 per cent of supply to hot spot areas despite its science table recommending 50 per cent, and only recently announced plans to up it to half as distribution has expanded. 

Epidemiologist Colin Furness said that the province’s reluctance to collect demographic data and have it influence the response from the start of the pandemic, has been a huge downfall. 

“The tail has really had to pull the dog along here and it really should not be that way,” he said.

Building a healthier future

While the high cost of housing is a factor at play here, Stapleton also notes that for some families, it’s more traditional and a choice to live together, rather than just affordability and circumstance.

And with this data in mind, and the cultural choice factor, both Furness and Stapleton see a takeaway being to make these kinds of multi-family households more livable and safe. 

Furness said: “How do we make ourselves resistant to communicable disease in a home? No one talks about that. So, I think we might have some opportunities in terms of how we think about designing safe residences, given what we now understand both what living patterns are, and what the risks are associated with that.”

Furness said building codes, ventilation requirements, the ability for more separation in the household are all things that could be incorporated into creating living spaces that can keep people safe. And also considering sustainability, rather than plowing into farmland in Ontario to create more and bigger houses. 

It’s a complex problem he said and it’s up to leaders to move the dial in this direction. Furness says he is “not optimistic.”

“What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/05/01/scarborough-researchers-found-the-link-between-multi-generational-households-and-covid-19-what-it-could-change-about-housing-in-years-to-come.html

Douglas Todd: Hidden foreign ownership helps explain Metro Vancouver’s ‘decoupling’ of house prices, incomes

Of note:

The lack of connection between soaring housing prices and tepid local wages in Metro Vancouver is caused in large part by hidden foreign ownership, says a peer-reviewed study from Simon Fraser University that is being welcomed by the B.C. minister responsible for housing.

Based on data Statistics Canada has been collecting only recently, SFU public policy specialist Joshua Gordon’s paper shows the “decoupling” of housing prices from incomes in Metro Vancouver has been caused by “significant sums of foreign capital that have been excluded from official statistics.”

Gordon’s research set out to solve a puzzle in Greater Vancouver and, to a lesser extent, Toronto. How can tens of thousands of owners who tell Revenue Canada they are low income (earning less than $44,000 a year) consistently afford homes valued in the $2- to $10-million range?

Source: Douglas Todd: Hidden foreign ownership helps explain Metro Vancouver’s ‘decoupling’ of house prices, incomes

Three times more racialized renters live in overcrowded housing in Toronto than non-racialized renters — and the starkest gap is among those born in Canada, study says

Significant study on inequality and minority groups:

If you look at Toronto renters who spend at least 30 per cent of their income on housing — a traditional marker of unaffordability — you might miss the deep racial divides of the city’s housing crisis.

There’s barely a gulf between racialized and non-racialized renter households that spend that much: 41 per cent versus 43, respectively, census data says. Similarities prevail as fortunes get worse: 19 per cent of racialized renter households spend at least half their income on rent, versus 20 per cent of non-racialized households.

But a new study of census micro data, shared exclusively with the Star, reveals stark inequalities in the housing conditions of Toronto renters — especially in unsuitable housing, an indicator of overcrowding that was found to be nearly three times higher for visible minority renters.

For housing to be reported as unsuitable, it has to lack an adequate number of bedrooms for the size and composition of the household that lives there, according to the national occupancy standard.

University of Calgary researcher Naomi Lightman said looking at overcrowding allowed for a broader understanding of the housing crisis — noting that some renters may choose to squeeze more people into a smaller unit, instead of overspending on enough space.

“People are making choices within constrained conditions,” said Lightman, who co-authored the study with York University associate professor Luann Good Gingrich and Social Planning Toronto analyst Beth Wilson.

The data took on new weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lightman noted — neighbourhoods in Toronto with high levels of overcrowding have shown infection rates almost four times higher than in other areas, as stated by Toronto’s public health agency in July.

In York Centre in the city’s hard-hit northwest corner, 22 per cent of non-racialized renter households are considered unsuitable. Among racialized renters, that jumps to 51 per cent. In nearby York South-Weston, the unsuitability rate is 25 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively. Racialized renters in every city ward had higher rates of unsuitable, overcrowded conditions.

And though those gaps persisted among both the newcomer and long-term immigrant populations, the starkest racial divide the study found was among those born in Canada. While 14 per cent of non-racialized Toronto renters born in Canada reported unsuitable housing conditions, that number more than tripled for racialized non-immigrants — to 48 per cent.

Toronto councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health, said that finding illustrates how racism can be systemic — noting longstanding inequalities in access to employment and income.

“People often talk about opportunity like, you know, ‘Everybody gets a fighting chance,’” he said. “The fact of the matter is, in our city, non-racialized people are starting at the 50-yard line. And that’s due to decades of disproportional access and intergenerational wealth.”

Lightman said their data overall highlighted that the housing crisis played out in “different ways than we might have expected,” and had geographic implications within Toronto. “The divides between people translate into divides between places — and an increasingly segregated city.”

The findings are part of a multi-year research project on social exclusion in Canada. It examines micro data from the last census — specifically, data on affordability, unsuitability, housing in need of major repair, and what’s known as “core housing need.” The latter refers to housing that falls below any of those standards, where the household would have to spend 30 per cent or more of its pre-tax income to afford the median rent of alternative, adequate housing nearby.

Core housing need, like overcrowding, saw higher rates among racialized tenants — with 39 per cent of them reporting core housing need versus 27 per cent of non-racialized renters.

But Lightman said their work also underscored a need for more granular data, as it showed that certain groups — like Black, Latin American and Southeast Asian tenants — were reporting especially high rates of core housing need. While racialized and non-racialized renters had similar rates of unaffordable housing, the study found more than half of Korean, West Asian, Arab and Chinese renters reported spending at least 30 per cent of their income on shelter.

Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said the findings about specific racialized communities underscored a need for more disaggregated, race-based data in the housing sphere, to understand which communities are facing the worst outcomes, followed by more targeted efforts from governments to address the housing crisis within those groups.

While Go said she’d expect racialized communities to struggle more in the rental housing market — noting that racialized people were more likely to live in low-income households in general — the difference in the study between racialized and non-racialized renters, born in Canada and living in unsuitable housing, was more significant than she would have expected.

“Even if you take away immigration status as a factor, there is still a racialized gap. You cannot blame it on the fact they are born outside of Canada, to explain away the racial inequality that exists in Canada,” she said.

Cressy backed calls for more disaggregated data, noting the city’s executive committee will consider a strategy on Wednesday that would collect voluntary data on race from those who use city services or participate in public consultations.

“In the face of data, decision makers have one of two choices,” he said. “They can address it, or they can remain complacent.”

Source: Three times more racialized renters live in overcrowded housing in Toronto than non-racialized renters — and the starkest gap is among those born in Canada, study says

The theory of immigrants and foreign investors driving Canada’s property market is about to be tested

Yes indeed although interestingly the article focusses almost exclusively on the high end of the market, not the middle class suburbs which are home to so many immigrants:

Christine Zhu, a Toronto-based realtor, has not facilitated a single purchase or sale on homes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her clientele are almost exclusively Chinese nationals whose kids are either already international students in Canadian universities and high schools in Ontario, or are looking to begin school this fall.

In a regular spring market, she would have processed at least eight sales every month, mostly condominium units that Chinese parents would purchase for their children, in addition to numerous rentals. This season she’s spending her days on the phone with landlords, negotiating on behalf of students who have gone back to China, and have no idea when they will return, leaving their leased apartments vacant.

“One of my clients went back to China for Chinese New Year, and didn’t come back because there were no flights. He’s been paying for so many months, so the mother asked me if I can help negotiate with the landlord,” Zhu said. “This landlord was nice, he gave a 30 per cent discount. That’s the best I could do.”

There are approximately 640,000 international students in Canada — over 50 per cent of them are Chinese and Indian nationals who make up a significant part of the rental market in Canada’s largest cities. In a typical summer season, tens of thousands of new foreign students, landed immigrants and non-permanent residents looking for work arrive in Canada, seeking some kind of housing, either to rent or buy.

But with international travel frozen, multiple realtors and housing experts the Financial Post spoke to over the course of the week say that the lack of the usual immigration and travel pattern is starting to have a noticeable impact on the housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver. In particular, vacancy rates are rising in downtown rental markets, pushing prices lower, while luxury homes that usually attract rich foreign investors are struggling to be sold leading to price drops or, in some cases, court-ordered sales.

“Net migration numbers have fallen off pretty sharply, and the vast majority of non-permanent resident newcomers fall into the rental market. We’re likely to see vacancy rates go back up, but more likely rents are going to flatten out even more,” said Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

In April, the numbers of permanent residents admitted to Canada declined by 80 per cent from the year prior — just 4,140 were processed and admitted compared to 26,900 in April 2019, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

In Toronto, condo rentals are on the decline, falling 2.2 per cent on average from April 2020 to May 2020, according to data from apartment hunting site PadMapper. In Vancouver, one-bedroom apartments decreased 5.6 per cent and two-bedroom units decreased 15.8 per cent, the largest decline across the country, May 2020 data from Rentals.ca showed.

Kavcic believes the decline is partly attributed to immigration, but it’s still too early to quantify.

Razia Husein, a Toronto realtor whose clients comprise mostly wealthy foreigners or permanent residents residing abroad, says that she’s had trouble selling downtown condo units that some investors would buy in bulk in a typical year.

“I sell 8 to 10 units, either pre-construction or newly built, to one buyer (in different properties). Some are from India, some are from the United Kingdom, some are from Trinidad. I tell my clients to not put all their eggs in one basket.”

This year, Husein says she’s trying to facilitate sales on the phone, but it’s proving to be difficult. “They need to get on a plane and come and see a unit, or see the area. So I’m just doing a lot of rentals right now, I usually manage these investors’ properties, and find them renters,” she added.

When home prices skyrocketed in Toronto and Vancouver in early 2017, the prevailing notion was that foreign money was driving price increases, prompting provincial governments of both cities to slap a 15 per cent foreign buyers’ tax on purchases.

But a January 2019 report released by Statistics Canada using data from the Canadian Housing Statistics Program found that changes in property prices could not really be associated with any specific socio-demographic or economic factor.

Immigrants, for example, owned proportionally fewer single-detached houses than Canadian-born owners in both cities, but in Vancouver, immigrant owners had larger homes in more expensive neighbourhoods. Just 4.95 per cent of single-detached properties were owned by immigrants in Vancouver, while in Toronto that number was 4.71 per cent. In both cities however, immigrants owned more condominium units than Canadian-born owners.

“This idea that foreigners are the reason for our housing prices going up, is going to be tested out right now. There are no flights, and so the rich investors that went away for the winter, they’ve not come back. Yet, I see the market for single-detached houses is roaring right now,” said a real estate agent in Toronto whose clients are mostly high networth Iranians.

But David Chen, a realtor with the Vancouver-based boutique real estate firm Stilhavn Real Estate Services, whose clients are primarily from mainland China, notes a different trend in the wealthy community of West Vancouver that he attributes to the travel freeze — mansions worth $5 million or more are struggling to be sold because rich foreign investors are not available to go house shopping at the moment.

“Local buying and selling has picked back up and is strong. But in West Vancouver, we’re seeing the biggest price drop in years. It’s not unusual to see court sales for some of the bigger homes — it used to be maybe one in 200 homes in West Vancouver were sold through the court system, but now that’s about one in 80,” Chen said.

Between April 2020 and May 2020, the average home price in West Vancouver fell from $2.8 million to approximately $1.7 million, although it seems to have picked back up recently. Six-bedroom homes, that were worth more than $4 million just six months ago, are now averaging at $2.2 million, according to data from MLS, crunched by the real estate site Zolo.ca.

Local builders, according to Chen, build huge mansions for foreign buyers who usually make their purchases in the spring or summer months, but demand has fallen this season.

There’s scant Canadian data available on foreign buyers recent purchasing habits, but information from the Chinese-based website Juwai.com, estimated that in the first quarter of 2020, Chinese nationals made 26.5 per cent fewer buyer enquiries on Canadian property than in the fourth quarter of 2019. In Toronto, Chinese buyers made 34 per cent fewer enquiries on real estate in the first quarter of 2019.

Whether or not the immigration effect on Canadian real estate — though still anecdotal — will last, is a question that Zhu believes relates in some part to how the Canadian government will deal with the pandemic going forward.

She operates a WeChat account with roughly 500 Chinese parents whose kids are international students in Canada and their primary concerns have been the way in which Canada has responded to the virus.

“The mothers are scared. For many of them, this is their only child studying abroad,” Zhu said. “In China, they feel COVID-19 is being handled well, and Canada is next to the United States which for some of them causes worry.”

In terms of death count, Canada has had roughly double the number of COVID-19 related deaths compared to China, according to official numbers from both countries’ governments. While there have been new surges of the virus in and around Beijing, the Chinese government, at least based on public information, appears to have effectively controlled the spread by rapidly boosting testing and contact tracing.

Chen says some of his clients from mainland China have held off on purchasing condos in Vancouver because of concerns that a shared building ventilation system could be a COVID-19 related risk. “They are just going to wait it out for now, at least until flights from China resume,” he said.

BMO’s Kavcic believes that ultimately the housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver, Canada’s two most expensive cities, will be driven less by the behaviour of foreign buyers, newcomers and international students and more by the tension between demand and availability.

“This is a very unique shock. It has pulled people out of the market. Listings have come down as quickly as sales have. So the question is how much pent-up demand versus pent-up listings will there be when things go back to normal?”

Source: The theory of immigrants and foreign investors driving Canada’s property market is about to be tested

@DouglasTodd Three reasons why rents suddenly dropped in Metro Vancouver

Very good article by Todd regarding the COVID-19 immigration related impacts on rental rates:

The advertised rent for a two-bedroom apartment has plunged by 15 per cent in the city of Vancouver, one of the biggest drops in Canada, as COVID-19 makes its bewildering way through the economy.

Many of the more than 800,000 tenants across Metro Vancouver were riveted when Rental.ca posted the city’s rent-price declines last week. The average rent demanded for a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Vancouver dropped by almost $450, to $2,478 a month.

But why, exactly, have Vancouver and Toronto and their suburbs been slammed?

“A lack of immigration, a decline in international students, a decline in short-term contract employment, and continued affordability concerns because of job losses are to blame,” said Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research, an affiliate of Rental.ca, in a commentary.

All of which makes sense. But it needs unpacking.

Vancouver and Toronto are subject to some of the same COVID-19 forces — tremendous job loss and swelling household debt — that weakened countless rental markets in the world because of lockdown.

But Metro Vancouver and Toronto also contain some of the world’s highest proportions of foreign-born residents — immigrants and especially temporary residents, such as international students and guest workers. Most are young. And most rent.

That makes these two large Canadian metropolises more vulnerable to global migration patterns and to Canada’s clampdown on its international border, which has abruptly cut inbound flows of people to a trickle.

That lead Paul Danison, another analyst for Rental.ca, to go so far as to imagine the tenants of Vancouver and Toronto possibly being dug out of the hole they have found themselves trapped in: Rental-vacancy rates of less than one per cent.

“Imagine if you can, Toronto and Vancouver with a healthy three per cent vacancy rate, and rents falling by the end of the year rather than rising. A few months ago, that would have been laughable,” said Danison.

“But because of COVID-19, Canada will have less immigration, fewer international students and, with the border closed, not nearly as many seasonal and part-time workers. All typically are renters.”

Several factors are at play.

Tighter borders means landlords who once offered costly short-term rentals, like those on Airbnb, have been hammered in attractive cities like Vancouver, whose economies rely more than most on travellers.

Short-term rental providers have been moving their often-stylish apartments to the long-term rental market, which has been increasing supply, offering tenants more choices.

Rohana Rezel, a housing advocate and past candidate for Vancouver city council, is part of a group monitoring Craigslist and other real-estate forums. They’ve discovered short-term rentals are “collapsing” and hundreds of units are now switching to long-term rentals.

“People offering their places for rent on Craigslist are now blatantly saying it used to be an Airbnb. They’re boasting it was rated five stars,” says Rezel, who adds that many such landlords started off charging outlandish long-term rents, which they were forced to slash.

As in many cities around the world, many owners in Vancouver and Toronto are also feeling pressure to somehow off-load their homes, either because they have lost wages or are going into deeper debt. But they’re in a bind, because it’s no longer a house-seller’s market.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Moody’s and other analysts are predicting double-digit house price declines over the next year or two. So some would-be sellers are trying to wait out the downturn by renting their places, thus also increasing supply.

Thirdly, and perhaps most distinctly for a desirable cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, there are strong indications many of the region’s young temporary residents (foreign- and Canadian-born) have climbed on planes and headed home, often to live with their parents.

That means a hefty drop in demand for rental suites.

A CMHC analyst, Andrew Scott, has found an astonishing 46 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents between the ages of 18 and 44, the group most likely to rent, have been non-permanent migrants — a ratio almost unheard of in other parts of the world.

Until recently, at least 100,000 international students have been living and working in Metro Vancouver, plus another 50,000 so-called “international mobility” employees and temporary foreign workers.

“Many temporary residents just packed up and left,” says Rezel, a high-tech professional who first came to Canada from Sri Lanka as a graduate student.

Like me, when Rezel visits the city’s restaurants, pubs and cafés, he says he often asks friendly servers and others about themselves. Four times out of five such hospitality staff invariably answer that they are in Canada on study or work visas.

As colleges and universities began in March to offer their courses only on the internet and most service jobs disappeared overnight, a large portion of these intrepid young people were compelled to leave behind the country and their rental apartments. Rezel’s Japan-born wife, who is involved in her expatriate community in Vancouver, said that’s what happened in her circle, too.

Who knows when or if most of these temporary residents will return?

All of which goes to suggest Metro Vancouver’s suddenly lower rental rates are likely to remain so for at least the medium term.

Source: Douglas Todd: Three reasons why rents suddenly dropped in Metro Vancouver

A study urged better standards for migrant workers’ housing. Nothing was done. Now COVID-19 has struck

One can just imagine the lobbying that occurred, given the likely competitiveness impact on the sector, with the health and pandemic consequences that have now become more widely apparent.

The same pattern of greater risk to temporary workers living and working in crowded conditions is seen everywhere, whether pristine Singapore or the Gulf countries:

Across Ontario, nursing homes are the province’s deadliest epicentres for the COVID-19 pandemic. But in Chatham-Kent, the county’s largest outbreak of the virus is on a farm — where 49 migrant workers have fallen ill.

Labour advocates warn that living conditions are hastening the virus’s spread on farms across the country, where bunkhouses often make it impossible for temporary foreign workers to social distance.

Those workers are essential to the country’s food supply, leading agricultural groups to push for their exclusion from Canada’s COVID-19 travel ban.

But prior to the pandemic, many of these groups also lobbied against the creation of a national housing standard that a government study recommended “to reduce the risk of negligence and possibly of harm” to migrant workers, documents obtained by the Star show.

The national standard for migrant worker housing has not been implemented — despite a study commissioned by the federal government that found “gaps in the housing inspection process” and an “extremely wide variation of what is deemed an acceptable housing standard.”

Substandard, overcrowded housing for migrant farm workers is an issue that workers have raised literally “literally for decades,” said Fay Faraday, a Toronto-based lawyer and York University professor who has written numerous studies of migrant workers’ conditions.

“From the very beginning of the outbreak the first concern that workers were raising was whether they would have housing facilities that would be safe.”

In consultations initiated by the federal government in 2018 on updating migrant worker programs, agricultural groups including Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture pushed back against stricter auditing of living and working conditions, according to submissions obtained by the Star.

The groups argued that the process treats employers “like they are guilty of an infraction before proven innocent” and represented an “excessive” administrative burden.

“The approach from government has caused a great deal of concern, stress, and anxiety,” says one submission.

Employers’ eligibility to hire workers through Canada’s temporary foreign worker schemes is contingent on submitting housing inspection reports to the federal government. But the 2018 study conducted by the National Home Inspector Certification Council found no “uniformity” in housing standards and confusion over who enforces them: “complex jurisdictional roles and responsibilities can make it unclear what housing standards applies,” and whether housing makes the grade.

The study recommended updating and standardizing guidelines across the country, and letting inspections include a “broader scope” of issues — including bunkhouses’ electrical systems, and the age of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

In response to questions from the Star, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said the government’s review of its temporary foreign worker program “identified some opportunities to improve housing for foreign workers” that would be addressed with the provinces.

“Because of the urgencies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this work has been delayed.”

Workers say the delay comes with a price tag that is now more costly than ever.


As the tomato capital of Canada, Leamington runs on farm labour, provided mostly by migrant workers who plant, pick, and pack the fruit and vegetables the country relies on.

Some come for eight months a year; others have work permits for up to two years. None can gain permanent residence through the country’s temporary foreign worker streams.

Leamington has always been a town of immigrants, its evolution tied to successive waves of workers who powered its economy.

This year, as the COVID-19 crisis deepened, the town transformed once more.

Local hotels became self-isolation quarters for workers just in from Mexico and the Caribbean. The community health centre launched an education campaign, urging migrant workers to practice social distancing. Police circulated videos in Spanish, warning of the penalties for failing to do so.

For some workers, the rules seemed impossible to heed.

One Mexican worker here on a two-year permit said he shares a house with 10 other workers; he is picked up by a bus full of other workers to get to his job at a mushroom farm’s packing plant, where there are some 200 other employees.

“We cannot social distance because we have to work very close,” he told the Star. In April, several workers across his employer’s facilities were diagnosed with COVID-19.

In Ontario, housing inspections for migrant workers are usually done by local public health units. In Leamington, the Windsor-Essex County unit conducted 121 bunkhouse inspections between the beginning of March and mid-April, a spokesperson told the Star. Around 100 were for housing permits or licensing; the rest were reinspections or responses to complaints.

In many regions, Faraday says, the inspection process has long been flawed. In Ontario, for example, health units can’t fine employers for shoddy or unsafe housing because there are no legislated standards for worker accommodation.

Inspections “have typically been done before any workers arrive,” said Faraday. “So they are seen in a pristine condition without the workers there and without necessarily a realistic assessment of how many workers will be in that space.”

According to the 2018 housing study, where provincial standards exist, “enforcement is only done on an ad hoc, complaints based basis.”

For some migrant workers, the pandemic now prompts other concerns.

One worker, originally from Guatemala, said he has not been allowed to leave his bunkhouse since the pandemic started, other than to go to work. Even shopping for groceries is off limits — instead, he said, the farm’s secretary brings a weekly supply.

His bed is in a large open space shared by 12 workers, he said. He usually works nine-hour days, Mondays to Saturday. Sunday is a half day, leaving hours, pre-pandemic, that were the only time that felt like his own. Often he would go for walks, or visit Leamington’s scenic lakefront.

“It’s really nice for us to go out, to do other things, and stop thinking about work,” he said. “That’s how we were able to relax.” Now leaving the bunkhouse could be grounds for suspension, he said.

He understands the need to social distance, he said. But Canadians, he noted, can still go out occasionally — “We feel like prisoners.”

One county over at Greenhill Produce, site of 51 of the region’s 89 COVID-19 cases, one migrant worker said he shared a room with six others before the outbreak. In total, 24 workers lived in his bunkhouse.

“I feel like I want to cry,” the worker said.

Chatham-Kent’s public health unit said the workers are believed to have been exposed to the virus by a local farmhand. The unit’s spokesperson Caress Lee Carpenter said the bunkhouses received routine inspections prior to the outbreak, and said living arrangements make it “easy to transmit this kind of infection.”

That risk, she added, was “similar to if someone in your own household had the virus but did not yet know. The chances of other household members contracting the virus is likely.”

But few Canadians live in conditions like migrant workers, said Faraday, where “it is completely normal to have eight people living in a two-bedroom space.

“It’s so common to have workers in storage sheds or tool sheds that have been repurposed into dormlike housing with dozens of workers separated only by hanging sheets.”

The worker at Greenhill said the quality of his bunkhouse was good, other than the number of people who shared it.

By the end of April, Greenhill workers were rehoused to separate those who tested positive and negative, he said. “I think they could have moved us much much earlier.”

The public health unit said it has provided support to workers on a daily basis and the company has followed “all public health measures directed at them.”

In a statement posted to its website, Greenhill said it cared “deeply for our employees and takes all steps to protect their health and safety … we are proud to provide some of the best quality living quarters for our workers, meeting and greatly exceeding federal government regulations.

“Examples of amenities we provide in all residences is free Wi-Fi, telephone, satellite TV in each bedroom, extremely high quality furnishings, kitchen and sanitary amenities, fire alarm system, in floor heating and air conditioning.”


After authorities in British Columbia began investigating a COVID-19 outbreak amongst migrant workers in Kelowna in March, advocates warned that more would follow. Since then, agricultural employers such as Greenhill have been hit; so too have food processing facilities that rely heavily on temporary foreign workers, such as a Cargill meat-packing plant in Alberta.

Responses have varied from employer to employer. But to Faraday, the structural issues remain.

Migrant workers’ precarious immigration status and fear of reprisal makes it difficult to voice concern about conditions, Faraday said: “There is also the undeniable racism” behind employers providing conditions for migrant workers that locals wouldn’t accept.

And while employers’ responses to COVID-19 have varied, their submissions to the consultations that addressed housing concerns two years ago were consistent: stronger enforcement is not necessary.

“We urge the government to not only consider the rights of the workers but also the right of the employer to due process as they deliver these inspections,” said one submission from the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

Noting the “importance of ensuring that our (temporary foreign worker) workforce is treated fairly,” the submission added that “fairness is only one aspect of what individuals need to feel included and secure” and suggests that the federal government reallocate “funds from compliance activities to initiatives that support the inclusion and acceptance of our TFW workforce in rural communities across Canada.”

Last year, a Star investigation exposed thousands of complaints that migrant workers made to Mexican authorities. Housing was the biggest concern, with allegations of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and pest infestations. Only a small number of the complaints are ever shared with Canada’s government.

Now, the pandemic has brought the enforcement issue into sharper focus. Canada announced a $50-million program last month to help farms modify accommodation and subsidize migrants’ wages when they are in self-isolation.

Accessing the money, said Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, is dependent on employers following public health guidelines and will be accompanied by targeted inspections from federal ministries and local health units.

In a statement to the Star, Employment and Social Development Canada said it had “ceased conducting proactive inspections” in mid-March so it could “abide by local travel restrictions” and protect the health of communities and departmental staff. .”

The ministry said it expected to resume proactive inspections “in the coming days” by video and other means.

In Ontario, advocacy group Justice for Migrant Workers wants the provincial Ministry of Labour to include housing in health and safety inspections.

Farm employers get subsidies, grants and regulatory exemptions, and “It is time that the workers receive the benefits that are due to them,” the group said in a recent letter to Premier Doug Ford.

Faraday said the pandemic has also brought migrant workers’ value into sharper relief.

“These are essential workers,” she said. “We would not eat without them.”

Source: Star ExclusiveA study urged better standards for migrant workers’ housing. Nothing was done. Now COVID-19 has struckA study urged better standards for migrant workers’ housing. Employers objected and nothing was done. Now the virus has struck.

House-hunting as an Asian immigrant in Vancouver means navigating racism

Account how some of the general narratives about Chinese and Chinese Canadians play out at the individual level. Although stating that her car is a Porsche (no shame, she works hard, and a good reporter) perhaps a detail that reduces empathy:

When my mother graduated from high school in Hong Kong in the 1970s, she and her friends did not have the luxury of going straight to college or spending a “gap year” travelling the world.

At age 18, she worked as a secretary all day and attended class in the evenings to earn a degree in business administration, while also studying English and shorthand.

She made 500 HKD a month, which was roughly equivalent to $80 Canadian at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that would still be less than $500 Canadian a month. My dad was working long hours, meanwhile, as a salesman for commission.

In my parents’ first home as a married couple, they lived in a flimsy shack on the rooftop of a high-rise building, which they jokingly referred to as their penthouse. It was better than when they bunked with their parents and siblings, with both families stuffed into 200-square-feet studios.

They saved fastidiously. My mom socked away half her salary each month and invested the money. Since she was constantly upgrading her skills at night, she also jumped jobs to double and triple her salary. By the time I was born, she had a fairly comfortable government job and my dad had moved up the ranks to general sales manager.

Yet they gave it all up to start over again in their early 30s. After selling their apartment, my parents moved to Canada, in hopes of giving their children a more secure future in a democratic country.

I’m now the same age they were when they settled in Vancouver. Even though I haven’t been quite as disciplined, because I followed their example of jumping jobs and working multiple gigs at once, I’ve saved enough and I’m looking for a home of my own.

Searching for a condo in Vancouver as an Asian immigrant is a fraught and emotional experience. Why? Because there is a class struggle centred around housing affordability happening in the Lower Mainland — and it’s led to outright racism, ageism, classism and xenophobia.

If you chat with any Asian person in Vancouver, they’re likely to say they’ve noticed an uptick in racism, of people who voice their assumptions that they are recent migrants with bucketloads of cash and are driving up the real estate prices for “locals” and “real Canadians.”

Earlier this year, a stranger confronted and raged at me that my Porsche had almost struck her. I was dumbfounded. I commute an hour to work on public transit every day. Other times, people have simply shouted: “Chink!” at me, as I walked down the street.

At an apartment pre-sale event in Burnaby, I saw a one-bedroom that cost less than $450,000, and I couldn’t help blurting out, “Wow, that’s pretty cheap!”

It was a very crowded exhibition hall and immediately, everyone around shot dagger eyes at me and one white lady made a furious sound that sounded like “Eeuarrrckk!” then hissed under her breath, “Go back to China, bitch.”

And that’s just what I get as a young person. My parents are both boomers and immigrants, and even though they are so law-abiding they wouldn’t jaywalk, let alone engage in seedy real-estate fraud, they represent the most popular scapegoats for soaring real-estate prices in this city.

At best, it’s an unhealthy “us” versus “them” dynamic — at worst, it’s bigotry.

“I would never sell to a ‘housewife’ from China,” someone wrote to me in response to my first house-hunting story. The insinuation was that these people are undeserving of homes in Vancouver.

It makes me sad to see valid frustration about rising unaffordability lead to ugly attitudes toward people who are eager to become Canadians. My first job as a teenager was working as an English tutor, where I was mostly employed by “astronaut families.” Usually, it is the father who stays and works in the home country, planning to make money and join his family later, while his wife and children move abroad. The astronaut mothers that I knew were devoted to their kids’ educations, hiring multiple tutors and music teachers in ardent hope of helping them build bright futures in a new land.

Source: House-hunting as an Asian immigrant in Vancouver means navigating racism

Growing number of newcomers, refugees ending up homeless in Canada: studies

Given the tight housing market and prices in larger cities, not surprising:

A growing number of newcomers to Canada are ending up in shelters or are finding themselves homeless, newly released government figures show.

Two new reports released this week by Employment and Social Development Canada offer a glimpse into the extent of the homelessness problem across the country and reveal the populations that are most vulnerable.

The national shelter study, which looked at federal data on shelter users between 2005 and 2016, found an “observable increase” in refugees using shelters.

In 2016, there were 2,000 refugees sleeping in shelters, not counting those facilities designated specifically for refugees — an increase from 1,000 just two years earlier when the figures first began to be tracked.

Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said he believes refugees are being forced to turn to homeless shelters because of a lack of housing capacity in areas where refugees are settling.

“Many of them are coming to Toronto in Ontario, and to Quebec, and in those communities, the rental market is just really tight and we just don’t have the capacity to house them,” Richter said.

“Homelessness is a function of housing affordability, availability and income. When you’re new to Canada, you generally won’t have the income to be able to buy a house, and there’s just not enough affordable housing options.”

Canada has been experiencing an influx of asylum seekers crossing into Canada “irregularly,” avoiding official checkpoints between the Canada-U.S. border in order to file for refugee protection without being turned away under Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. Over 46,000 irregular border-crossers have been intercepted by RCMP since early 2017.

Many of them have been staying in Toronto and Montreal to await the outcome of their refugee claims, which has put pressure on temporary housing capacity in those cities.

The city of Toronto estimated in late 2018 that about 40 per cent of people using its shelters identified as refugees or asylum claimants. Other Ontario cities have been asked to help relocate refugees in order to ease the burden on Toronto’s shelter system.

Meanwhile, a second study released this week by Ottawa that offers a “point-in-time” snapshot of homelessness in 61 communities also noted a trend of homelessness among newcomers.

It found 14 per cent of people who identified as homeless in 2018 were newcomers to Canada. Of that total, eight per cent indicated they were immigrants, three per cent identified as refugees and four per cent as refugee claimants.

The point-in-time study captures not only those using shelters, but also people sleeping on the streets, in transitional houses or staying with others. The 2018 study expanded its counts from 32 communities in 2016 to 61 in 2018.

Both studies also found Canada’s Indigenous Peoples remain vastly over-represented among the country’s homeless population. Almost one-third of shelter users and those counted in the point-in-time report identified as Indigenous, despite making up only about five per cent of the national population.

It’s a consequence of multi-generational trauma endured by Indigenous populations in Canada, as outlined in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the recently concluded inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, Richter said.

“This will require specific focus and specific investment if we’re going to help these folks.”

For those who do find themselves without a home, either for short periods or for those who are chronically homeless, their realities are stark and can be deadly.

A memorial dedicated to homeless individuals who have died on the streets of Toronto currently lists close to 1,000 names. Many are identified only as “John Doe” with the date they died.

But Richter said he is hopeful that things will improvements for Canada’s homeless.

He pointed to figures in the national shelter study showing an decrease of nearly 20 per cent in the overall number of people who accessed shelters between 2005 and 2016. Occupancy rates have increased over that period of time, however, due to a rise in the length of time people were staying in homeless shelters.

But many jurisdictions have been taking the issue seriously and making significant improvements, Richter said, pointing to a decrease in chronic homeless numbers in places like the southern Ontario communities of Chatham-Kent, Guelph, Kawartha and Haliburton.

“We’re seeing that it is possible, and we know how to do it, it’s just a matter of getting on with it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we are going to see, now, consistent and focused trends going in the opposite direction.”

Source: Growing number of newcomers, refugees ending up homeless in Canada: studies

Douglas Todd: What would happen to Canadian housing if immigration stopped?

Good range of perspectives covered in this thought experiment:

What would happen to Canada’s housing market if immigration to Canada was substantially reduced or even cut to zero? It’s a crucial question for the public, and for real-estate developers who start new construction projects on the basis of predictions of future sales.

Surprisingly, however, the answers are all over the map.

Some specialists suggest virtually nothing would happen to Canadian housing prices if immigration slowed or ended. Others say the impact would be lower prices and hard times for the powerful real-estate industry.

While there are no immediate signs immigration levels will be reduced — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has increased the immigration rate by more than 30 per cent, to almost 350,000 newcomers a year — the issue is central to the dreams and anxieties of Canadian residents who either own homes or want to imagine the possibility.

Two Ontario real-estate specialists recently wrote in the Financial Post that, based on studies, the “overall impact of immigration on housing markets is modest at best in most cases.”

The most startling research spotlighted by Murtaza Haider, of Ryerson University, and Stephen Moranis, a Toronto real-estate insider, maintained that immigration has virtually no impact on overall Canadian housing prices.

The authors of that contentious study, Ahter Akbari and Yigit Aydede of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, claimed immigration adds an insignificant $1 to every $1,000 people in Canada spend on housing.

Could that be true?

UBC geography professor emeritus David Ley, whose findings differ from the 2012 paper by the Saint Mary’s profs, said in an interview their study looks at the period from 1996 to 2006 and doesn’t focus on urban regions, which his analyses do. Ley has consistently found a close correlation between strong immigration and high housing prices in global cities.

In that way the Saint Mary’s paper sidesteps an increasingly plain-to-see phenomenon: Housing prices vary according to where immigrants choose to live. And for the most part they stream into major cities, especially sky-high Toronto and Vancouver.

Indeed, the authors of the Financial Post article that cites the Saint Mary’s study apparently contradict themselves at the end of their piece, after repeating the impact of immigration is “modest at best” on housing.

“The more important realization,” Haider and Moranis say in their last sentence, “is that an absence of immigration would result in a declining population and aging of the workforce, which could have a much larger negative impact on Canadian housing markets.”

So, which is it? Immigration has almost no influence on housing? Or the population growth it brings has a tremendous impact?

Simon Fraser University’s Josh Gordon, a specialist in public policy, says it’s crucial to follow through on the “counter-factual” question, to imagine a scenario not currently in the cards: What would happen to housing prices if immigration levels reduced to zero?

The real-estate industry, Gordon said, repeatedly says it must build more housing faster because the Canadian population is growing rapidly, predominantly because of immigration.

The development industry’s repeated warnings, Gordon said, that Metro Vancouver and Toronto property must be rezoned at higher density and that rents will continue to rise would be thrown into disarray with the ending of immigration.

“What’s revealing is that when certain members of the real-estate industry try to generate a fear-of-missing-out mentality (FOMO), as well as the expectation that prices will rise over time, their typical move is to emphasize how many people will be arriving on a yearly basis and how large the population will eventually be,” Gordon said.

“The actions of those organizations belie the idea that immigration is not likely to have much impact on prices.”

There is evidence housing prices would dramatically adjust if immigration stopped.

After all, the populations of Metro Vancouver and Toronto experience net growth of about one per cent a year, almost entirely from foreign-born newcomers, who need places to live. That does not include the  high portion the two cities take in of the roughly one million international students and temporary visa workers who are now in Canada at any one time.

And a recent study by Statistics Canada researchers found the detached houses bought by recent immigrants to Metro Vancouver are, on average, valued $824,000 higher than such homes owned by people born in Canada. In Toronto the cost of recent immigrants’ homes was about $50,000 higher than that of the domestic born.

UBC geographer Daniel Hiebert, in addition, showed in a peer-reviewed study that recent immigrants, especially those from China, show statistically greater determination than Canadian-born citizens to buy housing in Canada’s three major cities. “First and foremost,” Hiebert says, “immigration policy is, essentially, also a form of housing policy.”

The Urban Development Institute, which represents property developers, makes no bones about how housing supply must be expanded to support immigration.

“Over the next 25 years, our province is expected to grow by more than 1.4 million people, partly as a result of the federal government’s plan to raise immigration 13 per cent by 2020,” UDI president Anne McMullin recently wrote. “That means we must work together to create new homes if we want our children and grandchildren to have a future in B.C.”

A related June study by Gordon found a near-perfect correlation between housing unaffordability and foreign ownership in certain Metro Vancouver municipalities. Gordon discovered, for instance, that Vancouver, Richmond and West Vancouver are not only the most unaffordable municipalities, they are the one most attracting millionaire migrants and their wealth.

There is a complicating factor, however, as there often is when trying to understand the mass global movement of people and money.

Gordon emphasizes that immigration levels and foreign ownership, which he defines as “housing owned primarily on the basis of foreign income or wealth,” are related. But they’re different, too.

“There is some overlap to the extent that immigration, as it happens in Canada, involves many people arriving with significant amounts of wealth,” Gordon said. “But debates about immigration are largely distinct, though not entirely, from debates around foreign ownership, even while certain people have tried to conflate the two.“

How do the foreign-buyers taxes in B.C. and Ontario, as well as B.C.’s speculation tax, fit into the discussion of housing prices? Those measures are focused on foreign ownership, not immigration levels, Gordon said.

“The point of the measures in relationship to foreign ownership is to discourage the de-coupling of the housing market from the labour market, to discourage the use of large amounts of foreign capital to purchase property in Canada,” said Gordon.

“Measures around foreign ownership are about levelling the playing field for local working people. Measures around immigration are different. The irony is that measures to limit or curtail foreign ownership may in fact be beneficial for many new immigrants, because new immigrants who do not arrive with vast amounts of wealth are doubly disadvantaged in the housing market.”

It can take a while to get one’s head around the global forces running through Canadian housing.

But no matter which way you look at the impact of large-scale immigration, and foreign capital, on key sectors of Canada’s vigorous housing market, it’s undeniable they’re profoundly connected — and that decisions made about immigration will indeed always be a form of housing policy.

Source: Douglas Todd: What would happen to Canadian housing if immigration stopped?

Immigrant families more likely to own home than add to pension plan, StatsCan says

The impact of rising housing prices and the relative preference and ease for immigrant families to place their wealth in real estate:

Immigrant families who have been in Canada for more than two decades tend to be worth more than families who were born in the country, new data from Statistics Canada released Tuesday shows.

The data agency released an analysis of numbers from 1999 to the 2016 census, comparing immigrant families with those born in Canada and looking at various aspects of their financial lives.

The findings show that both groups have, on the whole, seen a big increase in their wealth over the past two decades.

The average wealth of established immigrant families — those whose major income earner was aged 45 to 64 and landed in Canada at least 20 years earlier — grew from $625,000 in 1999 to $1.06 million in 2016, an increase of $435,000, or more than 69 per cent.

Comparable families where the major income earner was born in Canada are worth less, on average, but saw a bigger gain, from $519,000 to $979,000. That’s an increase of $460,000 or more than 88 per cent.

One reason for the discrepancy may be that immigrant families are much more likely to put their money into real estate. “Compared with Canadian-born families, immigrant families generally hold a greater share of their wealth in housing but a smaller share in [registered pension plan] assets,” the data agency said.

On average, 69 per cent of the wealth increase for immigrant families can be traced to gains in the amount of equity that they have in their homes. That compares to 39 per cent for native-born Canadians.

On the flip side, one third of the wealth gain for Canadian-born families is because of increases in the value of pension plan assets. For immigrant families, that share is just 17 per cent.

Political sociologist Howard Ramos at Dalhousie University in Halifax says it is not surprising to see immigrants being relatively more eager to climb the housing ladder instead of putting their money into other things.

“Many people may not be getting RRSPs or other investments, because they may be self-employed or have had career disruption when they came to Canada,” he said in an interview, “which leads them to the one asset they can control — home ownership.”

“The evidence shows that this as a strategy has paid off in the past and is still paying off for newcomers today,” he said.

Immigrants’ preference for housing as an investment may also be a factor in their willingness to borrow, too. Established immigrant families had a debt to income ratio of 2.17 in 2016, compared with 1.32 for Canadian-born families.

“Most of the difference was due to the larger mortgages carried by immigrant families,” Statistics Canada said.

While their wealth levels may be different, the study shows that there’s little evidence that the two groups manage their finances any differently.

“Specifically, the study finds no evidence that immigrant families use payday loans, withdraw money from registered retirement savings plans or pay off only part of their monthly credit card balances to a greater extent than Canadian-born families of similar age do,” the data agency said.

Ramos says the numbers are some hard data to show that on the whole, immigrants largely become “model economic citizens” who are on the whole doing exactly what was hoped for them.

“It’s interesting to see the evidence of the success of immigrant economics.”

Jelena Zikic, an associate professor at York University’s school of human resource management who studies skilled immigrants, says “they have a mindset of being safe and secure,” so seeking to climb the property ladder makes a certain amount of sense.

“Most of the migrant motivation has to do with ‘I want my kids to be better off’,” she says. “There’s a fear of losing their ground in a new place, so they see [tangible investments] as a way to protect themselves.”

While it may be encouraging to see immigrants becoming wealthier the longer they are in Canada, she says that shouldn’t suggest that they have it easy — quite the opposite, in fact.

She says stories of very qualified skilled immigrants coming to Canada and then having to take low-paying jobs because their credentials aren’t recognized are rampant, something that is bad for them and bad for Canadian society.

“There’s a ceiling effect,” she says. “They enter, but they can’t always progress.”

She adds that those who do succeed often do so because of their own resilience.

“They had very strong motivations to come to Canada, so when they are here they do everything they can [to move up],” she says.

Source: Immigrant families more likely to own home than add to pension plan, StatsCan says