Immigration has “undoubtedly’ escalated housing prices in Vancouver, Toronto, says study

December 25, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

There is no doubt Canada’s high immigration rates have a major impact on housing affordability in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, according to a new study.

“First and foremost, immigration policy is, essentially, also a form of housing policy,” University of B.C. geographer Daniel Hiebert says in a comprehensive paper published in the winter edition of the Canadian Journal of Urban Research.

“Metropolitan housing in Canada would, very likely, look totally different if the scale of immigration were to change dramatically in either direction. The recent decision to raise permanent immigration admission levels from approximately 270,000 in 2015 to 340,000 in 2020 will surely have a significant impact,” Hiebert said.

Most immigrants show greater determination than Canadian-born citizens to buy housing in Canada’s three major cities, said Hiebert, who also studied buying and renting patterns along ethnic lines.

The elevated home-ownership rate among ethnic Chinese immigrants in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto is “striking,” Hiebert said.

“The rate of home ownership among individuals declaring Chinese origins is exceptionally high for newcomers: Over seven in 10 of those who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 reside in households that own a home,” he said.

The discovery that most new Chinese immigrants can afford to buy housing within a few years of arriving in Canada — at a rate higher than the overall Vancouver average of 69 per cent — supports numerous reports that have indicated many new immigrants from East Asia are making their purchases with large amounts of capital earned in their homelands.

Recent Chinese immigrants to Toronto and Vancouver have a home-ownership rate of nearly 73 per cent “and a propensity to dedicate a very high portion of their income to housing. Given the scale of immigration of individuals from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to Vancouver, it is likely that this group is having an impact on the metropolitan housing market as a whole.”

The peer-reviewed study by Hiebert, who frequently advises the federal government, enhances earlier research by UBC geographer David Ley, as well as the Conference Board of Canada, that has shown a strong correlation between rapid immigration and pricey housing in Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

Hiebert’s analysis of decades of Statistics Canada data confirmed two contrasting narratives about immigrants and housing — that well-off immigrants are increasing housing prices in Canada’s major cities, at the same time lower-income immigrants are struggling to pay for shelter.

The trend that sees most immigrants moving rapidly into home ownership “undoubtedly has had an impact on the escalation in the price of housing in Toronto and Vancouver and has brought a sense of vibrancy to those markets,” Hiebert said.

€œMetropolitan housing in Canada would, very likely, look totally different if the scale of immigration were to change dramatically in either direction,” says UBC’s Daniel Hiebert in a major study. (FILE PHOTO – Transit users walk from bus to Skytrain in Vancouver, B.C., 2017) ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG

“At the same time, though, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and members of visible-minority groups struggle to meet their housing payments or to pay their rent.”

One result Hiebert found especially surprising is that refugees who had been in the country more than two decades prior to 2011 have a home ownership rate that is generally the same or higher than average. “The majority of refugees are able to thrive in even the most expensive housing markets of the country.”

Broadly speaking, however, Hiebert’s research magnifies ongoing anxiety about rising housing costs for residents of Metro Vancouver, which Demographia ranks among the three most unaffordable cities out of more than 400 surveyed in Europe, North America and Asia.

Since Metro Vancouver has the most expensive housing in Canada, Hiebert said “it is not surprising that individuals in Metro Vancouver are under the most pressure in the housing market, with three in 10 spending more than 30 per cent of their gross income on shelter (followed by Toronto at 27.6 per cent and Montreal at 21.8 per cent.)”

When analyzing buying trends by ethnicity, Hiebert found that Caucasians in Metro Vancouver had an average home ownership rate of 67 per cent, which is lower than the visible-minority ownership rate of 72 per cent.

The city’s two largest visible-minority groups are the most likely to own homes in Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

More than 81 per cent of ethnic Chinese in Metro Vancouver, a total of 233,000 adults, live in owned homes. The proportion for South Asians is 75 per cent, with more than 121,000 South Asians over age 18 living in owned households.

Filipinos and South Koreans in Vancouver had modest home ownership rates of 61 per cent, while Latin Americans and blacks were at 46 per cent. Arabs, a small group, were lowest at 37 per cent.

The groups facing the most financial difficulties in securing housing in Canada’s three major cities are Koreans, West Asians (mostly Iranians) and Arabs, many of whom are in “precarious” rental situations.

Meanwhile, Hiebert said the “visible minority group with the least financial pressure, Filipinos, is not especially prone to home ownership.”

One of the recommendations Hiebert makes is that federal and provincial governments “expand the stock of subsidized housing … to support the process of newcomer integration.”

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