Immigrants need more affordable housing, transit: study
Published Wednesday, September 14, 2011 9:44PM EDT
OTTAWA - The federal emphasis on integrating immigrants through language training and recognition of foreign credentials is far too narrow, says a new paper.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is proposing a new strategy for integration that would broaden the focus to include affordable housing and public transit.
"Federal and provincial settlement programs have not caught up with changing immigrant settlement patterns, including a growing shift to suburban communities," the report says.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is in the midst of public consultations on how to best reshape the intake of immigrants, so that the country attracts the kind of people it needs to sustain its workforce.
The federation hopes to play into that process with its paper, released Wednesday after months of research.
But the paper also comes as Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, the country's largest city, eyes cuts to some of the key services newcomers rely on -- social housing, libraries, transit and childcare.
The thrust of the report and the political turmoil engulfing Toronto are no coincidence, says Michael Shapcott, a social policy researcher at the Wellesley Institute in Toronto.
Cities find their finances strained by years of downloading from other levels of government, he said. And at the same time, mounting poverty among a growing population of immigrants increases the pressure.
The federation's policy proposals are "an enlightened response" to the pressure, while the turmoil in Toronto "is a much more sharpened response," Shapcott said.
Newcomers take longer and longer to catch up to the standard of living of the rest of the population at a time when the country's labour force needs fresh blood, says the paper.
A traditional, short-term policy focus is no longer sufficient, the researchers argue.
Federal settlement plans usually assume a three-year time frame, but in reality, newcomers need five to 10 years of help before they find their feet, the report says.
Plus, settlement services are often concentrated in urban cores, far from their targeted population and they don't focus enough on the immediate needs of the newcomer population, the paper argues.
It says newcomers are far more likely than longtime Canadians to be "core housing need" -- spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter.
That's because almost two-thirds of newcomers are renters and they often say it's difficult to find and qualify for affordable housing.
The paper points to research by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. showing that 44 per cent of recent immigrant renters are considered to be in core housing need. For non-immigrant renters, less than a quarter are in that danger zone.
"Without stable housing, immigrants and their families experience even greater difficulties finding jobs, enrolling children in school, participating in language training and becoming part of community life," the paper says.
Affordability for newcomers is especially severe in York Region, north of Toronto, and in Ottawa, the report says.
At the same time, the federal commitment to supporting affordable housing has been spotty.
The federal stimulus program helped build new social housing, and federal and provincial governments recently signed a three-year pact for more spending. But Ottawa is also allowing other operating agreements to expire -- a move that will mean $1 billion less per year in federal funding by 2020, the report.
As for transit, newcomers are about twice as likely as long-time Canadians to take the bus. But bus routes don't necessarily follow the flow of the immigrant population, with so many jobs and newcomers moving to the suburbs, the report says.
"Federal and provincial governments must provide long-term, reliable funding so that transit systems have the financial certainty they need to meet the needs of all Canadians, now and in the future," the report urges.
The federation argues that municipal governments are on the front lines of a crumbling system to integrate immigrants, helping out with housing, recreation, library services, child care and public transit.
And yet they are not included in policy deliberations and direct funding agreements, nor do they have the money to pay for these services in a way that keeps up with demand, they point out.
Kenney responded to the report saying he recognizes the need to discuss integration with all levels of government.
In a statement, he also pointed out that he has been shifting some settlement resources out of city cores and into suburbs because of changing demographic patterns.
"Our government has recognized that an increasing number of immigrants are concentrated outside of the urban core. That is why we are shifting settlement resources to where newcomers are settling," he said.