Precarious Housing and Hidden Homelessness Among Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Immigrants in the Toronto Metropolitan Area

Precarious Housing and Hidden Homelessness Among Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Immigrants in the Toronto Metropolitan Area

This report is part of a pan-Canadian research project entitled Precarious Housing and Hidden Homelessness among Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigrants in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver funded by the Homelessness Partnering Secretariat, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and managed in collaboration with the National Secretariat of the Metropolis Project. Concerns about the housing situation of newcomers have increased recently. It is taking longer for newcomers to achieve wages and salaries equivalent to those of equally qualified Canadian-born workers, the incidence of low incomes is increasing among immigrant households at the same time as it has been declining among Canadian-born households, and housing is becoming more expensive in Canada’s major cities, including Toronto. Affordable rental housing of any type is in short supply in Toronto where few rental units are suitable for families and almost 90,000 households are on the waiting list for subsidized social housing. This study examined the housing circumstances of two vulnerable newcomer groups; refugees selected overseas before arriving in Canada and asylum seekers who file a refugee claim upon arrival in Canada. Our approach is comparative - we analysed the housing circumstances of newcomers thought to experience greater housing vulnerabilities, refugees and asylum seekers, and those of other immigrants who usually arrive with more social and financial resources. We obtained primary data through a study carried out in partnership with municipal organizations and community agencies serving immigrants in Toronto. Located in central and suburban parts of Toronto, the partnering agencies serve diverse clienteles. Focus groups with settlement and housing workers provided initial information about their views of the housing issues facing newcomers. A questionnaire survey was carried out with 188 newcomers who had lived in Canada between 3 months and 10 years. Drawn from the clientele of the agencies, the final set of respondents included 24 sponsored refugees selected outside Canada, 63 asylum seekers, and 97 other immigrants who were mostly skilled workers and family-sponsored immigrants. We then conducted four focus groups with 23 people drawn from the two target groups. Affordability emerged as the main housing issue for all newcomers. More than 80 percent of newcomers spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Precarious housing and hidden homelessness are common. Housing eats up more than 75 percent of household income for one in three asylum seekers and almost half have had to stay in a hostel. Sponsored refugees with large families often live in overcrowded housing that puts them at risk of homelessness. Concentrated in aging high-rise apartments, more than a quarter of respondents report poorly maintained and unfit housing due to mould, vermin, and insect infestations. Although asylum seekers and refugees report the most severe housing difficulties, a surprising three quarters of other immigrants are struggling with unaffordable housing and housing difficulties that persist even among those living in Canada for 5 to 10 years. The report concludes with a number of recommendations developed in consultation with housing and settlement workers and representatives from our partnering organizations and agencies.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2011
LOCATION: Canada