Finding a home : the housing experiences of government assisted refugees and refugee claimants in Winnipeg and Vancouver

This study compares the housing experiences of government assisted refugees (GARs) and refugee claimants (RCs) in two Canadian cities: Winnipeg, MB and Vancouver, BC. Drawing on 20 key informant interviews and 80 interviews with GARs and claimants, this research explores the ways in which local context and legal status influence refugees’ ability to obtain adequate and affordable housing. In so doing, this dissertation asks, is it legal status, place or something else? The implementation of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA 2002) introduced significant changes in the profile of GARs resettled to Canada. Previous research on the housing challenges faced by government-assisted refugees and refugee claimants indicates refugee claimants have more difficult pathways to housing owing to lack of social capital and temporary status (Murdie 2008; D’Addario, Hiebert and Sherrell 2006). Within this research, however, those GARs with low literacy, little formal education and large families experience the greatest challenges with respect to housing and income security. This finding marks a dramatic – and troubling – shift from earlier research. Unlike claimants, whose difficulties primarily relate to their temporary status (e.g. lack of access to information and formal assistance), the challenges facing GARs relate to the changing profile of refugees who have been sponsored in the post-IRPA era. This research extends the existing literature on newcomers and housing, as well as the wider geographic literature, by advancing our knowledge about the intersections of legal status and place on housing outcomes, as well as through a detailed consideration of the influence of housing on long-term social inclusion. The resettlement of increasing numbers of high needs refugees in the context of extensive housing affordability problems in Canadian cities, and low prospects for employment, creates the potential for the emergence of many of the factors commonly associated with a multi-generational cycle of poverty: high unemployment and/or lack of appropriate job skills, high rates of welfare dependence, a large number of single-headed households, and low educational attainment among children. The question arises, then, whether we are witnessing the emergence of a refugee underclass in Canada, and if so, what can be done to prevent it?

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