Creating a Home in Canada: Refugee Housing Challenges and Potential Policy Solutions
By Damaris Rose
MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration Launches Research Series on Lasting Effects of Mixed Migration Flows
First report examines Canadian challenges & solutions in housing Syrian refugees
WASHINGTON — Four years after the peak of the 2015–16 migration and refugee crisis in Europe and amid swelling arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere, new evidence sheds light on how well countries have responded to an unprecedented surge in mixed flows of humanitarian, economic and family migrants.
Beyond challenges for asylum systems on both sides of the Atlantic, the migration spikes put enormous pressure on the social and physical infrastructure of host communities, straining even the most robust integration programs. One of the most critical challenges turned out to be finding suitable housing for newcomers.
In Canada, for example, the Trudeau government’s pledge in late 2015 to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees over a four-month period was complicated by a severe shortage of affordable rental housing in Canadian cities.
In a new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, Creating a Home in Canada: Refugee Housing Challenges and Potential Policy Solutions, Canadian urban social geographer Damaris Rose examines how resettlement service providers and private sponsors tapped into creative solutions to quickly expand the housing stock.
The report kicks off a new Transatlantic Council series, “Rebuilding Community After Crisis: An Updated Social Contract for a New Migration Reality.” Drawing from papers presented at the Council’s twentieth plenary meeting, held in Vienna, the series examines how the fundamental tenets of integration and building strong communities have changed in response to the pressures of mixed migration flows. In addition to case studies on Canada and Germany, other papers will examine how to tackle social isolation among newcomers and how to harness the benefits of volunteering.
Where immigrants settle significantly shapes their life chances. Yet in Canada, as elsewhere, service providers faced a mismatch between where housing was most plentiful and affordable (often, smaller cities, suburbs and rural areas) and where integration services crucial to the Syrian newcomers, such as language classes and job training programs, were located. It was also difficult to find affordable housing that was large enough for big families, with a significant share of Syrian families having six or more members.
Still, by engaging in an unprecedented level of planning and coordination with landlords and other local stakeholders early on, settlement workers were able to expand the stock of available housing. They also were able to tap into voluntary and private support that proved important during resettlement, with the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees, for example, gathering corporate donations that helped bridge initial housing affordability issues by providing temporary rent supplements.
“Despite the constraints settlement workers and sponsors faced, all Syrian refugees resettled as part of the 2015–16 program were able to move into permanent housing within a few months of arrival in Canada, and most were able to move in much sooner,” Rose writes.
The report traces a number of possible policy options for other countries seeking to improve the housing situation for refugee newcomers, including the need for multi-stakeholder coordination, diversification and expansion of affordable rental stock and ensuring the generosity of refugee commitments is matched with generous investment in meeting the needs of newcomers post-arrival.
For this and forthcoming reports, visit the series home page: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/transatlantic-council-migration/updated....
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.