Blog: Living on a Loonie – Unaffordable housing and its effect on different ethno-racial communities 

September 12, 2022

By Jayme Wong

“Ethno-racial and nativity differences in access to affordable housing in Canada” is a research paper written by Kate H. Choi from the University of Western Ontario and Sagi Ramaj from the University of Toronto. Published on June 18, 2022, the paper details the ongoing housing affordability crisis in Canada and its effect on Canadians from different ethno-racial groups. Choi and Ramaj compile housing data from the six largest ethno-racial groups in Canada, including Whites, Blacks, East Asians, South Asians, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern and North Africans (MENA).   

The report begins by stating that few Canadian studies have been conducted on ethno-racial differences in access to affordable housing. Though the authors do not state why this is the case, they suggest that previous studies on the intersections between housing access and ethno-racial identity have been too narrow in scope. Deriving short-term data collected from recent immigrants, thus unable to pinpoint any ongoing housing access problems that exist for immigrants who remain in Canada for more than five years. As well identifying immigrants as one group (i.e., visible minorities) and eliminating any nuances between ethno-racial groups. Choi and Ramaj make the case to step away from this “descriptive” data, stating that “[the data has not] systematically identified the structural factors contributing to ethno-racial variations in access to affordable housing” (p 8). In other words, to truly understand why barriers exist between different ethno-racial groups when trying to obtain affordable housing, better race-based, long-term data needs to be collected. 

Choi and Ramaj ultimately present four findings from their research: 

  1. There are notable differences between ethno-racial groups when accessing affordable housing. In analyzing data from the 2016 census, MENA had the highest rates of unaffordable housing followed by East Asians, South Asians, Blacks and Southeast Asians; white people had the lowest rates of unaffordable housing. 
  2. Community contexts may explain why certain ethno-racial groups face higher barriers to affordable housing than others. Many ethno-racial immigrant groups have settled in large metropolitan areas, such as Vancouver and Toronto, to be closer to people who share a cultural background and language, and these communities typically have higher housing costs.  
  3. Unemployment and economic disparities result in difficulty accessing affordable housing. Choi and Ramaj write that “differences in unaffordable housing rates between MENA and other groups were largely attributable to the lower employment of MENA respondents… These findings […] suggest that due to structural inequalities in the labour market, MENA workers may have higher unemployment rates and more precarious work, which reduces their economic ability to actualize their housing preferences and meet their housing needs” (p 29). In other words, the under-employment of immigrants and lack of skill or credential recognition may be contributing to greater economic disadvantages for immigrants, resulting in additional barriers to affordable housing. 
  4. People born in Canada have lower rates of unaffordable housing than immigrants. However, this difference only decreases slightly when comparing Canadian-born ethno-racial groups, “The unaffordable housing rates of Canadian-born Southeast Asians only decreased slightly to levels similar to those of Canadian-born Whites. The unaffordable housing rates of Blacks decreased little across immigrant generations” (p 30). This comparison suggests that racial discrimination – not simply immigrant status – may play a role in affordable housing accessibility.

Overall, Choi and Ramaj’s paper paints a compelling picture of Canada’s current housing market and presents a problem that has been boiling under the country’s surface for a long time. As rising inflation continues to affect the cost of living for all Canadians, certain groups will be affected more than others. More specifically, people identifying as MENA, East Asian, South Asian, Black, and Southeast Asian are more likely to live in unaffordable housing and have a lower quality of life as a result. It is crucial to begin collecting aggregated race-based data to understand why these differences arise and how we can find an equitable housing solution for our growing population.  

The authors suggest a few solutions including designing housing policies that address the structural barriers, such as education and employment, that affect access to affordable housing and increasing the housing supply in large urban centres where more immigrants tend to settle.  

Certainly, Choi and Ramaj are correct to point toward the overarching systemic issues that contribute to the housing problems that they have identified in their paper. Something the authors alluded to throughout the paper, in conjunction with their complaints on the lack of ethno-racial housing data, is that many studies (and policies) have previously treated immigrants as temporary. “[Focusing] on the housing experiences of immigrants during the first four years of their arrival in Canada” (p. 1) thus providing superficial solutions to deeply rooted issues. The solution, then, requires a long-term view of immigrant settlement in Canada and housing policies that address the larger, systemic issues that impact the generations of ethno-racial groups living in Canada. 


Jayme has a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Lethbridge and an MA in English and Film Studies from the University of Alberta. She currently lives in Edmonton with her partner and their cat. 


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