Some ethnic groups live in more crowded Canadian homes than others

Analysis: Immigrants of Filipino and Arab background face the most crowded conditions, while those of Chinese and Latin American origin tend to live in more spacious dwellings.

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It’s common for Filipino immigrants to share bedrooms with relatives and friends when they arrive in Canada, says community leader Ted Alcuitas.

Since many Filipino immigrants come to Canada without much money, and many start out in the service industry, a belief is embedded in Filipino culture that “if you have no housing, we will house you,” says Alcuitas, a B.C. writer and publisher.

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While it’s not unusual for many Filipinos to share bedrooms, Alcuitas said there is nothing monolithic about the 960,000 people of Filipino origin now in Canada. They experience a wide range of housing options, with their dwellings often becoming more roomy the longer they’re in the country.

Alcuitas was offering a Filipino perspective on a new Statistics Canada census report, titled Housing suitability by visible minority and immigrant status, that describes the sharply contrasting housing conditions of different groups in Canada.

One clear trend in the data is that people of Filipino and Arab background in Metro Vancouver generally face the most crowded conditions, while people with Chinese and Latin American origins tend to live in the most spacious dwellings.

The data shows that 48 per cent of the Filipinos and Arabs in Metro who immigrated between 2011 and 2021 were living in housing that StatCan tagged as “not suitable.”

In Canada, the federal and provincial governments’ National Occupancy Standard defines “not suitable” as a “shortfall” of one, two or three bedrooms, based on a maximum of two people per bedroom.

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The other recent immigrant group members who live in relatively crowded conditions in Metro are Black people, as well as those of South Asian and South-East Asian origin. Out of all recent immigrants, the census found 13 per cent reside in housing considered “not suitable.”

On the other hand, the potential positive news for recent Filipino-Canadian immigrants in Metro is that only 10 per cent spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, which is much less than others. On average, 22.5 per cent of all recent immigrants to Metro spend more than 30 per cent.

'Not suitable' housing
Recent immigrants who are Filipino, Arab and Black are the most likely to live in ‘not suitable’ conditions, according to the Canadian census. On the other hand, Filipino immigrants spend the least amount of their incomes on housing. (Source: Housing suitability by visible minority and immigrant status.)

For his part, Alcuitas doesn’t find it particularly disturbing that many Filipino and other recent immigrants are living in small, communal quarters. The idea of “one person to one bedroom,” he said, is often considered “silly” in Filipino culture.

Most immigrants from the Philippines don’t come to Canada with large amounts of capital, Alcuitas said, although there are exceptions. Many eventually shift into larger homes through work and by moving to less costly suburbs such as Surrey, which is increasingly home to a large Filipino population.

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Alcuitas’s observations are borne out by the census data, which shows that when all of Metro’s 142,000 Filipino-Canadians (the third largest visible minority group) are taken into account, the proportion in “not-suitable” housing declines from 48 per cent to 31 per cent.

That same long-term trend, toward gradually obtaining extra living room, occurs for each ethnic group in Metro.

People of Chinese extraction, the largest ethnic group in Metro, stand in strongest contrast to those of Filipino background.

Whereas almost half of Filipinos live in crowded conditions but spend little on housing, the census data shows 90 per cent of recent Chinese immigrants in Metro reside in “suitable” dwellings. Meanwhile, 50 per cent spend more than 30 per cent of their reported income on housing.

The same is true, but to a slightly lesser extent, for recent immigrants of West Asian extraction, a StatCan term that refers for the most part to people from Iran.

Earlier studies show that members of some immigrant groups arrive in Canada with far more capital than others.

A team of demographers recently discovered that Chinese and Filipino immigrants come to Canada with equally solid levels of education — but beyond that they’re remarkably different.

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The Canadian and German scholars who created the “super-diversity” website found nine-of-10 recent Chinese immigrants arrive in Metro with enough money to immediately buy homes.

But only half of Chinese immigrants hold down jobs during their first five years in Canada, while four-of-10 report to census-takers they’re on low incomes.

In contrast, nine-of-10 Filipino immigrants have jobs within five years of arriving in Metro and only one-in-10 say they’re on low incomes.

When the creators of the super-diversity website compared Sydney, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, with Metro Vancouver, they found all three cities have large populations of ethnic Chinese immigrants.

But Metro received the most educated Chinese immigrants, and far more who are ready to buy homes. While the rate of home ownership among recent Chinese immigrants to Metro is about 90 per cent, the rate is only about 50 per cent in Sydney and just 20 per cent in Auckland.

Immigrant buyers
Map shows percentage of homebuyers who are immigrants in different parts of Metro Vancouver. (Source: Statistics Canada.)

The census data reinforces earlier studies showing immigrants have a significant effect on the housing markets in Canada’s major cities.

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A StatCan report by Annik Gougeon and Oualid Moussouni showed immigrants bought 78 per cent of the homes purchased in Richmond in 2018, and more than 65 per cent of the dwellings bought in Surrey and Burnaby.

Research by the University of B.C.’s Markus Moos, Queen’s University’s Andrejs Skaburskis and others shows immigrants, on average, move quickly into home ownership. Some buy Canadian properties at least in part with money brought from their homelands, which the scholars say can create a “decoupling” between local housing prices and average wages.

The decoupling between prices and wages was one of the reasons B.C.’s NDP government brought in the speculation and vacancy tax in 2018, to track households in which more than 50 per cent of income is earned offshore.

As Alcuitas says of Filipino immigrants, however, most don’t arrive with much capital. Although he knows one newcomer couple from the Philippines who were able to quickly buy a home in the far-flung Vancouver suburb of Mission, “the majority first live with relatives and do whatever is available, whether that’s working at Tim Hortons or as domestic staff,” he said.

“Most Filipinos are hard-pressed. They come to work.”

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