Doug Ford’s claim of immigration as justification for Bill 23 ‘clearly not substantiated’
Members of the PC government, including Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, continue to make unsubstantiated claims about immigration driving the demand for more homes, and the passage of Bill 23.
“When we see the growth coming in from new Canadians from all over the world, we’re 37 percent of the population but we’re going to see 60 percent of the new immigrants come right here—which is what I want,” Ford said at a Mississauga Board of Trade event on January 18, once again claiming newcomers to Southern Ontario, are a main reason behind Bill 23. “We need housing for them.”
He and many of his fellow PC colleagues in government have been repeating the same line, since the controversial housing legislation was pushed through by their majority government, without much public consultation, right before the holiday break.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal government have often been mentioned as the catalyst for Bill 23, due to Ottawa’s ambitious immigration targets, which aim to have 500,000 newcomers arrive each year.
But Ford has failed to explain how his legislation would guarantee the construction of the type of new homes affordable to those who need them most.
Critics have pointed to a number of facts that raise questions about Ford’s claim that immigration is behind his obsession with new housing (he is demanding that at least double the number of homes be built by 2031, compared to previous municipal and provincial targets).
Governments do not build homes, the private sector does. And developers can build the types of houses and condos they want, wherever they own land, as long as zoning guidelines are followed (Bill 23 makes it easy for municipalities to amend zoning rules to accommodate the PC policy).
There are no requirements to build affordable housing, and even if municipalities use the legislation to include affordable housing in projects, the language of the Bill has faced scrutiny for its limitations.
"By setting the definition of affordability for home ownership at 80 per cent of the market rate, units that would have sold for a million dollars are now considered affordable and exempted from development charges if they sell for $800,000," Sean Meagher, coordinator of the United Way program Ontario For All, said at a public meeting when the Bill was being pushed through Queen’s Park.
"Eight hundred thousand dollar homes are not affordable homes."
Many of the houses constructed under Bill 23, for example, those in the 7,400 acres of the Greenbelt being opened up under the legislation, could sell for much more than $800,000.
A scan of Mississauga and Brampton real estate data shows how out of reach housing is for many residents.
According to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, in February the average sale price for all homes in Brampton was $1,028,192 (down from $1,367,444 in January of 2022). For condos, the average sale price in February was $537,352.
In Mississauga, the average cost of all homes in February was $1,009,803 (down from $1,225,339 at its peak last year); for condos the average sale price was $612,221.
The average 3-bedroom rental in Mississauga, according to zumper.com, is currently $3,065; in Brampton it is $2,900.
According to the 2021 Census, in Brampton, in 2020, the median household after tax income was $98,000; in Mississauga it was $89,000.
Approximately 40 percent of the overall median after tax income would be spent on rent for a 3-bedroom apartment.
Beyond being priced out of rental and ownership dwellings, many newcomers can not find proper accommodation in many housing developments.
Mississauga Council is currently trying to negotiate with one builder, Edenshaw Queen Developments Ltd., over a proposed project for two high-rise condo towers in Port Credit.
The proposal from Edenshaw to build two high-rise towers in Port Credit without any affordable housing was labelled as "insulting" and a "slap in the face" by Mississauga councillors.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
They would accommodate 2,520 residents, but council members have criticized the lack of consideration for families, especially those that need nearby amenities such as transit and schools.
There will be no 3-bedroom units under the current proposal, which the planning committee rejected last year, and 72 percent would be 1-bedroom or 1-bedroom-plus-a-den units (the remainder would be 2-bedroom suites).
It’s just the latest example that shows Ford’s claims of wanting to accommodate affordable housing designed for immigrant families, are not supported by the market shaped by the development industry.
As for the price of new housing, experts say newcomers cannot afford the current cost of living.
“It’s very well known that new immigrants who come to Canada, regardless of how high the vacancy rate is in most industries, would be applying for the entry level position,” Jane Katkova, Lawyer with Canadian Immigration experts, says. “Entry level positions very rarely amount to $100,000; it’s usually much lower.”
She says Ford’s claims don’t match the reality she sees daily.
“At the same time, these people do need somewhere to live and clearly neither with $100,000, nor $200,000, would they be able to buy a new home because new homes in the GTA are exceptionally expensive. Justification of this Bill by the immigration needs of this country is clearly not substantiated. The absolute [majority] of people who arrive here cannot afford a house, which is on average $700,000 to $1,000,000 and up. It’s impossible.”
In 2019, the average annual income of skilled immigrants who landed in Canada the previous year was nearly 18 percent lower than the total population at $31,900—the highest median recorded in nearly four decades for newcomers.
“In my 25 years of practice, I have only had one client that has come here and secured a job right away with a salary over $100,000,” she says.
Critics point to the contradictions between Bill 23 and Ford’s claims that housing for immigrants was a major driver behind the legislation.
It limits provisions for affordable housing, capping the percentage of units in any new project that will receive development fees to cover infrastructure costs at five percent. If a municipality demands more than five percent of units be set aside for affordable housing, taxpayers, not developers, will have to pay the infrastructure costs for the additional units. This will likely lead to fewer affordable units, the type of housing many newcomers need, not more, as Ford has claimed.
Critics have also expressed concern about the loss of farmland that could result from Premier Doug Ford's housing push.
(The Pointer files)
On average, Canadian Immigration Experts see 150 to 200 clients a year, many are skilled immigrants who are often forced to seek entry level positions, competing with younger workers raised here, or they end up working lower-skilled jobs outside their professional field.
The average price of a home in the GTA is currently about $1.1 million—even with a low six figure income, owning or renting a home is out of reach for most.
Paul Silverstrone, a mortgage broker with RBC, says whether on a single income or for couples seeking to apply for a mortgage, applicants need to look for housing that is approximately four times the amount of their yearly income, assuming no other debts have been incurred by those applying which would affect whether they get approved or not.
This would limit the median household in Mississauga and Brampton to a $350,000-$400,000 home, less than half what the average townhouse is currently selling for ($803,000 in Mississauga, which is more than 20 percent less than the average sale price a year ago).
With high interest rates, to be approved for a mortgage in the GTHA, buyers need a combined $100,000 income to be considered for a dwelling with a price of $400,000—a price rarely seen within two hours of Toronto.
The Ontario Immigrant Nominee (OIN) program is also offered nationwide under different names in other provinces.
Ontario welcomes a relatively low 8 percent of the 125,000 skilled workers landing in Canada, on average each year, through the program. The province accounts for about 37 percent of the nation’s population. The data contradicts Ford’s claims that his housing plan is aligned with federal immigration policy, as many of the newcomers to Ontario simply can not afford the types of homes being built here.
Although the province tried to double the number of newcomers arriving through the program from 9,000 to 18,000, Ottawa approved just 700 more for a total of 9,700 of the 125,000 who arrive each year under the nomination strategy.
Doug Ford at the Mississauga Board of Trade where he claimed Bill 23 was passed because, “We need housing…for new Canadians.”
(The Pointer Files)
Of the expected 500,000 people who will emigrate to the country in 2025, 60 percent—or 300,000—will settle initially in Ontario per year, according to government estimates. Approximately one third of newcomers are considered skilled immigrants, those who are able to secure stable employment before they arrive and will contribute to the economy very quickly working at relatively well paying jobs.
In 2022, 405,000 newcomers were welcomed, in 2024 the number is projected to reach 465,000, and 500,000 the following year. In Ontario, recent immigrants make up about one fifth of the labourforce.
On November 8, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, released a statement about the PC narrative that newcomers are the reason for the push to build 1.5 million homes, (at least 50,000 of these will be in the Greenbelt). “Ford’s comments are both wildly inaccurate and vile rhetoric—pitting newcomers against the Greenbelt as if it’s a choice between the two. Especially at a time of heightened political division, the Premier scapegoating newcomers as justification for his government’s failing housing policy is dangerous and worrisome.”
Considering the dependance on our immigrant workforce, Schreiner and others have warned Ford against alienating newcomers by suggesting they are a main reason for the province’s housing problems.
Experts dismiss claims that the housing being built under Bill 23 is to accommodate recently arrived residents.
“If these young people who don’t get help from their parents or don’t find themselves in a sweet spot of inheritance, are barely able, or not able at all to afford a six-figure deposit on a million dollar home, then how can we assume that a new immigrant to the country, who is realistically very far from a hundred thousand salary per year, how can they get a million dollar plus home?” Katkova asks rhetorically. “Because you need to eat as well.”
According to a new report from Environmental Defence, there is no need to open portions of the Greenbelt for development as the province has access to 350 square kilometres of available brownfield within existing urban boundaries.
(The Pointer Files)
“An estimated 97 percent of skilled immigrants will not be able to buy a house right away,” she says.
Ford has received backlash for repeated comments made about newcomers to Canada, and on at least one occasion, refused to apologize.
In October 2021 speaking at a new hospital announcement in Tecumseh, he suggested why newcomers are actually wanted by his government. Housing was not mentioned: “I just have one criteria: you come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off. If you think you’re coming here to collect the dole and sit around, not going to happen, go somewhere else, we have so much work we can’t keep up with it.”
Critics worry Ford is creating division among residents.
“People are making a conscious decision about coming to Canada and where they want to reside unless they come under nomination from a province,” Katkova says. “We know that the majority of people lean towards Ontario, because Ontario has the most jobs. Those who went to Alberta ended up without jobs when the economic crisis happened in that part of Canada. So people have to move to where they have the opportunity. People are coming to these specific regions because they have a higher chance of getting employed, and subsequently to buy housing, or have enough money to rent.
“These are human beings coming here and drastically changing their lifestyles. They came for a better life, not for worse.”
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told The Pointer, “increasing immigration helps address long-standing challenges, such as decreasing worker to retiree ratio, a low fertility rate, and labour shortages, which will continue to affect Canada even after the side effects of the pandemic subside. Overall, growing immigration levels in a well-planned, responsible way will help mitigate the effects of Canada’s aging population while ensuring capacity to support their settlement and integration. For example, ensuring available housing and social services is a vital consideration given the current realities.”
Katkova agrees that Ontario is in need of housing for all residents, “the question is what we are building, how it’s impacting the environment, but the government needs to create places for these people to live.”
Despite examples that show his housing plan is poorly aligned with the needs of many immigrants Ford seems to be sticking to his narrative.
Those angered over his decision to open up tens of thousands of acres for new housing development, including 7,400 to build 50,000 homes in the supposedly protected Greenbelt, point to a leaked video of Ford to explain the real reason behind his plan. It has nothing to do with accommodating immigrants.
“The demand for single dwelling homes is huge,” he told a room full of developers in 2018, ahead of his first provincial election. “I’ve already talked to some of the biggest developers in this country, and again, I wish I could say it’s my idea, but it was their idea as well. Give us property and we’ll build, and we’ll drive the costs down.”
He began his pitch by promising those standing around him that if they helped him get elected, “We will open up the Greenbelt, not all of it, we’re going to open a big chunk of it up, and we’re going to start building.”
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