01/12/2017 08:22 EST | Updated 01/12/2017 08:22 EST

Should We Blame The Housing Crisis On Immigrants?

Saving to buy a house, real estate or home savings, piggy bank in front of property
BrianAJackson via Getty Images
Saving to buy a house, real estate or home savings, piggy bank in front of property

A Chinese-Canadian family doctor complained to me that he was affluent enough to drive fancy vehicles but he couldn't afford a decent house in Vancouver. That conversation was 5 years ago and nowadays the house prices are way more unaffordable. We have a housing crisis in Vancouver -- not only young people, but professionals are not able to afford a home for their family.

Earlier, mainland Chinese (investors, housewives, foreign students) were highlighted as culprits who caused the housing crisis. Now, immigrants are being blamed for causing the appalling housing situation.

Should the Chinese or immigrants be blamed for our housing crisis? Why not? Many of the expensive properties are purchased by people with Chinese surnames. It also appears that immigrants have a high percentage of owning their own house.

I've visited many ethnic immigrant families that were not wealthy when they first landed in Canada. Somehow they set home purchasing as their family priority, with all the family members contributing to the down-payment and mortgage payment. Also, they often rent out the basement to generate income.

On the surface, immigrants from other countries and in-migrants from other provinces have increased the demand for housing. According to statistics, British Columbia had a net gain of 31,418 migrants, a net gain of 14,676 immigrants and 16,742 in-migrants. From 2011 to 2015, altogether 171,955 new immigrants and in-migrants landed in the province. These are indeed no small numbers.

There is no doubt that the newcomers have heightened the demand and contributed to our housing situation, but we should also look at the big picture.

"Let's think about how our economy would look like if B.C. or Canada did not have the intake and growth brought by immigrants."

The most basic economic principle is, when there is a rise in demand, the invisible force of supply will kick in, and this is how economic growth is generated.

Statistics Canada data show that, from 2011 to 2015, the housing start in B.C. was 140,721 units. For a family of 2, these units could house over 280,000 people. For a family of 3, it could house over 420,000.

That is 2.5 times more than the total immigrants and in-migrants landed. Studies indicate that in the 90s, the average family size of immigrants was from 3.2 to 4, depending on the period they arrived.

Thus, immigrants and in-migrants did not contribute to the shortage of housing stock; they are contributors to the economic growth during that period.

The housing start in 2011 was 26,400 units and it increased to 31,446 in 2015. Clearly the increase in demand had generated more supplies to the market.

31,446 units a year. If we average them at, say, $400,000 per unit, we're talking about over $12B. Think about the spin-off effect on our economy. No wonder B.C.'s economic growth has been leading the country and the provincial government is recording huge budget surpluses.

housing crisis

Image by Getty.

For those who want to blame the housing crisis on immigrants, let's think about how our economy would look like if B.C. or Canada did not have the intake and growth brought by immigrants.

Nevertheless, for the sake of social justice and stability, for our future generation, we must resolve the housing crisis and that would be the focus of my next article.

I regard housing as a social justice issue. Why? According to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, housing is one of the basic human rights.

For a country as wealthy, developed and advanced as Canada, yet whose well-educated and hard working citizens cannot afford to provide housing for their family even with two jobs, what kind of society is that?

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