Housing New Canadians
Research Working Group - Toronto
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All research needs an adequate conceptual framework. Figure 1 outlines the conceptual framework that we developed for the Housing New Canadians research project (and related research projects). The conceptual framework focuses on processes of differential incorporation, that is, the fact that the housing experiences of many immigrant and refugee households are negatively affected by many barriers, some of which are violations of human rights laws.

An explicit conceptual framework is especially important for international comparative research. Every country has a different set of institutional arrangements. In many respects, for example, Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands are very similar. Their housing systems, however, could not be more different. Only 5% of the housing stock in Canada is in the social rented sector and Canada offers no shelter allowance. In the U.K., 20% of the national housing stock is in the social rented sector and there is a national universal shelter allowance (the Housing Benefit). About 40% of the housing stock in the Netherlands is in the social rented sector and the country offers a shelter allowance.

Nations also have different unemployment rates, language and job training services, and forms of income support. There are also widely different gaps between the income and wealth of those at the bottom and those at the top.

A large body of research demonstrates clearly that ethnicity, 'race,' class, and gender do matter in terms of access to both necessities and rewards in society. Our task is to find out to what extent and in what way these factors act as barriers to incorporation into society. An immigrant needs access to adequate housing, education, employment, and income in order to settle and become a productive member of society. If there are barriers to any of these, the settlement process is not smooth or fair, and the result is differential incorporation.

Differential incorporation occurs at the group level (see Figure 1). It refers to unequal treatment and unequal access to economic, social, political, and cultural activities and rewards in society. Incorporation is measured primarily by deviations from equal access to the basic resources available within a society. In the context of the housing experience of new Canadians, differential incorporation means that many groups of new Canadians are likely to find themselves at a disadvantage in a number of ways.

Institutional barriers are reinforced by the way in which different groups are perceived on the basis of their ethnicity, 'race,' class, and gender. To date, most of the literature in this area has focused on income differentials and educational and employment opportunities. Yet before finding a job, most immigrants need a place to live. Once they have housing, they and their children look for educational and training opportunities, jobs, and so on.

While the concept of differential incorporation is used in relation to groups, the notion of housing trajectory occurs at the level of the individual household. It refers to social mobility, especially in a housing context, of the individual or household over its lifetime. Housing trajectory is the first major research theme of the Housing New Canadians study.

Next:   Research Theme #1: The 'Housing Trajectory' of Newcomers

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