FAIR ACCESS TO ADEQUATE HOUSING
In the global context of population movements, the 'racial,' ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of immigrant groups are increasingly different from those of the community they join. This is especially true for metropolitan areas in countries such as Canada.
New Canadians search for housing, employment and educational opportunities with different degrees of success. How open are our cities, our neighbourhoods, our housing markets, and our housing waiting lists to the "others" - to people who are new and often very different? The successful incorporation of immigrants into the dominant community, as measured by access to the basic needs of life, depends on a variety of factors. These include both barriers in the dominant society and the strategies that immigrants use to overcome these barriers.
For new immigrants, finding a suitable place to live in a good-quality, supportive neighbourhood is an important first step toward successful settlement. The obstacles and challenges that newcomers encounter in finding housing, and the ways in which they respond, reflect the openness of our cities, the opportunities and constraints common to specific urban areas, and the inclusionary or exclusionary social practices and institutional arrangements that prevail. Understanding the barriers that immigrants face in searching for housing in metropolitan areas can help community members, local agencies, policy makers, and professionals develop more responsive and equitable urban environments.
The successful settlement of "others" in the receiving nations is perhaps the biggest social and political challenge facing cities and neighbourhoods today and in the coming decades. Through the early and mid-20th century we learned how to address and manage problems relating to the physical development and general public health of cities. We now need to address social relations among city residents. The question is not simply whether the rules of access to the necessities - housing, jobs, education - are fair. It is whether the day-to-day practices that determine who gets access to what kind of housing, jobs, and educational opportunities are fair.
There is no easy way to define "fair," although we can usually recognize what is "unfair" when we see it. When new people move into our communities, they are moving into an existing set of institutions, practices, and procedures. Settlement is a two-way process. Both sides, the people arriving, and the people receiving, need to make adjustments. Both sides have a lot to learn.
One urgent research task in immigration and settlement involves identifying barriers to successful settlement. Do existing institutions and day-to-day practices help or hinder the settlement process? This research has direct relevance to the structure of policies and programs. The more we know about potential barriers, the better we can define appropriate responses.
Researchers also need to take knowledge about barriers and potential responses in one country and examine the experience of other countries that receive large numbers of immigrants. Comparative research about immigrant settlement can improve our knowledge of processes in Canada and our policies and programs.
For many new Canadians, finding appropriate housing can be made more difficult by 'racial,' financial, and gender barriers that still permeate Canadian life. Yet Canadian social researchers are only beginning to make a significant contribution to this area of scholarship.
Housing New Canadians is a research project that examines in detail how immigrants and refugees secure housing, whether their housing needs are met, and the quality, adequacy, and cost of the housing they occupy.