Housing New Canadians
Research Working Group - Toronto
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A housing trajectory or housing career denotes the ways in which households move from one type of housing to another over time. Housing trajectories take place within the context of larger societal processes. Many households do not follow a predefined path in their housing career. Their housing trajectory is affected by a variety of factors, such as age, occupation, and income, as well as particular events in the life of an individual or household, such as birth, marriage, and death. These events often trigger moves. The notion of housing trajectory captures the various changes in the housing situations of households, and documents the moves made by these households. It is useful in studying the experiences of immigrant households who often, in a short period of time, undergo many rapid changes in household composition, educational background, employment conditions, and income.

Our research on housing trajectories is situated within a conceptual framework focusing on factors affecting the housing careers of households. In Figure 2 factors affecting the housing careers of households are outlined in the first two large shaded boxes entitled “individual/household characteristics, preferences and resources” and “filters in the housing search process”. Individual and household characteristics affect both the preference of immigrant households for different types of housing and the resources that these households have available to access housing. Resources (both material and cognitive) assist households in overcoming barriers to housing access and in interacting with different actors in the housing market. The second box highlights the housing system and societal realities that exist at the local level that may affect the housing outcomes of individual households. Housing system realities refer to the nature of the housing stock and the way in which actors in the housing market affect housing choices. The related concept of societal realities includes the way in which different groups are socially constructed on the basis of their ‘race’, ethnicity, class and gender. These social constructions are often identifiable as real or perceived discriminatory practices in the housing market.

The third box, “Housing Search Process” illustrates the decision making process that households go through in searching for a place to live. It also includes the problem of barriers to good quality affordable housing. The fourth box, “Outcome of the Housing Search Process”, focuses on housing outcomes and the evaluation of housing by specific households over time. The first section, nature of the dwelling and its surroundings, records the fact that the household has found a place to live. This is the physical shelter component of housing – housing as a roof over one’s head – and the makeup of the surrounding neighbourhood. The nature of the dwelling and its surroundings are also important in determining the satisfaction of the household with the residence and neighbourhood. In the context of a housing career, satisfaction can be best measured by comparison with the previous residence and neighbourhood. By doing so, a more explicit determination can be made of whether the household has made a progressive housing career. Satisfaction will also depend on the extent to which the dwelling and its surroundings match the expectations and preferences of the household as set out and modified through the search process. This theme is elaborated upon in the second section of this box where it is stressed that housing is more that just a place to live but also involves the concepts of home and community.

At the bottom of Figure 2, the box labelled “Housing Career” introduces a dynamic perspective to the model and refers to additional moves that are made because of household, dwelling, community or societal changes. As indicated by the arrow households cycle through the model, often under new personal and institutional circumstances, with the hope of improving their housing situations following each move.

view "Housing Career" diagram (figure 2) in pdf format


The Housing New Canadians research project has identified specific barriers to housing in Toronto. The housing system, like any other market or institution, allocates resources and opportunities selectively. The formal criteria for allocating housing resources include ability to pay (for market housing) and need (in social housing). Informal criteria also affect the allocation of housing resources. The resulting barriers fall into two categories: primary and secondary.

Primary barriers result from certain personal characteristics that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change. These are:

  • skin colour ('race');
  • ethnicity/culture/religion; and
  • gender.

Secondary barriers result from personal characteristics that can be changed, and often do change, over time, including:

  • level of income;
  • source of income;
  • knowledge of the housing system;
  • language/accent;
  • household type and size;
  • knowledge of institutions and culture; and
  • experience with the dominant institutions and culture.

When we began our research, we set out to explore the role of 'race,' gender, and class in getting access to housing. The focus groups taught us that, in terms of access to housing, 'race' means skin colour. As one Somali woman told us, "The first thing the landlord sees is the colour of your skin."

There is also the "Sorry, it's taken" problem: "We call them [the landlords] ... they have apartments available, but when we arrive there, it's a different story ... being black you are discriminated [against]..." reported a Jamaican.

Gender barriers include the stereotyping of young black males. A Jamaican woman reported that: "The young Black male is a target in every aspect of his livelihood, especially in housing ... As soon as landlords know there is a Black male, that implies maybe drugs, maybe violence, parties.... A Black women is probably better off than a Black man looking for, getting housing."

Social class among immigrants and refugees includes the level and source of income. Immigrants may be considered "lower-class," even if their level of education and their social position in their country of origin was quite high.


Next:   Research Theme #2: The Experience of Housing Discrimination

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