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Immigrants losing homeownership advantage

University of Alberta researcher compares homeownership rates by skin colour in Canada and the US

University of Alberta

Immigrants have lost their once-large homeownership advantage over their Canadian-born counterparts, says a University of Alberta researcher who has now also compared rates by skin colour in Canada and the United States.

Dr. Michael Hann from the Department of Sociology found that Chinese and white immigrants in both countries have the highest homeownership rates of all groups, at times even exceeding comparably-positioned, native-born households. Much of this advantage, however, stems from differences that emerge shortly after their arrival to Canada.

Haan first compared homeownership in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver between immigrant and Canadian-born families. In 1981, proportionally more immigrant families of working age--25 to 54--owned their homes in these cities, surpassing the rates of Canadian-born families of the same age group.

But by 2001, although the immigrant advantage still existed in Vancouver (64 per cent versus 55 per cent), it had disappeared in both Montreal and Toronto.

Immigrant homeownership rates have dropped in the last few years, whereas rates for the Canadian-born have done the opposite, jointly explaining the declining immigrant advantage. One cause for the decline is diminishing labour market fortunes for immigrants, says Haan. Although he can't be certain with census data, he also suggests discrimination--both subtle and overt--as one other possible reason. Finally, others have shown that the median wealth of immigrants has dropped 25 per cent in recent years, potentially further explaining the decline.

This research--much of it originally published by Statistics Canada--appears in the current issue of the journal, Urban Studies.

In a follow-up study, Haan examined homeownership attainment rates (the rate at which group members buy homes over time) by skin colour, to determine if declining immigrant rates could be linked to changes in the skin colour composition of immigrants. He compared the homeownership levels of black, Chinese, Filipino, white and South Asian immigrants between 1971 and 2001 in Canada and the United States. For the most part, he found greater similarities than differences in attainment rates between the two countries.

Chinese and white immigrants from both Canada and the U.S. have the highest ownership rates of all groups, while black immigrants tend to have the lowest ownership rates of all groups. Filipinos and South Asians are situated between these extremes.

The big finding, however, is that many of the above differences can be linked to early attainment patterns, and that increases in homeownership propensities between groups over time is fairly consistent. "The first few years seem to be important. A lot of Chinese immigrants come to Canada and the U.S., for example, with wealth" said Haan, who came to the U of A from Statistics Canada. "Clearly that helps. I suspect, however, that there is more to the immigrant homeownership story than just economics."

Overall, the rate at which homes are bought is similar between groups, but slowing over time in both countries. This illustrates that changes in the skin colour of immigrants is not a major reason for falling immigrant homeownership rates in either country, says Haan, considering that arrival cohorts of all immigrant groups--including whites--have slowed their pace over time.

Haan would like to take his research even further by examining more closely what happens in the first five years of immigrants' lives in their new country. "I would like to see what shapes initial differentiation by looking at things like discrimination, credit barriers, wealth, ability to find suitable housing, and other factors," he said. "I think that first five years is both critical and complex."


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