The Housing Circumstances
Of Recently Arrived Refugees:
The Winnipeg Experience
Canada Research Chair in Urban Change and Adaptation
University of Winnipeg
University of Winnipeg
University of Winnipeg
Prairie Metropolis Centre
2-060 RTF Building
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E1
Tel: (780) 492-6600
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................... i
Executive Summary........................................................................................................................... ii
1.0 Introduction .................................................................................................................................1
1.1 Study Objectives ....................................................................................................................... 1
3.0 Refugee Housing: A Literature Review ......................................................................................5
3.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 5
3.2 The Refugee Population in Canada and Manitoba: Brief Characteristics........................ 6
3.3 Housing Affordability,Adequacy and Suitability ................................................................. 13
3.4 Barriers to Housing Access ..................................................................................................... 14
3.5 The Relationship Between Newcomer Tenants and Their Landlords................................ 16
3.6 Summary: The Role of Housing in Settlement Experiences of Refugees .......................... 17
4.0 Refugee Housing Focus Group Discussions............................................................................18
4.1 “The River of Life” .................................................................................................................... 18
4.2 Barriers and Challenges: The Rapids In The River................................................................ 18
4.3 The Good Things That Happened: The Quiet, Peaceful Paddle Along The River........... 22
4.4 Achieving One’s Ultimate Objectives: Reaching The Lake............................................... 24
4.5 Summary .................................................................................................................................. 25
5.0 Housing Market Analysis ..........................................................................................................26
5.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................. 26
5.2 Apartment Vacancy Rates in Winnipeg.............................................................................. 26
5.2.1 Vacancy Rates by Housing Zone.................................................................................... 27
5.2.2 Vacancies by Zone and Bedroom Type........................................................................ 28
5.2.3 Vacancy Rates by Rent Range, Bedroom Type and Year of Construction............. 28
5.3 Average Rents by Zone and Bedroom Type ....................................................................... 30
5.4 Rental Inventory Changes: Low Starts and Stock Losses ................................................... 31
5.5 Home Ownership Costs Increase.......................................................................................... 33
5.6 Additional Demand Influences on Rental Housing Markets.............................................. 34
5.7 Summary .................................................................................................................................. 34
6.0 Household Characteristics: Year One Interviews ..................................................................35
6.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................. 35
6.2 Status and Country of Origin ................................................................................................. 35
6.3 Household Structure ............................................................................................................... 36
6.4 Age and Gender .................................................................................................................... 38
6.5 Employment Characteristics ................................................................................................. 39
6.6 Household Income ................................................................................................................. 40
6.6.1 Source of Income .............................................................................................................. 40
6.6.2 Average and Median Incomes....................................................................................... 41
6.6.3 Poverty Levels..................................................................................................................... 43
6.7 Household Expenses ............................................................................................................... 44
6.7.1 Shelter Expenses................................................................................................................. 44
6.7.2 Other Expenses................................................................................................................... 45
6.8 Coping with Tight Finances.................................................................................................... 46
6.9 Settlement Supports................................................................................................................ 47
6.9.1 Informal Social Supports ................................................................................................... 47
6.9.2 Formal Settlement Supports ............................................................................................. 49
6.10 Summary ................................................................................................................................ 50
7.0 The Housing Experience of Refugees in Winnipeg: Year One ..............................................52
7.1 Housing Type ........................................................................................................................... 52
7.2 Housing Mobility ...................................................................................................................... 52
7.3 Experience with Finding Housing .......................................................................................... 54
7.4 Housing Affordability, Adequacy and Suitability ................................................................ 57
7.4.1 Housing Affordability ......................................................................................................... 57
7.4.2 Housing Suitability .............................................................................................................. 58
7.4.3 Housing Condition ............................................................................................................. 59
7.5 Housing Safety......................................................................................................................... 60
7.6 Housing Accessibility and Health Problems ......................................................................... 62
7.7 Experience with Landlords/Caretakers ................................................................................ 63
7.8 Awareness of Tenant/Landlord Rights and Responsibilities ............................................... 64
7.9 The Desire to Become Homeowners .................................................................................... 66
7.10 Overall Housing Satisfaction ................................................................................................ 66
7.11 Public Housing vs. Private Housing...................................................................................... 67
7.12 Neighbourhood Satisfaction ............................................................................................... 71
7.12.1 Neighbourhood Perceptions ......................................................................................... 71
7.12.2 Important Qualities of Neighbourhood........................................................................ 71
7.12.3 Neighbourhood Safety ................................................................................................... 73
7.12.4 The Desire to Move to Better Neighbourhood ............................................................ 75
7.12.5 The Importance of Living in a Good Neighbourhood ............................................... 75
7.13 Transportation Issues ............................................................................................................. 76
7.14 Summary ................................................................................................................................ 76
8.0 The Housing Experience of Refugees in Winnipeg: One Year After .....................................79
8.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................. 79
8.2 Household Characteristics..................................................................................................... 79
8.2.1 Household Types ................................................................................................................. 79
8.2.2 Household Size ................................................................................................................... 80
8.3 Housing Characteristics.......................................................................................................... 81
8.3.1 Dwelling Types..................................................................................................................... 81
8.3.2 Housing Tenure................................................................................................................... 82
8.4 Residential Mobility ................................................................................................................. 82
8.4.1 Household Mobility ............................................................................................................ 82
8.4.2 Reasons for Moving ........................................................................................................... 84
8.5 Experiences with Finding Housing ......................................................................................... 85
8.5.1 Ways Refugees Look for Housing .................................................................................... 85
8.5.2 Difficulties Finding Housing ............................................................................................... 86
8.6 Household Employment, Income and Financial Circumstances ..................................... 87
8.6.1 Employment Characteristics............................................................................................ 87
8.6.2 Income ................................................................................................................................ 89
8.6.3 Poverty Levels..................................................................................................................... 92
8.6.4 Household Budget ............................................................................................................. 93
8.6.5 Meeting Expenses Each Month ....................................................................................... 95
8.6.6 Access to Loans or Credit ................................................................................................ 96
8.7 Housing Affordability, Adequacy and Suitability ................................................................ 96
8.7.1 Shelter Costs ....................................................................................................................... 96
8.7.2 Housing Affordability ......................................................................................................... 97
8.7.3 Housing Suitability ............................................................................................................... 98
8.7.4 Housing Condition ........................................................................................................... 100
8.8 Other Housing Characteristics............................................................................................. 100
8.8.1 Building Safety .................................................................................................................. 100
8.8.2 Elements of Housing Design ........................................................................................... 102
8.8.3 Current Place vs. First Place: Levels of Satisfaction .................................................... 104
8.8.4 Overall Happiness with Place ........................................................................................ 104
8.9 Private vs. Public Housing..................................................................................................... 106
8.10 Neighbourhood Characteristics ....................................................................................... 107
8.10.1 Neighbourhood Safety ................................................................................................. 107
8.10.2 Satisfaction with Neighbourhood ............................................................................... 108
8.10.3 Desire to Move to a New Neighbourhood ................................................................ 109
8.10.4 Transportation and Access to Services ...................................................................... 109
8.11 Tenant/Landlord Relationships .......................................................................................... 112
8.11.1 Relationships with the Landlord................................................................................... 112
8.11.2 Knowledge of Tenant/Landlord Rights and Responsibilities ................................... 113
8.12 Social Support Networks .................................................................................................... 113
8.13 The Average Study Household: A Year Later .................................................................. 116
List of References ...........................................................................................................................126
Appendix A ....................................................................................................................................130
List of Acronyms............................................................................................................................ 130
Map 7.1: Geographic Distribution of Year One Study Households........................................ 131
Map 7.2: Household Perception of Safety of Winnipeg Neighbourhoods ........................... 131
Map 7.3: Household Perception of Safety of the Inner-city Neighbourhoods ..................... 132
Map 7.4: Distribution of Private and Public Housing Units ....................................................... 132
Map 8.1: Geographic Distribution of Year Two Study Households ........................................ 133
Map 8.2: Mobility from Time of Year One Interview to Year Two Interview .......................... 133
List of Tables
Table 3.1: Refugees in Canada by Province 1997-2006 .................................................................. 7
Table 3.2: Classes of Refugees, Manitoba 1998-2006 ...................................................................... 7
Table 3.3: Top Ten countries of Birth and Top Ten Countries of Last Permanent Residence of
Refugees to Canada 2001........................................................................................ 9
Table 3.4: Refugees and Canadian Population by Age Category, Canada 2005 ................... 10
Table 3.5: Barriers to Accessing Housing, Characteristics.............................................................. 16
Table 5.1: Winnipeg CMA Vacancy Rates by Rental Market Survey Zone................................. 27
Table 5.2: Winnipeg Vacancy Rates by Rent Range, 2006 and 2007 ......................................... 29
Table 5.3a: 2006 Vacancy Rates and Average Rents by Age of Housing Stock in Winnipeg . 29
Table 5.3b: 2007 Vacancy Rates and Average Rents by Age of Housing Stock in Winnipeg . 29
Table 5.4: Percentage Change of Average Rent in Winnipeg, 2006 and 2007 ......................... 31
Table 5.5: Winnipeg Housing Starts and Completions ................................................................... 32
Table 5.6: Winnipeg Housing Market Demand Factors Since 2001.............................................. 33
Table 6.1: Refugees by Source Area................................................................................................ 35
Table 6.2: Household Structure ......................................................................................................... 37
Table 6.3: Household Size .................................................................................................................. 38
Table 6.4: Age Distribution................................................................................................................. 38
Table 6.5: Average Monthly Gross Income by Household Type................................................... 42
Table 6.6: Average and Median Annual Household Income....................................................... 42
Table 6.7: Incidence of Low Income by Household Size ............................................................... 43
Table 6.8: Incidence of Low Income for Economic Families and Unattached Individuals....... 43
Table 6.9: Average Rents by Unit Size .............................................................................................. 44
Table 6.10: Household Income and Expenses ................................................................................ 45
Table 7.1: Housing Affordability ........................................................................................................ 58
Table 7.2: Private/Public Housing and Tenant Characteristics ..................................................... 68
Table 7.3: Satisfaction with Private/Public Housing Characteristics............................................. 70
Table 8.1: Household Structure ......................................................................................................... 80
Table 8.2: Household Size .................................................................................................................. 81
Table 8.3: Housing Type: Year One vs. Year Two ............................................................................ 81
Table 8.4: Household Mobility Since Year One Interview .............................................................. 83
Table 8.5: Mobility by Area................................................................................................................ 83
Table 8.6: Length of Tenure ............................................................................................................... 84
Table 8.7: Duration of Tenure at Current Place .............................................................................. 84
Table 8.8: Sources of Information on Housing in Year Two............................................................ 86
Table 8.9: Annual Household Income: Year One vs. Year Two .................................................... 89
Table 8.10: Average Gross Monthly Income by Household Type: Year One vs. Year Two ....... 90
Table 8.11: Income from Government Transfers: Year One vs. Year Two.................................... 91
Table 8.12: Income of Wage-Earners and Non-Wage-Earners by Source .................................. 92
Table 8.13: Incidence of Low Income by Household Size: Year One vs. Year Two.................... 93
Table 8.14: Incidence of Low Income for Economic Families and Unattached Individuals..... 93
Table 8.15: Household Budget: Year One vs. Year Two................................................................. 94
Table 8.16: Owners’ Payments Year Two......................................................................................... 96
Table 8.17: Rent payments: Year One vs. Year Two....................................................................... 97
Table 8.18: Rent Payments by Number of Bedrooms: Year One vs. Year Two ........................... 97
Table 8.19: Housing Affordability: Year One vs. Year Two ............................................................. 98
Table 8.20: Number of Bedrooms: Year One vs. Year Two............................................................ 99
Table 8.21: Satisfaction with Elements of Housing ........................................................................ 103
Table 8.22: Private vs. Public Housing: Year One vs. Year Two ................................................... 107
Table 8.23: Satisfaction with the Neighbourhood: Year One vs. Year Two ............................... 108
Table 8.24: Transportation Used Most Often: Year One vs. Year Two ........................................ 112
List of Graphs
Graph 3.1: Refugees by Source Area, Canada 1997 – 2006(%).............................................. 8
This study was made possible with funding provided by the Metropolis Project (Prairie
Centre) and Human Resources Development Canada.
A special note of thanks goes to the participants of the project who kindly agreed to be
interviewed. We would like to thank staff from different settlement organizations for their
support and assistance with this study. We also would like to thank the research assistants
and interpreters for providing help with the collection of the data and the preparation of this
Housing is a central component of the settlement experience of refugees. A positive housing
situation can facilitate many aspects of integration. Unaffordable, crowded, unsafe housing,
however, can cause disruptions in the entire settlement process.
A two-year study of recently arrived refugees in the city of Winnipeg illustrates the
significant housing challenges they face. In the first year 75 households who had been in the
city a year or less were interviewed. Fifty-five of these households were re-interviewed a
year later. The research findings highlight the housing and neighbourhood challenges the
households faced in the first year and the changes in their circumstances that had occurred by
the time interviews were conducted in the second year.
The households in the study face high levels of poverty. In the first year the average annual
income of the refugee households was $22,374: approximately one third of the average
household income of $63,025 in the city. Ninety-two percent of households fell below the
poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off (based on 2006 rates).
With an average rent of $566 per month, the average household spent 34 percent of their
gross income (before tax) on shelter. Fifty-one percent of households spent thirty percent or
more, while twelve percent spent fifty percent or more. Spending thirty percent or more of
pre-tax income on shelter is considered excessive, leaving too little money for other basic
The refugee households in the first year of this study were much larger than Winnipeg
households in general – 3.6 compared to 2.4 persons per household – and therefore require
larger housing units. The Winnipeg rental market provides few units with three or more
bedrooms, particularly at prices refugees can afford. Hence it is not surprising that 47 percent
of refugee households in this study lived in housing that, according to National Occupancy
Standards, was overcrowded.
In addition to affordability and crowding problems, households faced other housing related
challenges. They were highly mobile as they searched for better living circumstances. In the
first year 93 percent had lived in more than one place, 25 percent in more than three. The
average length of tenure was just twelve weeks – not a situation conducive to integration.
One quarter did not feel safe in their neighbourhood and a similar proportion felt their
housing was unsafe. The same proportion felt their home contributed to health problems.
Although only a quarter felt landlords and caretakers were unhelpful, nineteen percent did
not know their rights and responsibilities as tenants and 40 percent had no idea of their
landlords’ rights and responsibilities. Some also felt they faced discrimination in the housing
market which made their search for adequate, affordable housing even more difficult. Close
to sixty percent did not plan to live long in their residence at the time. The same proportion
wanted to move to another neighbourhood. In terms of housing circumstances, the refugee
households in this study could not be considered a settled group of people at the time of the
A year later the interviewees’ economic circumstances had improved considerably, as had
their housing situation. Average household income had increased by 31 percent to $29,357.
The proportion living below the poverty line declined to 73 percent. Improved employment
circumstances contributed to this change as 66 percent of those interviewed were employed
in year two compared to 42 percent a year earlier. Higher incomes led to improved housing
affordability as the average shelter-to-income ratio fell from 34 percent to 25 percent: only
22 percent were paying thirty percent or more of their income on housing costs and two
percent were paying more than fifty percent.
In the second year of interviewing, only 36 percent of the households did not meet National
Occupancy Standards, although there was no appreciable decline in household size. Other
improvements included a growing satisfaction with dwelling size and design, building and
unit safety, greater satisfaction with landlords and caretakers and an improved knowledge of
both tenant and landlord responsibilities. There was also less concern regarding
discrimination and a growing number of households felt they were better equipped to deal
with discrimination they faced.
A noticeable change that was contrary to these positive trends was a growing dissatisfaction
with the condition of their units and with the length of time for repairs to be made. At the
first interview, 25 percent of the interviewees said they felt their home was in poor condition
but a year later this ratio had increased to 42 percent. Concern about the timeliness of repairs
increased from 26 percent of households to 42 percent in the second year. This may reflect an
improved understanding of the standards they can expect and perhaps less reluctance to
express their concerns, rather than an actual decline in housing conditions or timeliness of
Separate focus group research and the individual interviews highlight that one of the long-
term personal objectives is home ownership. A positive finding in this work is that the
number of owners among the interviewees increased from one to six in the two years of the
The characteristics of refugee households are not always a good match with the housing
designed to accommodate Canadian-born households. Market circumstances also make
finding affordable housing a challenge. In the rental inventory, there are few units of three or
more bedrooms that many of the larger refugee households require, and virtually none are
vacant. Vacancy rates overall are low and choice is limited. The vacancies that do exist are in
older rental stock in poor condition or newer stock that is well beyond the price range
affordable to most refugee households. In addition, funding for the development of new
social housing for low-income households has not been available in any significant amount
for several years and waiting times for the existing inventory are long. These housing factors,
combined with the other disadvantages refugees face, create a difficult set of circumstances
for those trying to access adequate, affordable housing.
Those who are able to access social housing have some distinct housing advantages. At the
time of the first interviews, two-thirds of the refugee households lived in private rental
accommodation, and one-third lived in public housing. When year two interviews were
conducted, the proportion in public housing had increased to 46 percent. Overall, public
housing residents felt more positive about their housing circumstances than did the private
housing renters: they had fewer suitability problems, were more satisfied with management,
the safety of their home, the floor plan/design and the condition. However, they were less
positive about their neighbourhoods and more were concerned about safety and security:
perhaps because most public housing is located in the inner city. The biggest advantage for
public housing residents was affordability. With rents set at 27 percent of gross income, even
with responsibility for some utilities, few paid more than thirty percent of their income for
shelter. On average, public housing residents paid $150 less per month than did the private
renters. When compared to private housing, public housing, it seems, offers advantages that
would better facilitate the resettlement process.
The refugees in this study reported considerable difficulty in finding housing. In the first
year, it was noted that sponsors and immigrant agencies provided considerable assistance.
But by the second year, however, housing information sources included a broader social
network of family and friends and also real estate and property management agencies,
government agencies and more of their own efforts through websites, newspapers and street
searches by walking and driving around. This shift in the second year illustrates growing
knowledge of the city and the housing market and an expanding social network. It also
reflects the absence of immigrant services’ assistance with finding housing beyond the initial
search, after which newcomers are on their own. Refugees in this study struggled with their
lack of familiarity with the market, neighbourhood characteristics, tenant rights and
responsibilities and the absence of a place to go to get the reliable, comprehensive
information they need to find suitable housing.
By the second year interviews, the interviewees had developed better social support networks
with an increased number of friends, neighbours and co-workers who could help in solving
their problems with housing, tenant-landlord issues, emotional health issues and a range of
other settlement and integration challenges. The development of a strong social support
network is key to successful settlement and integration.
Although home is the central hub of people’s lives, the neighbourhood is a geographical
extension of home, reaching into the public sphere. Neighbourhood is a place that offers
regular opportunities to interact with others. Newcomers’ perceptions of their
neighbourhoods and their neighbours, influence their sense of belonging and the extent to
which they feel settled.
The majority of the refugees in this study lived in Winnipeg’s inner city – an area with the
most affordable accommodation, but characterized by neighbourhood decline. At the time of
the first interviews, 78 percent of the respondents were inner city residents. This proportion
fell to 64 percent in year two. Safety and security are issues of concern for many inner city
residents, refugees included. One quarter of the study’s refugee households did not feel safe
in their neighbourhood the first year, although this number fell to seventeen percent in the
second year. Most households liked their neighbourhoods and those in the inner city
particularly liked the convenient proximity to services, public transportation, plus friends and
family. However, sixty to seventy percent in both years said they would like to live in a
different neighbourhood and 85 percent in both years preferred to move to non-inner city
areas. Despite the convenience of the location and more affordable housing, many
households were looking for safer neighbourhoods with less crime. These perceptions of
neighbourhood and the desire to move do not contribute to stability and positive settlement
The difficulties refugees experience in finding adequate, affordable housing in
neighbourhoods with the characteristics that facilitate resettlement suggest a number of
policy and program changes that might help the resettlement and integration process. Several
such initiatives are discussed below.
Community based organizations need more resources, including staff with different skill
sets to adequately serve the need. Many interviewees indicated that their settlement
counsellors did not have enough time to provide the help they needed. There are too few
counsellors and they have too large a caseload. Counsellors often lack the resources and
skills to provide the services and follow-up needed. In nearly all cases, organizations only
help new arrivals find their first place. After that they are on their own, even though many
run into difficulties. As the number of new arrivals increases each year, more resources for
community based organizations will be required.
Developing Education and Awareness
There is a need for an organization with a mandate to provide comprehensive housing and
neighbourhood information for new arrivals. Refugees face difficulties finding affordable
housing and this problem is compounded by their lack of understanding of how and where to
find housing information. They lack current, reliable, and comprehensive information on the
housing market and the characteristics of the neighbourhoods where housing is available.
This lack of knowledge can lead to mistakes in their housing choice and residential location
decisions. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no one agency that provides
this necessary information. Several interviewees noted the frustration of having to deal with
so many agencies to try to get the information they need.
There should also be an organization, perhaps the one suggested above, with a mandate to
develop information and educational material on tenant rights and responsibilities and
ensure it is communicated to new arrivals. Lack of knowledge of their rights and
responsibilities leaves new arrivals vulnerable to exploitation or to making mistakes due to
misinterpretation of information on rental agreements.
Although there was often a relatively positive relationship between refugees and property
management personnel, development of information and educational material for landlords
and caretakers to familiarize themselves with cultural differences of new arrivals that are
important to housing, would also help prevent misunderstandings that might lead to
problems with leases or evictions. Again, this could be the responsibility of the organization
Changes to Housing Supply
With respect to the supply of housing available, a number of changes are also necessary to
facilitate resettlement and integration.
Changes in unit size and design are required to meet the needs and household composition
of new arrivals. Refugee households tend to be larger and there are few units in the
affordable housing stock large enough to accommodate them. This leads to overcrowding.
Extended families or families with adult children are often forced to split, but would prefer to
live together for support, for interpretation/translation purposes, to share costs and incomes,
or to enable the older generation to provide childcare. The supply of three and four bedroom
units should be increased. It is unlikely that the private sector will respond to this need so
responsibility may rest with the public sector to increase the inventory of larger units
The eligibility criteria for acceptance to public housing should be reviewed to ensure entry
requirements adequately reflect cultural practices and characteristics of new arrivals.
Some refugees found they were not eligible for public housing as a family of four adults.
However, in some cultures, it is common for generations to live together for financial and
The development of more transitional housing would facilitate resettlement and
integration. Having a place to stay immediately upon arrival was considered to be a benefit
and strong support. A safe place on arrival was viewed as key to successful settlement in a
new country. It provided the stability needed to get their life in order. However, long term
reliance on transitional housing can have a negative effect on resettlement. Reliance on this
type of housing for periods of up to three years often prevented people moving forward with
family, personal and career objectives. Occupancy of transitional housing for periods of
more than a year to eighteen months should be discouraged providing other options are
The most important policy priority is to increase the supply of affordable rental housing.
The study findings clearly illustrated the benefits of access to subsidized housing. Adequate,
suitable, affordable housing with security of tenure cannot address all the challenges refugees
face, but it can provide the stable basis from which they can deal more easily with other
challenges. Unaffordable housing, it was noted, was a drain on household resources limiting
expenditures on other basic necessities like education, health care, clothing and food. Poor
housing conditions also threatened stable family life and contributed to a negative feeling
about one’s surroundings.
Building Inclusive and Welcoming Communities
Locating refugees in friendly inclusive neighbourhoods on arrival facilitates integration.
Satisfaction with housing is very connected to satisfaction with neighbourhood. It is really
important where refugees are located when they first arrive. When the first environment they
experience is one where there is drug dealing, violence and prostitution it is not a location
that fosters good resettlement. It leads to higher mobility, often higher housing costs
associated with moving to a safe environment and reluctance to engage in community
activities. Policies that encourage the development of safe, inclusive and welcoming
communities are needed. This requires extensive work by community organizations and all
levels of government to build community awareness, reduce crime and enhance support for,
and understanding and acceptance of, new arrivals.
Development of Comprehensive and Integrated Policy
Housing is a complex issue and provision of affordable housing, although a tremendous
benefit for new arrivals, is not a stand-alone solution for promoting successful resettlement
and integration. Housing policy has to be integrated with initiatives in other areas. A number
of such examples are noted below.
Development of language proficiency is crucial to success in a number of areas and
facilitates access to better housing. Lack of language proficiency makes the search for
housing difficult and can also lead to misunderstandings of lease agreements, tenant and
New arrivals need the time, resources and opportunity to improve their language skills. Often
they are forced to enter the work force too early to “make a living,” thus do not have the time
to improve their skills.
The above point leads to another recommendation that became obvious throughout the study.
The level of monetary support for many new arrivals is insufficient and has to be
increased. Many new arrivals simply have too little money to access the housing and
services they need in the resettlement process. Increased expenditures initially may well
reduce costs further “down the road” if successful resettlement and integration is delayed or
This study illustrates the importance of good housing in the integration process. However,
the study also clearly identifies that housing is only part of a complex set of factors that
contribute to successful integration including language skills, labour force success, absence
of discrimination, access to adequate information and support, neighbourhood characteristics
and a host of other issues. Adequate, affordable and suitable housing cannot address all these
issues but it can provide the stable basis from which the refugees can deal more easily with
Although immigrants to Canada have historically matched the housing status of other
Canadians over a 20 to 25 year time period, recent immigrants are failing to achieve similar
gains and are more likely to experience housing distress1 and fall into core housing need2
than their predecessors. Immigrants from “non-traditional” (generally non-European) source
countries appear to be at an even greater disadvantage and within that group, refugees have
experienced even higher levels of housing distress, core housing need and homelessness.
This early disadvantage in the housing market is likely to decrease their positive long-term
housing prospects and inhibit their successful integration into a new society. If refugees are
unable to access adequate, affordable housing to meet their needs there is also ample
evidence to suggest that this situation can lead to poor health, social and economic outcomes.
1.1 Study Objectives
The purpose of this study is to examine the housing experiences of recently arrived refugees
in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. This includes the quality and type of housing that they
were able to find, the cost and affordability of their housing, their level of housing
satisfaction, the influence of neighbourhood circumstances, the role of social support groups
and community organizations in accessing housing, their relationships with landlords and
caretakers, and whether their housing circumstances had an effect on their experiences
adjusting to life in Canada. This research will contribute to current discussions regarding the
relationship between refugees’ housing experiences and their physical, emotional and social
integration into a host society. The examination of housing experiences and trajectories in
different municipal and provincial jurisdictions with different market circumstances and
policy and support services environments will also contribute to program and policy
recommendations to facilitate the achievement of better housing experiences for new arrivals.
This monograph reports on the findings of the Winnipeg component of the study.
Housing distress is said to exist when housing costs exceed 30 per cent of disposable income and the
household is in the bottom 40 per cent of the income distribution.
Core need households are those who cannot obtain suitable space for their household that is in reasonably
good condition without spending 30% or more of their income for shelter.
The broad objective of the research was to examine the housing experiences of recently
arrived refugees in Winnipeg. The study was longitudinal, examining the changing housing
circumstances over a two-year period. The methodology consisted of five distinct
The Literature Review: A literature review detailed the findings of similar work in the
housing and immigration field across Canada and provided general statistical information on
the characteristics of refugees arriving in Canada and Manitoba. Barriers to the access of
adequate, affordable housing experienced by refugees, their relationships with landlords and
the role that housing plays in the integration process were highlighted from key pieces of
literature. The literature review assisted in structuring the framework of the study and helped
inform the development of the personal interview questionnaire.
Focus Groups: The research began with focus groups of refugees who had been in Canada
for a few years, in order to get their comments on the barriers, challenges and difficulties
they faced in their transition into a new society. They reflected on the services, supports,
friends, family and other supports that helped them along the way, and the ultimate objective
or circumstances in life they had hoped to achieve when they made the decision to come to
Canada. The insights obtained in the focus groups also helped structure the questions used
later in the detailed individual interviews.
Market Analysis: The vast majority of refugees upon arriving have to quickly find
accommodation in the private market. Hence the marketplace in the city certainly can affect
their housing opportunities. The analysis of the market circumstances covered the two years
during which the survey was undertaken and provides a solid picture of the housing
challenges and barriers faced by the refugees.
Personal Interviews: A comprehensive questionnaire implemented as a personal interview
provided both quantitative and qualitative data from which to evaluate the physical, financial,
locational and psychological/social aspects of the housing and neighbourhood experience of
the recently arrived refugees. Data was collected to calculate core-housing need, including
income, household age and composition plus dwelling characteristics such as the number of
bedrooms. At the beginning of the study, refugees who had been in Winnipeg more than a
month, but less than a year were targeted for the interviews. Seventy-five households in
Winnipeg were interviewed initially, and in the second year 55 of the original 75 households
were re-interviewed: a retention rate of 73 percent.
Several organizations working with newcomers made initial contact with potential
interviewees to explain the research project and gain permission for the researcher to call to
set up an interview. All interviews were conducted in the homes of the interviewees or in a
location of their choice, such as a coffee shop. When necessary, interpreters were used to
conduct interviews in a language other than English.
Each respondent was given an honorarium of $50 per interview for his or her time and
participation in the research. Interviews often took one and a half hours or more to complete.
During the initial interview, it was explained to the respondents that they would be contacted
one year later for another interview to see how circumstances had changed for them during
that year. Each was given contact information of the researchers so that if they moved and/or
changed their phone number in the interim, they could let the researchers know so they could
be contacted for an interview in the second year.
The Analysis: The data from the interviews was coded and entered into an SPSS database.
Frequencies and cross tabulations were then run for a variety of variables. The analysis of the
data from initial interviews presents a “point in time” perspective that provides a picture of
the housing and neighbourhood circumstances in the refugees’ first year. Second year data,
as well as providing another “point in time” perspective, permits a documentation of changes
to housing and neighbourhood circumstances over the year. Tables, charts and maps are used
to illustrate the circumstances and the changes over time. The analysis also contains quotes
from the interviews and case study material on particular households to more adequately
illustrate the challenges and successes the households have experienced.
The findings of the study illustrate the difficulties refugees face in attempting to access
adequate, affordable housing. The often-precarious nature of their housing has a profound
effect on their ability to adapt to their new society, find meaningful employment and access
the other services they need in the integration process. The findings also provide useful
knowledge on the gaps in programs, services and policies needed to improve their housing
circumstances. More than anything this study illustrates the very important role that housing
plays in the settlement process.
3.0 Refugee Housing: A Literature Review
Some obstacles faced by refugees are common to many recent immigrants, including
poverty, unrecognized work experience and education qualifications, health problems, and
risk of homelessness amongst others. The settlement experience of recent immigrants is well
documented in the literature and provides valuable contextual information for this study.
Most literature in this area, however, is not focused on the housing circumstances of refugees
specifically. Therefore this section of the report will draw on research on the settlement
experience of both immigrants and refugees in Canada in general and highlight material
pertaining to refugees in particular.
Immigrants and refugees are most likely to experience housing distress as a result of the
multiple obstacles. For any newcomer household, access to stable and affordable housing is
crucial for their social, cultural, and economic integration into a society.
Secure housing establishes the circumstances for access to other formal and
informal supports and networks. Good housing for immigrants facilitates and reduces
the length of the resettlement and integration process. Good housing also reduces
long-term costs to society in other areas such as health, education, social assistance
and employment insurance.
Carter and Polevychok 2004, v.
For newcomers to Canada, several structural barriers in the marketplace, such as high
housing costs, a limited supply of social housing with long waiting lists, and low vacancy
rates in the private rental market are exacerbated by social assistance rates that have not kept
pace with costs, legislation that generally favours landlords, and the lack of political
intervention in a growing affordable housing crisis (Zine 2002). These factors combine with
individual newcomer characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, household size, immigration
status, age, and religion to create a difficult set of housing needs. As a result of their
migration, immigrants and refugees often face further obstacles such as economic instability,
lack of knowledge of new cultural norms, absence of social supports, language barriers, and
unrecognized educational credentials in the labour market.
Compared to non-newcomers, immigrants and refugees are at greater risk of living in
precarious housing, in overcrowded conditions, or in housing that does not meet standard
conditions. They are also more likely to experience discrimination by private landlords on the
basis of racial and cultural differences. Newcomers’ low level of knowledge of Canadian
culture, language barriers, differences in definitions of home and public and private space,
unfamiliarity of tenants’ rights and a low stock of affordable rental housing make housing
circumstances of immigrants and refugees even more problematic. Research by Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation summarizes the disadvantages facing newcomers with
respect to housing as related to
- Economic problems (low incomes and high rents, saturation of limited social
- Problems related to the imbalance between the housing supply and the specific
demand of certain households (insufficiency and high cost of large-capacity
- Socio-cultural problems (existence of discriminatory practices in access to
housing). (CMHC 2004)
Carter and Polevychok (2004) described four dimensions of housing that are particularly
meaningful for individuals. The physical dimension includes the quality, design and
condition of housing stock; the financial dimension includes initial cost and affordability
over time, as well as the economic assets that accumulate; and the locational/spatial
dimension refers to the size and suitability of housing stock as well as the home’s location
relative to other services in the community. The fourth dimension pertains to the
psychological meaning of home. A person’s home can be a place of great pride and comfort
and can represent the resident’s social location and engagement. Home is central in the
development of personal and cultural identity and can be the fount of memory, nostalgia, and
attachment. Therefore, for newcomers, and refugees in particular, notions of home can
contribute to larger narratives regarding their place in the host society and the host society’s
response to them.
Immigrants and Housing: A Review of Canadian Literature From 1990 to 2005, a
comprehensive review of the research on this topic (Murdie et al. 2006), suggests that the
most recurrent themes in Canadian research during the previous fifteen years concerning
immigrants and housing include housing trajectories, homeownership, and access to
adequate, suitable and affordable housing.
This study will complement and support the literature on these themes, and will also discuss
the four dimensions of housing noted above.
The following sections of this chapter will discuss characteristics of refugees coming to
Canada and Manitoba, and their experience with housing affordability, availability, adequacy
and suitability, barriers to housing access, and the relationship between newcomer tenants
and their landlords.
3.2 The Refugee Population in Canada and Manitoba: Brief Characteristics
The refugee population is characterized by factors that present a number of barriers to
successful settlement and integration. These barriers range from lack of language skills
required in their new community, to few economic resources, health problems and low
formal educational skills levels. Subsequent sections of the literature review will outline
some of these characteristics in more detail.
Just under 32,500 refugees arrived in Canada in 2006 (Table 3.1). Close to sixty percent went
to Ontario, specifically to Toronto, which continues to be the largest receiver of refugees
each year. Approximately 22 percent went to Québec, principally to Montréal; six percent to
British Columbia, most settled in Vancouver; seven percent to Alberta, mainly to Edmonton
and Calgary; and four percent to Manitoba with most settling in Winnipeg. Close to fifty
percent were refugee claimants, 23 percent were government assisted refugees (GARs) and
ten percent privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) (CIC 2006).
Table 3.1: Refugees in Canada by Province 1997 - 2006
Province 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Nova Scotia 211 237 257 268 268 224 194 199 202 217
150 156 148 266 230 156 145 174 181 178
Atlantic 194 173 214 246 207 186 169 196 217 204
Québec 7,673 6,212 7,336 8,052 7,140 6,441 6,182 7,382 7,161 7,102
Ontario 11,750 11,570 11,971 15,138 14,249 12,621 13,739 18,342 21,890 18,700
Manitoba 619 653 778 1,022 1,159 976 1,234 1,252 1,094 1,241
Saskatchewan 553 524 509 648 588 601 501 560 603 626
Alberta 1,161 1,275 1,289 1,875 1,878 1,796 1,979 2,210 2,248 2,333
1,996 2,041 1,896 2,574 2,199 2,108 1,827 2,367 2,156 1,888
Territories** -- -- 0 -- -- 13 7 5 -- --
Total 24,308 22,842 24,398 30,090 27,919 25,122 25,977 32,687 35,756 32,492
*Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island
**Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut
Source: CIC 2006 FACTS AND FIGURES Immigration Overview:
Permanent and Temporary Residents http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/pdf/pub/facts2006.pdf
In Manitoba the number of refugee arrivals increased from six to seven hundred per year in
the late nineties to over 1,200 in 2006. The numbers of privately sponsored refugees (PSRs)
grew from eighty arrivals in 1998 to 633 in 2006 (Table 3.2). While the share of
Table 3.2 Classes of Refugees, Manitoba 1998-2006
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 1998-2006
# % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # %
PSRs 80 12.3 176 22.8 361 35.5 552 47.6 360 36.7 597 48.3 608 48.6 493 45.1 633 51.0 3860 41.1
GARs 517 79.7 554 71.9 603 59.3 517 44.6 580 59.1 539 43.6 548 43.8 492 45.0 522 42.0 4872 21.2
39 6.0 29 3.8 48 4.7 82 7.1 31 3.2 91 7.4 63 5.0 90 8.2 61 4.9 534 5.6
Landed in Canada
13 2.0 12 1.6 5 0.5 9 0.8 11 1.1 8 0.6 33 2.6 19 1.7 25 2.0 135 1.4
Refugees Total 649 100 771 100 1017 100 1160 100 982 100 1235 100 1252 100 1094 100 1241 100 9401 100
Source: Prepared by Manitoba Labour and Immigration April 2007.
government-assisted refugees (GARs) in 1998 comprised almost eighty percent of total
refugee arrivals, since 2003 it has been below fifty percent. In 2006 PSR arrivals exceeded
GARs - 633 privately sponsored arrivals compared to 522 government-assisted refugees. In
2006, Manitoba settled nineteen percent of all PSRs and seven percent of all GARs arriving
Diversity of the Refugee Population
Refugees cannot be viewed as a homogenous group. They are characterized by complex and
intersecting experiences, identities and locations prior to and post-migration. Just as they are
perceived to be different from Canadian citizens, within the refugee population, they can be
internally differentiated on the basis of class, sex, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, and
Changes to the areas refugees originate from add to the diversity of the refugee population.
The source countries of refugees to Canada have shifted as wars, civil strife, and repressive
political regimes rise and decline. Over the years there have been waves of refugees from a
range of countries and regions including Eastern Europe, Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia,
Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia. Most recent arrivals come from countries in
Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and South and Central America (Graph 3.1).
Graph 3.1: Refugees by Source Area, Canada 1997 - 2006 (%)
Percent of Canada's Total Refugees Received
Africa and the Middle East
Asia and Pacific
South and Central America
Europe and the United Kingdom
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
In the last ten years the percentage of all refugees arriving from Africa, the Middle East, Asia
and Pacific countries has fluctuated on an annual basis but remained near a third of the total.
Percentages of refugees arriving from South and Central America have increased
significantly while those from Europe have illustrated substantial decline.
Table 3.3 illustrates the top ten countries of birth and top ten countries of last permanent
residence for Canada’s refugees in 2001. The top source countries for GARs to Manitoba
include Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Colombia and Ethiopia. PSRs top source countries
include Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Table 3.3: Top Ten Countries of Birth and Top Ten Countries of Last Permanent Residence
of Refugees to Canada 2001
Top Ten Countries of Birth Top Ten Countries of Last Permanent Residence
Rank Country % Rank Country %
1 Afghanistan 23 1 Pakistan 14
2 Iraq 8 2 India 10
3 Iran 8 3 Turkey 7
4 Sudan 7 4 Bosnia-Herzegovina 6
5 Bosnia-Herzegovina 7 5 Yugoslavia 5
6 Colombia 5 6 Colombia 5
7 Sri Lanka 5 7 Kenya 4
8 Croatia 4 8 Sri Lanka 4
9 Yugoslavia 4 9 Iran 3
10 Sierra Leone 3 10 Egypt 3
Total 74 Total 61
Source: Statistics Canada, 2001, Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada.
Age and Gender
Data on the age composition of the refugee population demonstrate that they are much
younger compared to Canada’s overall population. Refugees from 25 to 44 years old
represented almost a half of all refugees resettled to Canada in 2005 (Table 3.4). For the
nation this ratio is approximately 30 percent. Almost a quarter of refugees were 15 to 24
years old, while this age group comprises only 13.6 percent of the total population in Canada.
Approximately twelve percent of refugees were aged 45 to 64, less than half that of the
national population. Yet, refugee children (fourteen and under) comprise only fourteen
percent of the total refugee population compared to almost eighteen percent of the total
Canadian population. Also very low is the proportion of seniors which is less than two
percent of refugee newcomers, while for all Canadians this proportion is more than seven
times higher at thirteen percent.
This means that the proportion of the refugee population that is not of labour force age is
relatively low, while the ratio of labour force age is much higher than in the general
population. Eighty-four percent of the refugees arriving in Canada in 2005 were of working
age (15 to 64 years old) compared to 69 percent among the Canadian population overall. The
potential for refugees to contribute to the labour force and tax revenues, therefore, is even
greater than it is among the general population.
The refugee population coming to Manitoba is young – of those who came to the province
during 2002-2006, 95 percent were less than 45 years old. This population is much younger
than Canada’s refugee population in general. Government assisted refugees that arrived in
Manitoba during 2002-2006 were younger than those privately sponsored: almost 35 percent
of them were under fourteen compared to 23 percent of privately sponsored refugees.
A comparison of Manitoba’s refugee population and the population in the province in general
shows that in 2005 three quarters of refugees were aged 15-44 years old, while for the
province this age group comprised 42 percent. The major difference was in the proportion of
those 45 and older: only four percent of refugees belonged to this age group compared to 38
percent of Manitoba’s population overall.
Table 3.4: Refugees and Canadian Population by Age Category, Canada 2005
# of refugees % of refugees % of Can. Population
0 to 4 925 2.9 5.3
5 to 9 1,728 5.5 5.8
10 to 14. 1,818 5.8 6.5
15 to 24 7,357 23.3 13.6
25 to 44 15,267 48.3 29.5
45 to 64 3,908 12.4 26.2
65 or more 577 1.8 13.1
Total 31,580 100.0 100.0
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Facts and Figures 2006.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, males comprised almost 52 percent of all
refugees who came to Canada in 2005. The share of Manitoba’s refugees who were males
was higher -approximately 55 percent.
With respect to marital status, approximately two-thirds of the refugees arriving in Manitoba
were single, and about one-third were married. Only a few were widowed, separated or
Education, Skills, and Work Related Experience
Many refugees have experienced war trauma, stress or violence; many spend several years in
refugee camps preventing them from attaining a formal education, acquiring skills or work
experience. While some refugees have attended educational institutions, many have never
graduated with a secondary diploma. A presentation on the experiences of 20 Sudanese
families in Edmonton (Houston 2005) reports that:
— 100 percent of women were illiterate;
— 100 percent of the women spoke no English;
— 100 percent of the families were in refugee camps, some of them for up to 15 years;
— 40 percent had experienced family violence; and
— 100 percent of the families came from rural settings and did not have urban skills
such as using buses, electricity, banks, paying rent, buying food in grocery stores, etc.
Although formal education is not necessarily associated with the level of skills refugees have,
the level of education that newcomers have upon arriving in Canada affects their ability to
learn English and adapt to their new life. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s data on
levels of schooling for refugees shows that in 2005 over a quarter of refugees had up to 9
years of schooling, thirty percent had 10-12 years, and eleven percent had more than 13
years. Over eleven percent of refugees reported having a non-university diploma, thirteen
percent had a Bachelor’s degree, and two percent had Master’s degree. One-half of one
percent of refugees had a Doctoral degree.
A report entitled The Health of Refugees in Winnipeg (Magoon 2005) indicates that the
proportion of refugees who came to Winnipeg with no formal education has recently
increased to approximately 29 percent (2001-2004 average). Over the past decade, on
average one-fifth of refugees to Winnipeg arrived with no schooling and another 55 percent
had some education, but not more than secondary school. A quarter of refugees to Winnipeg
have come with education higher than secondary school (college, university, or trade
schools), however, this proportion has been decreasing in recent years.
The access to suitable employment is one of the main issues facing refugees. Refugees deal
with greater obstacles than other immigrant categories in terms of finding employment,
especially during the first six months in Canada, which is reflected in the higher
unemployment rate for this group of newcomers (51 percent compared to 37 percent for all
immigrants) (Statistics Canada 2005).
Commonly, obtaining any type of paid work is a major short-term, goal for newcomers,
while finding employment comparable to that held prior to migration, or consistent with skill
level or field of interest, and general career advancement are regarded as longer term
objectives. Therefore it is not unusual for immigrants and refugees with high levels of
education to be either underemployed or unemployed, or they may be employed in jobs not
compatible with their education and experience.
Reliance on Government Assistance
More than 85 percent of refugees reported having no savings at arrival, while more than 90
percent of skilled workers and other economic immigrants had savings, which for half of
them exceeded $15,000 and $100,000 respectively (Statistics Canada 2005). According to a
recent report Chronic Low Income and Low-income Dynamics Among Recent Immigrants
(Picot et al. 2007) that examined the economic situation of immigrants over a five year
period, refugees are more likely to experience chronic low income and much less likely to
exit low income than are other classes of immigrants. Among the immigrants who arrived in
2000, the low-income rate for refugees in 2004 was 27 percent, compared to 13 percent in the
family class, and 15.6 percent in the skilled immigrants class. With no savings and limited
opportunities for appropriate employment, many refugees depend on government assistance
for their income. However, the amount paid out in welfare is not enough to meet even their
A Portrait of Early Settlement Experiences (Statistics Canada 2005) reports that sixteen
percent of all new immigrants to Canada reported physical health problems, eleven percent
dental problems and five percent emotional or mental problems. For refugees these ratios
were much higher – 23, 22, and eight percent respectively.
The major areas of health concerns for refugees are: mental health, nutritional deficiencies,
intestinal parasitic disease, infectious diseases (such as HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis, and
Hepatitis B & C), injuries sustained by trauma and torture, chronic disease, arrested
childhood development, dental, visual and hearing problems, lack of immunization, and
women’s health care issues (Houston 2005, Parsons 2005).
Mental and emotional health problems are the major burden of illness for refugees in North
America, exacerbated by migration stress; loss of personal and cultural identity; inability to
speak the language of the host country; separation from family; lack of a friendly reception
by the host population; and lack of an ethno-cultural community to provide support (Das
Gupta 2001, Canadian Mental Health Association 2003, Canadian Task Force on Mental
Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees in Canada 1988, Suzuki 2005). Having
family members or friends with them or nearby is a major factor mediating mental health
problems for newcomers. The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants reports that a quarter of
refugees had no relatives or friends in Canada compared to fifteen percent for all immigrants
who arrived in Canada in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2005).
It is common for refugees to experience mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating
disorders, grief and loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic disorders, and
substance abuse. It is not uncommon for some refugees to have faced trauma or torture
before or during their refugee experience prior to resettlement. An estimated 35 percent of
refugees in the world have been subject to severe physical torture and/or psychological
violation (Centres of Excellence for Women's Health 2003, Prairie Women’s Health Centre
of Excellence 2001, Parsons 2005). Children are particularly vulnerable to violence,
displacement, hunger, disease, abuse and exploitation that are prevalent in conflict areas.
The experience of twenty Sudanese families in Edmonton illustrates the magnitude of health
problems refugees may face (Houston 2005):
- 100 percent of the children had never seen a medical practitioner;
- 100 percent of children had chronic health conditions due to poverty (e.g.
anaemia, tooth decay, infections);
- 40 percent of families had a child with a handicap;
- 50 percent of the women had chronic conditions, e.g. (abdomen, head or chest
pain, seizures etc.) which impact daily activities including caring for children;
- 40 percent of women had sexually transmitted diseases; and
- Mental illness was common but not diagnosed or treated.
Health problems reported by the Edmonton families included chronic infections (intestinal
parasites, Hepatitis B, latent tuberculosis with the risk of progression to active disease, and
HIV); psychological problems (post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, adjustment
problems, somatization, and family violence); neglected health problems (hypertension,
neglected disabilities of various kinds; oral health problems, and developmental problems in
children); and, exotic diseases (malaria and others).
Areas of health concern for many refugees in Manitoba include sexual and reproductive
health, mental health and communicable diseases (Magoon 2005). Despite these health
concerns, research in Manitoba indicates that refugees do not generally utilize physician and
hospital services to the same degree as other Manitobans. Among the major barriers to
accessing healthcare that refugees reported were language barriers, and practitioners’ cultural
3.3 Housing Affordability, Adequacy and Suitability3
Housing affordability, adequacy and suitability can either facilitate or inhibit the cultural,
economic and social integration of refugees. Housing affordability problems newcomers to
Canada are facing are well documented in several studies (Chera 2004, SPCW 2006; CMHC
2003; Murdie 2003 and 2005; Geronimo et al. 2001; Rose and Ray 2001; Chan et al. 2005;
Preston et al. 2006; Hunter 1999). They reveal that for many immigrants and refugees
affordability is the major barrier in accessing adequate and suitable housing. They also
emphasize the significant role of housing in overall quality of life for newcomers. The
affordable housing crisis being experienced in major metropolitan areas has an adverse
impact on refugees, making it even harder for them to find suitable accommodation.
Murdie’s study Pathways to Housing: The Experiences of Sponsored Refugees and Refugee
Claimants in Accessing Permanent Housing in Toronto (2005) indicates that the majority of
both groups spent over fifty percent of their income on rent. Most participants indicated that
due to cost, their expectations about housing in Canada had not been fulfilled leaving them in
the position of having to make trade-offs between shelter, food, clothing and other essentials.
A household is considered to have affordability problems if 30% or more of household income is spent on
housing costs. The 30% figure is based on research indicating that when the shelter costs of low income
households exceed 30% of their incomes, their consumption of other essentials of life such as food, clothing,
day care, and transportation is reduced. Adequacy is a measure of housing condition based on the need for
major repairs. Suitability is based on the National Occupancy Standards, which sets requirements for the
specific number of bedrooms for each household based on its size and age, sex and marital composition.
Households that live in dwellings with less than the required number of bedrooms are considered to be crowded.
Government assistance (RAP) given to GARs during their first year of settlement allows very
little for housing costs. In Manitoba, shelter assistance rates are the same as those provided
for people on social assistance: $271 for one person; $387 for two people; and $471 for four
people, including allowances for utilities (Province of Manitoba 2005). Average market
rents, which may or may not include utilities, for one and two bedroom units in Winnipeg,
are $539 and $683 respectively (CMHC 2005). Market rents, which are so much higher than
shelter assistance rates, force people into lower quality private rental housing, usually in the
Refugees may qualify for subsidized housing, but wait times can be up to two years and there
are few three and four bedroom units available for large families, which are common
amongst refugee households. The conditions in private rental housing overall can be much
worse than those of subsidized housing. Unacceptable conditions and housing deficiencies
reported by refugees included cockroach infestations, leaks and holes in ceilings, mould
growth on walls, rotting cupboards under sinks, filthy carpeting and most commonly,
insufficient heating in winter (Carter et al. 2006).
A project that focused on determining the extent of substandard housing problems faced by
immigrants and refugees in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia revealed that
participants were living in “overcrowded, unaffordable, substandard, ‘dirty,’ unpleasant, and
poorly maintained accommodations. These dwellings do not meet basic maintenance
standards, neither regarding the cleanliness of the unit itself nor the structural state of the
entire property” (Mattu 2002, p.7).
In many cities refugees are at greater risk of becoming homeless given their vulnerable status
in the housing market. The fear of being homeless seems an issue particularly felt by abused
women with young children and women fleeing their spouses due to marital problems.
Breakdown of private sponsorship relationships often means that individuals will be left with
no permanent address, no security of tenure, no basic health and safety standards and with
only the option of temporary lodging with family and/or friends (Mattu 2002).
While homelessness is not readily apparent among newcomers in Winnipeg, unsafe and
substandard housing conditions and housing affordability problems indicate refugees face
substantial housing problems in the city (SPCW 2006, Carter et al. 2006).
3.4 Barriers to Housing Access
Studies reveal that due to their more disadvantaged circumstances, refugees often face
greater difficulties than other immigrant classes. Visible minority refugees face several
barriers in accessing housing and often experience racial discrimination (CMHC 2002). A
recent CMHC study (Murdie et al. 2006) provides some examples of the housing experiences
of minority groups in Canadian cities:
… in Calgary Danso and Grant (2000) found that most Black Africans
interviewed in the late 1990s were in core housing need, living in inadequate,
unsuitable and unaffordable housing. A little over a third of the respondents
were living in houses with structural problems, the average room occupancy
was more than three times the Calgary average and more than half spent
over 30 percent of their income on housing. Three main factors accounted for
the housing circumstances of Black Africans in Calgary: low income,
language problems and discrimination based on race. Of these, the authors
argue that racial discrimination was the most formidable. In Vancouver in
1995-6, Miraftab (2000) found four major barriers for Kurdish and Somali
refugees in obtaining acceptable housing: high rent, large household size,
language and discrimination due to racial or cultural prejudice. About two-
thirds of the respondents lived in basement apartments. Although affordable,
these are illegal and the tenants do not have legal rights. Miraftab also
argues that refugees are different from immigrants in that migration is not
necessarily a choice and therefore they likely suffer from the psychological
dimension of displacement and relocation. They also tend to be more
disadvantaged than immigrants and therefore face more barriers in the
Murdie et al. 2006, pp.15-16.
Rose and Ray (2001) provide an account of the most frequent obstacles to finding suitable
housing for refugees in Montréal. Once again, high housing cost was the major problem.
Other barriers to securing housing included: lack of knowledge of the housing market;
inadequate transportation for the housing search; lack of familiarity with the city; and
discrimination by landlords. As a result of the obstacles faced by refugees, their access to
housing is significantly compromised.
Characteristics such as level of income, source of income, family size, immigration status,
ethnic origin, language, and religion can also become factors that play a role in finding
housing in the local market. The Profile of Absolute and Relative Homelessness Among
Immigrants, Refugees, and Refugee Claimants in the Greater Vancouver Regional District
(Chan et al. 2005) provides a list of barriers to accessing housing that newcomers had
experienced (Table 3.6). Almost half reported having experienced some difficulty in
obtaining housing. Immigrants and refugees/claimants both found that language and size of
family were their greatest obstacles in finding housing, while religion and disability were the
least frequently cited barriers. For instance, larger families are often denied accommodation
based on the number of family members. In addition, the socio-economic class of most
newcomers automatically drops when they enter Canada. This is particularly true for the
refugees, whose economic resources would have been either destroyed or left behind in their
flight to safety (Geronimo et al. 2001).
Table 3.5: Barriers To Accessing Housing (in descending order)
Immigrants Refugees/Claimants All responses
Language Language Language
Size of family Size of family Size of family
Age of Children Ethnicity Age of Children
Ethnicity Age of Children Ethnicity
Gender Gender Age
Age Age Gender
Religion Religion Religion
Disability Disability Disability
Source: Adapted from Chan et al. 2005, p.113
Despite the similarities, there was some distinction between the groups. Refugees/claimants
were twice as likely to cite language as a barrier to accessing housing as the total respondent
group. They mentioned age of children and family size less frequently, while ethnicity was
perceived as a significant barrier to accessing housing. Other barriers mentioned were:
financial situation, high rent, lack of information, insufficient welfare allowances and
unstable financial situations, and low rental assistance. The findings also illustrate that
immigrants and refugees select housing by price, while housing suitability takes second
3.5 The Relationship Between Newcomer Tenants and Their Landlords
Studies indicate that newcomers’ relationships with caretakers and landlords vary. While
some newcomers have developed close relationships with those in charge of property
management, others feel taken advantage of based on their vulnerable situation. Landlords
are more likely to take advantage of immigrant and refugee women (Novac 1996). As a
result, these women are either forced to make frequent moves or they have to tolerate poor
maintenance and service by the landlord.
A common complaint is that often refugees sign housing agreements they could not read or
understand, only to find out later they had signed a one-year lease, tying them to housing
they are not happy with. Most newcomers do not know about tenants’ and landlords’ rights
and responsibilities, or where to learn that information. As a vulnerable, marginalized
population this puts them at even greater risk of exploitation.
Focus group participants of the study Immigrants and Refugees in BC stated that it is not
uncommon for complaints to landlords regarding such concerns as drafts, leaks, mould, pests,
broken appliances and insufficient heat during winter, to be ignored (Mattu 2002). Some
participants indicated that their security deposits were not returned to them. Others said they
were forced to pay higher-than-normal six-month deposits (and were unable to access this
additional portion of the deposits before six months). These regulations seem to be
implemented by landlords who require some assurance of security from immigrants and
refugees who cannot provide proof of credibility based on financial credit, employment,
income tax returns or references from previous landlords.
The attitudes of landlords towards immigrants and refugees frequently show prejudice and
use of stereotypes no matter what the landlord’s own ethno-cultural background (Mattu
2002). For instance, some landlords rent housing only to applicants of their own religion and
3.6 Summary: The Role of Housing in Settlement Experiences of Refugees
Refugees arrive in Canada with different resources and different characteristics including
their individual sets of skills, experiences, and backgrounds – their personal resources – such
as education, employment skills, and language ability; social networks (friends or relatives in
Canada); and financial capital that they have brought with them. They come from difficult
situations of war and persecution, some from cities, some from rural areas. Newcomers
entering Canada under different circumstances with different resources are likely to face
different challenges accessing affordable and suitable housing.
Housing is the essential first step in the resettlement process and refugees often live in a
precarious housing situation. This has a negative effect on access to employment, education,
medical and community services. Affordability problems are most common but refugee
housing is often neither adequate in size or condition. Refugees are at greater risk than other
immigrants of experiencing “hidden homelessness,” that is of living with friends, in insecure
housing, in overcrowded conditions or in housing in very poor condition. Visible minority
refugees are more likely than other newcomers to live in substandard housing, experience
residential segregation, racial discrimination, and face systemic barriers.
4.0 Refugee Housing Focus Group Discussions
4.1 “The River of Life”
In December 2005, two focus group discussions were held with refugees who had all arrived
in Winnipeg during the previous five years. There were thirteen participants in total
representing refugee claimants, privately sponsored and government sponsored individuals
and families. Seven of the participants arrived in Winnipeg as individuals, the other six came
as part of family units, although in the case of three of the participants, only part of the
family unit arrived initially, with the others following later.
During the focus group, participants were asked to view their experiences after they arrived
as “a river of life”, and a lake, into which the river flows, as their actual or imagined
destination – the circumstances in life they had hoped to achieve when they came to
Winnipeg. The barriers, challenges and difficulties they faced along the way were to be
represented as rapids they had to navigate on their way to the lake. Bends in the river
represented unexpected twists and turns in their life circumstances, and they were to identify
the people, friends, family and/or services at different points on the riverbank that gave them
support and encouragement along the way. In areas of the river that were less turbulent, the
participants were asked to identify the indicators of hope, confidence and encouragement
evident at this stage. This scenario represented the transition process the participants
experienced during their settlement in Canadian society.
Below is a compilation of the points raised during discussion around the barriers and
challenges the participants faced and the supports they received along their journey down the
river, in other words, those events, services, people and circumstances that hindered and
those that helped in their settlement process. The discussion below also documents what
participants said indicated success in their settlement and transition process.
4.2 Barriers and Challenges: The Rapids In The River
Lack of Adequate, Affordable, Suitable Housing: Housing that was in poor condition, had
insufficient bedrooms/space for the size and composition of the household, and costs that
consumed an unreasonable amount of the household’s income constituted an enormous rapid
in the “river of life” for some participants. Unaffordable housing was a drain on family
resources, which limited their expenditures on other basic necessities like education, health
care, clothing, and food. Participants indicated that they were always on the lookout for
better, more affordable housing with the intention of moving when they found it. This
“precariousness” of the housing situation limited newcomers’ access to other services, failed
to promote stable family life, and contributed to a negative feeling about their new
surroundings. One person indicated that she had expected to have a room of her own, but this
was not possible in the small apartment her family could afford. This left her with little
privacy and no suitable place to study. It was also mentioned that there are few furnished
places to rent and when you first arrive you have very little money to spend on furniture.
Unless you get help from family, friends or a settlement agency, starting a new life in
Winnipeg could be very difficult.
The Search for Housing: Another major barrier identified by the focus group participants
was the lack of services available to help people find housing. Some spoke positively about
the help received from housing counsellors at settlement agencies. Others mentioned the lack
of services to help them with their housing search which left them vulnerable to unscrupulous
landlords, lease arrangements they did not understand, and searching for accommodation in
areas of the city with which they were unfamiliar. Many wanted to live near family, friends
or their ethnic community but could not find accommodation they could afford in those
areas. Some found that landlords required a housing reference before they would rent a unit,
but as they were new arrivals they did not have these references.
Long Term Reliance on Transition Housing: After unsuccessful searches for suitable
housing, some participants ended up in transitional housing like IRCOM (Immigrant and
Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba). Although they expressed appreciation of
the availability of such housing, reliance on this transition type of housing for periods of up
to three years prevented them from developing a sense of permanency and moving ahead
with family, personal and career objectives. One person mentioned that Manitoba Housing
refused his application to public housing because he was a new arrival, there were too few
units, and as a single individual he was not considered a priority.
Negative Experiences in the Inner City: Some participants felt uncomfortable living in
Winnipeg’s inner city where they had regularly observed illegal activities such as
prostitution, vehicle thefts and drug dealing. They feared for their own and their children’s
safety. This negative living environment was detrimental to their settlement process, leading
to higher mobility, often higher housing costs associated with moving to “safer”
neighbourhoods, and reluctance to engage in community activities which in turn contributed
to a feeling of isolation. Moving to safer neighbourhoods also meant they were moving
further from the services they needed.
Lack of Information: Concern was expressed that there was a general lack of information
about schools, health care services, housing options, shopping, and community services.
Some participants mentioned that they ended up wandering the streets in search of available
housing and other services. Many government agencies they approached were of little help.
Dealing with Too many Agencies: Some of the focus group participants said that not only
was information lacking, but advice from agencies was often out-of-date, conflicting or
inconsistent. They also mentioned that there were too many agencies to deal with which took
extra time and caused difficulties when they had to find their way from one to another. The
suggestion was made by a number of people that a “one-stop” service centre for newcomers
would be a better approach to providing settlement support and assistance.
Discouraging Advice: Another major hurdle identified was that the advice they often
received from different agencies discouraged them from taking action towards improving
their life situation – actions such as applying for training or education, pursuing more
rewarding or better paying employment, searching for better housing, or sponsoring family
Language Difficulties: Many participants identified a major barrier to settlement to be their
lack of English proficiency when they first arrived. Even at the time of the focus group, this
continued to be a limitation for some, particularly when trying to access services or higher
education, or when trying to obtain good jobs.
Unable to Find Employment: Perhaps the biggest barrier to settlement mentioned by focus
group participants was their inability to gain employment. Reasons given for this included
(among others): lack of recognition of their credentials; lack of Canadian work experience;
poor English language skills; a strong accent; lack of required skills; refugee claimant status;
absence of local employment references; being over-qualified; not having a resume;
qualifying only for minimum wage work which meant it was economically better to stay on
assistance; and discrimination in the hiring process.
Lack of Support for Education: Participants indicated that in order to overcome barriers to
employment, they needed educational upgrading or retraining; however, virtually no
financial support is available for this. If you are low-income, as most recently arrived
refugees are, you do not have the money to upgrade your skills and there is no support to do
so, you can become trapped in low paying jobs or dependent on social assistance. If there
was financial support for educational improvement, however, newcomers could get off
public assistance sooner and have a less turbulent period of settlement.
Stuck in Low-Paying Dead-End Jobs: Participants agreed that without proper credentials or
adequate levels of education (or recognition of those they had), they had to resort to working
for minimum wage in dead end jobs, and often working two such jobs just to cover their
expenses. This left them no time or resources to put towards upgrading their skills and level
of education, or search for better employment, which meant that it was very hard to improve
their circumstances. The demanding work schedule of two jobs would leave them tired and
with time for little else, which could in turn create stress in their personal and family lives.
The Government Transportation Loan: Another major hurdle identified was the financial
burden of having to begin re-paying the transportation loan soon after arrival. This is the time
for newcomers when money is needed to “start over from scratch” and set up a new
household, and it is also the time when income is likely the lowest. At a time when income is
already stretched by costs of basic necessities, repaying the transportation loan can contribute
greatly to stress levels and deprive newcomers of their basic needs.
Reliance on Public Transportation: Focus group participants also found that their
dependence upon public transportation was a barrier to settlement because it takes a long
time to get anywhere, many job locations and services are not easy to access by public
transit, and reduced service on the weekends and evenings makes it more difficult to visit
family and friends and shop in stores other than local convenience stores (which tend to be
more expensive). Not having a car and not being able to drive was seen to be a real barrier in
Winnipeg, particularly in the winter.
The Cold Winter: A few participants viewed Winnipeg’s cold winter to be a barrier to
settlement. They mentioned the difficulty adjusting to the cold, the reluctance to venture
outdoors for work, school or social outings, and also the associated expenses such as extra
clothes, heating costs, etc. for those on limited incomes.
Discrimination: Some participants had experienced outright discrimination in the job
market, by landlords, in the school system, in their efforts to find good educational
environments for their children, and even in their dealings with government service agencies.
Cultural Differences: Cultural and life style differences were initially a barrier for some of
the participants. They found it difficult to adjust to unfamiliar food, new ways of interacting
with others, different types of housing, different systems of government and community
services and supports, unfamiliar cultural taboos and traditions, and a host of other cultural
differences. This contributed to their frustration, confusion and sometimes depression.
Withdrawal stemming from a feeling of hopelessness can make it even more difficult to get
on with life and reach the objectives and life circumstances one would like to achieve.
Depression: Some participants indicated that they had become very depressed when they
first arrived in Winnipeg. Parents worried about their children’s future and the negative
influences they encountered in the inner city. Most had constant concerns about their lack of
money. Not understanding the language or the culture made them feel they didn’t belong.
Depression often left them “paralyzed” and unable to move forward. It also had a negative
effect on their physical health, family relationships, how they viewed their new country, their
level of engagement with society around them, and their ability to make new friends.
Lack of a Support Group: Focus group participants who had arrived alone and had no
family or friends in Winnipeg initially lacked any support group. This “aloneness” was
identified as a significant barrier in their resettlement process because other supports, such as
government agencies, were not always available, were not very helpful and often provided
conflicting information. Participants indicated that when they started to make friends who
could answer their questions, direct them to opportunities, and provide other such supports, it
became much easier to fit into their new community and society. The difficulty for some
newcomers, however, can be in finding honest, knowledgeable and helpful friends, as
opposed to people who take advantage.
No Time or Energy for a Social Life: When working two jobs, trying to improve one’s
education, facing a constant shortage of money, struggling to understand the language and
culture, and being constantly tired and depressed, one has little time or energy left for a social
life. The participants identified this as one of their biggest barriers to settlement. It takes time
and effort to meet people and build friendships. Without that, one can feel more isolated and
lonely, and have no outlet for sharing problems and successes.
Worrying About Those Left Behind: Common to most of the participants was the experience
of constant worry about friends and family left behind, as well as the need to save and send
money home to support them. For many, this was a barrier to improving their own life
“Life Here is not as We Were Led to Believe”: A general disappointment expressed by
many participants was that they had been led to believe that life in Canada would be much
easier than they actually experienced once they arrived. “The place is not like we were told it
would be”. They had been led to expect a much easier time, better and cheaper housing, quiet
peaceful neighbourhoods, more government assistance, easier access to employment, good
jobs and a more welcoming community. To arrive and find that life was much more difficult
than expected added to their level of frustration and disappointment, thereby inhibiting their
resettlement process. Several mentioned they were so depressed during the first few months
that they would have returned to their country of origin if they could have, despite any threats
to their lives or other difficulties for them there. Others said that being able to reassess the
situation and establish more realistic goals and expectations helped speed their settlement
Many barriers were identified as being inter-connected, and overcoming one could put them
on a trajectory of improved circumstances in other areas. For example, strengthened English
language skills could open up opportunities for more meaningful and better paying
employment, access to higher education, building stronger social networks, accessing
services, etc. On the other hand, being unable to successfully navigate one rapid could stall
progress down the river in other areas of the settlement experience.
4.3 The Good Things That Happened: The Quiet, Peaceful Paddle Along The River
The Support of Family and Friends: Almost without exception the participants indicated
their greatest source of support and help along the way came from family and friends.
Family/friends became: accommodation hunters, life-skills coaches, employment leads,
sources of encouragement, providers of necessities when times were tough, language
interpreters, culture and lifestyle advisors, personal counsellors, tour guides, someone to turn
to in an emergency, and invaluable sources of information on everything from services to
fashion to shopping…plus more. Having family members here before they arrived helped
many through the rapids of the river. Several participants also mentioned friends they made
after they arrived, who were sometimes established immigrants from their home country (but
were just as often Canadian-born) as being instrumental in their navigation of the rapids and
journey to success. The support of family and friends was considered to have been more
instrumental than support of service agencies (government and/or community) in their
journeys down the river.
The Friendship Partner Match: This program, organized by the International Centre,
matched each newcomer with a long time Winnipeg resident who acted as a friend,
information resource, social support, cultural advisor, etc. Participants spoke very highly of
the program and the tremendous social support that it provided. Their Friendship Partner
helped in many ways and provided support and guidance through rough times.
Religious Communities: For many participants, religious establishments, such as churches,
were pivotal support organizations and a place where they met friends and received help with
everything from housing to purchasing clothes. For some it became “their family”, or their
main source of spiritual and emotional support and guidance.
Teachers: A couple of participants mentioned the important role played by teachers, either
for themselves or their children. In some situations, teachers were a main facilitator of the
newcomer’s settlement by providing help not only with education, but also with finding a
job, accessing services, writing resumes and a host of other activities. Overall, educational
institutions and the teachers in them received high praise from participants as being
significant facilitators of their settlement.
Settlement Counsellors: Although some participants were critical of the lack of assistance
they received from their settlement counsellors, others had praise and positive comments
about the significant role they played in helping them find apartments, arranging for English
classes, providing references and information on jobs, and directing them to other services.
Some suggested the advice they received from their counsellor was instrumental in their
ability to resettle in a new country and culture.
English as a Second Language (ESL) Program: Being able to take ESL classes was
identified by some participants as instrumental in their ability to get a better job, learn about
the city and culture, meet new friends, and improve their life circumstances.
Support From Family Back Home: A couple of participants mentioned constant support
from family in their home country as a facilitator of their adjustment to life in Winnipeg. In
particular, encouragement to “stick it out” was of great help, particularly when they were
feeling frustrated or depressed.
Housing that was Clean, Quiet and Affordable: Several participants mentioned that having
a good housing situation was an incredible help in their settlement process, particularly if
they had already had bad experiences with landlords, poor quality housing and inner city
locations. A place that was clean, quiet, affordable, and roomy became a refuge, a place they
could call “home” where they felt safe, relaxed and comfortable and could get rest and gain
strength to take on the next day’s challenges in achieving other objectives.
Their Ethnic Community: Support from participants’ respective ethnic communities was
noted as valuable in adjusting to their new life in Canada. The advice that people from their
home country provided, as well as the material, monetary, and emotional support were
crucial aspects of the “journey down the river.” People from their own ethnic community
were particularly able to assist because they had already navigated the difficulties in the
settlement process and also understood the specific cultural nature of the difficulties and
could explain things in culturally relevant ways to the newcomers.
Transition Housing: Having a place to stay immediately upon arrival was considered to be a
benefit and strong support. A safe place on arrival was viewed as key to the successful
introduction to a new country and new life. It provided the stability they needed to get their
life in order. However, some felt relying too long on transition housing became a barrier to
Private Sponsors: Some participants who had been privately sponsored spoke positively
about the help they received from their sponsors and the positive role they played in their
settlement process. This positive role was based on the monetary, material and emotional
support the sponsors provided and the opportunity this support gave them to take the time to
improve their English, get a good job and eventually find a place of their own.
Living Downtown: Some of the participants saw downtown living as a strong facilitator of
their settlement. They felt it was a great place to live upon first arriving because housing was
affordable, the services they needed to access are clustered in the downtown, and the area
offers a range of jobs. Living downtown made life much easier in particular for those who
did not have a vehicle. Some identified personal safety as a concern, but said that “if you are
careful and smart” you can avoid unsafe situations.
Getting Out of the Inner City: For other participants, moving out of the inner city was a
major turning point in their settlement process. The improved neighbourhood circumstances
in non-inner city areas provided the incentive and opportunity for them and their children to
achieve other objectives.
Buying a Car: Many of the participants felt that having a car in Winnipeg is beneficial for
accessing employment, services, and shopping at larger grocery stores. It was stated that
although owning a car is expensive with the state of Winnipeg’s public transportation
services, having a vehicle opens up a whole new range of opportunities.
A Student Loan: Access to student loans provided two participants with the support they
needed to improve their education, which then became the gateway to better employment, a
higher income and improved housing. For them, the student loan smoothed the waters in their
journey along the river.
A Welcoming Canadian Society: Several participants spoke positively about the general
helpfulness, understanding and warmth of Canadians and how it made them feel welcome
and accepted. As one person put it; “there are good people and there are bad people but in
Winnipeg most people are good”. This was seen to contribute to a sense of belonging and
helped dissipate feelings of loneliness and isolation that can be significant rapids in the river
4.4 Achieving One’s Ultimate Objectives: Reaching The Lake
Reaching the lake meant different things to different people. The journey along the river and
through the rapids to reach the lake or their personal and career objectives was described in a
number of ways. The indicators of feeling that they were “settled” and had reached a calm
and stable place in their lives included the following:
1. Owning my own home;
2. Getting a permanent job in my chosen career;
3. Having my friends and family around me;
4. Being able to sponsor my friends and relatives from back home;
5. Making new life-long friends in Winnipeg;
6. Being in a position to help other refugees arriving in Winnipeg;
7. Owning a car;
8. Completing my education and getting a degree;
9. Having more time to spend with my family and friends;
10. Having enough money to live a decent life-style;
11. Paying off all my debts;
12. Having enough money to return to my country to visit friends and family;
13. Feeling that I am part of the community;
14. Building a better future for my children.
It seems that most newly arrived refugees in the focus groups have the same sort of overall
long-term objectives as other Canadians. For them, however, it is often a rougher river to
navigate in achieving these objectives.
The focus group discussions illustrated the barriers and challenges refugees faced and the
support they received. Difficulties that hindered the integration process included lack of
adequate, affordable and suitable housing, language problems, shortage of money and
difficulties with finding adequate jobs, lack of information and support, cultural differences
and discrimination. An account of people and circumstances that helped newcomers in the
transition process included support of family and friends, the church, private sponsors, their
ethnic community, and settlement counsellors; support from family back home; the ESL
program; housing that was clean, quiet and affordable; ability to access a student loan and a
welcoming Canadian society.
The focus group discussions documented what participants felt represents success in their
integration. Reaching their personal and career objectives were described in a number of
ways ranging from owning their own home to being in a position to help other refugees
arriving in Winnipeg. Although the objectives most new arrivals have are similar to those of
other Canadians, they have more difficulties in achieving these goals.
The material obtained in the focus groups provided a foundation on which to structure the
questions developed for the detailed individual questionnaire used in the interview stage of
the research study.
5.0 Housing Market Analysis
A place to live is a first step in settling in Canada. Ideally it provides a safe, comfortable
place for households to establish themselves so they can look for jobs, language training, and
access education and other services. Securing adequate, suitable and affordable housing is an
essential step in refugee integration, as housing plays a facilitation and stabilizing role.
The characteristics of refugee households are in many ways at odds with housing
characteristics that are designed to accommodate the Canadian-born households. This creates
difficult challenges for many newly arrived refugees. The following discussion highlights the
difficult market circumstances and inventory characteristics that refugee households face in
5.2 Apartment Vacancy Rates in Winnipeg
A low vacancy rate in the rental market can be a significant barrier for newcomers in their
search for suitable, affordable and adequate housing. The following discussion of vacancy
rates in Winnipeg only considers privately initiated structures with at least three rental units,
which have been on the market for at least three months. In Winnipeg, the vast majority of
these units are apartments, with a much smaller proportion of row-housing. Vacancy rates are
not available for public housing (also referred to as non-profit, non-market, or government
housing). There is also no data available for vacancy rates among Winnipeg’s “Secondary
Rental Market” which includes all rented single-detached houses, semi-detached houses,
freehold row/town homes, duplexes, secondary suites/accessory apartments (separate
dwelling units within another dwelling type, such as a house), rooming house units, or rented
In Winnipeg the vacancy rate in October 2006 was 1.3 percent but rose slightly to 1.5 percent
in October 2007. Since 2001, it has fluctuated in the 1.0 to 1.5 percent range. A vacancy rate
of three percent is considered necessary before renters have adequate choice in the rental
market. Major reasons why the Winnipeg rate has dropped and remained low include:
- The size of the 15 to 34 age cohort has increased to 29 percent of the population
and is skewed towards the younger end of this spectrum. Since this age group is
statistically more likely to rent than others, rental unit demand from this cohort is
expected to remain strong beyond the short term.
- Over 24,000 immigrants and refugees have arrived in Winnipeg between 2001
and 2006 (Statistics Canada 2006). Although not all have stayed in Winnipeg
these arrivals have put considerable pressure on the rental market. Statistics
Canada found that half of all immigrants to the prairies rent during their first
years after arrival. The proportion that rent in the first year or two after arrival is
- The move from rental to ownership is currently difficult in the Winnipeg market,
as the availability of resale housing remains low. The sales-to-listing ratio is high
and prices for ownership housing have been increasing. Access to ownership is
difficult for low-income households, including refugee households.
- On the supply side, very little new public stock has been developed since the
early 1990s, and the rental stock has been reduced due to condominium
conversions, demolition, units taken out of the rental stock for renovation, and
limited development of new private rental units.
5.2.1 Vacancy Rates by Housing Zone
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) divides the Winnipeg Census
Metropolitan Area (CMA) into twelve separate zones for collection and analysis of market
data. The twelve zones are divided into two areas. Zones 1 to 4 in the central part of
Winnipeg are named the “Core Area” and roughly correspond to Winnipeg’s inner city
boundaries.4 The second area is called “Suburban Areas” and includes zones 5 to 12, or all
the other non-Core Area zones surrounding the inner city.
Table 5.1: Winnipeg CMA Vacancy Rates by Rental Market Survey Zone
Vacancy Rates %
October 2006 Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Zone 2 - Centennial 2.4 1.2 1.1 0.0 1.4
Zone 3 - Midland 3.3 2.5 1.9 0.0 2.5
Core Area (Zones 1-4) 2.7 2.0 1.7 ** 2.0
Zone 7 - East Kildonan 0.7 0.7 1.2 0.4 0.9
Zone 10 - St. Vital 0.9 0.4 0.5 1.1 0.5
Suburban Areas (Zones 5-12) 1.1 0.9 0.8 0.4 0.9
Winnipeg CMA 2.2 1.4 1.1 0.7 1.3
October 2007 Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Zone 2 - Centennial 2.0 2.0 3.5 0.0 2.4
Zone 3 - Midland 1.0 1.6 0.6 ** 1.3
Core Area (Zones 1-4) 1.8 1.5 1.8 1.5 1.6
Zone 7 - East Kildonan 3.0 1.0 1.1 0.4 1.1
Zone 10 - St. Vital 0.0 0.8 1.4 2.6 1.1
Suburban Areas (Zones 5-12) 1.8 1.3 1.4 1.6 1.4
Winnipeg CMA 1.8 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.5
Source: CMHC 2006 & 2007 Rental Market Reports (Winnipeg)
**: Data suppressed to protect confidentiality or data is not statistically reliable
Throughout this report the two terms “Core Area” and “inner city” will be used interchangeably.
During the two years of this study, the vacancy rate in the Core Area dropped from two
percent in 2006 to 1.6 percent in 2007. Approximately forty percent of Winnipeg’s rental
housing units are located in the four Core Area zones, but in 2007 only 346 of the total
21,080 units in the Core area were vacant. These units tend to be older and of poorer quality
than those in the suburbs. The majority of the Core Area refugee households interviewed in
this study lived in zone 3 (Midland) and zone 2 (Centennial), where rates are similar to the
Core as a whole (Table 5.1).
Although Core Area zones’ vacancy rates dropped from October 2006 to 2007, suburban
vacancy rates increased slightly from 0.9 to 1.4 percent. However, the suburban zones where
the majority of the refugee households in this study lived - East Kildonan (zone 7) and St.
Vital (zone 10) - still have among the lowest vacancy rates in the city at 1.1 percent each.
These low vacancy rates, combined with the higher rental costs in suburban areas, makes it
difficult for refugees to leave the inner city for generally more desirable suburban living.
5.2.2 Vacancies by Zone and Bedroom Type
The larger average household size of refugee households means they generally need units
with two, three or more bedrooms. However, there are few large units in the Winnipeg
apartment rental market and vacancy rates for such units are generally lower. For example:
- Vacancy rates for two bedroom units are generally below two percent, sometimes
lower, regardless of the area of the city. Three bedroom vacancy rates are even
- Rental apartments with three or more bedrooms comprise only two percent of
rental units in Winnipeg. In 2006, the vacancy rate of 0.7 percent for this size of
units represented only eight vacancies out of 1106 such units, whereas 18 out of
1163 three bedroom units were vacant in 2007 (1.6 percent).
- Most two and nearly all three bedroom rental units are in the suburban areas
where rents are higher.
The larger units (three or more bedrooms) often needed by refugee households are the least
likely to be available because of low vacancy rates.
5.2.3 Vacancy Rates by Rent Range, Bedroom Type and Year of Construction
In 2006, the highest vacancy rates in Winnipeg were found in rental units under $500. These
are the least desired places in which to live (Table 5.2) because they are older, smaller units
in poorer condition found in the inner city. However, the inner city is where the majority of
the refugee households interviewed in this study were living. The vacancy rates in the units
under $500 fell in 2007, while vacancy rates increased in units that cost more than $500 per
Table 5.2: Winnipeg Vacancy Rates by Rent Range, 2006 and 2007
Rent Range Bachelor 1 Bedroom 2 Bedroom 3 Bedroom + Total
2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
< $400 2.3 2.4 3.1 2.2 ** 2.4 n/s n/s 2.8 2.3
$400 - $499 2.7 1.8 1.8 1.6 2.6 1.7 ** ** 2.1 1.7
$500 - $599 2.4 3.4 0.8 1.0 1.3 1.9 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.3
$600 - $699 0.4 1.5 1.3 2.0 0.6 0.8 0.0 ** 0.9 1.5
$700 - $799 n/s n/s 1.4 1.5 1.3 2.2 0.3 2.2 1.3 1.9
$800 + ** ** 3.7 6.1 1.4 1.6 1.3 1.5 1.6 1.9
All prices 2.2 1.8 1.4 1.4 1.1 1.5 0.7 1.6 1.3 1.5
Source: CMHC December 2005, 2006 and 2007 Rental Market Reports (Winnipeg)
Table 5.3a.: 2006 Vacancy Rates and Average Rents by Age of Housing Stock in Winnipeg
2006 Vacancy Rates (%) Average Rental Price ($)
Year of Constr. Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Pre 1940 4.3 3.7 1.8 ** 3.2 374 442 588 804 482
1940 - 1959 1.3 1.4 1.5 0.0 1.4 388 491 607 742 509
1960 - 1974 1.4 0.8 0.8 0.5 0.8 446 571 700 875 614
1975 - 1989 0.5 1.4 1 0.2 1.2 532 636 773 837 706
1990 + ** 1.9 2.6 ** 2.3 ** 731 905 ** 849
All ages 2.2 1.4 1.1 0.7 1.3 420 557 709 839 608
Source: CMHC December 2006 Rental Market Reports (Winnipeg)
Table 5.3b.: 2007 Vacancy Rates and Average Rents by Age of Housing Stock in Winnipeg
2007 Vacancy Rates (%) Average Rental Price ($)
Year of Constr. Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Pre 1940 2.6 1.8 2.0 2.7 2.0 387 453 597 812 496
1940 - 1959 1.5 1.3 1.3 ** 1.3 433 508 638 639 532
1960 - 1974 1.6 1.3 1.6 1.3 1.4 485 601 737 906 649
1975 - 1989 1.1 1.5 1.2 1.3 1.3 548 639 784 884 721
1990 + ** 1.8 1.0 ** 1.2 ** 753 940 ** 891
Total 1.8 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.5 451 578 740 874 638
Source: CMHC December 2007 Rental Market Report (Winnipeg)
Vacancy rates are generally highest in the oldest rental stock that was built prior to 1940, but
even these rates dropped significantly from 2006 to 2007 (Tables 5.3a and 5.3b). In 2006, the
very newest units (those built after 1990) exhibited the highest rental vacancy rates in the
two-bedroom category, but by 2007, this vacancy rate was below the average. There is
generally a strong association between the age and quality of units, with older units being in
poorer condition and in need of renovation. There is also a strong correlation between age of
rental stock and rental price. Rents in older units are lower, and rents become higher the
younger the stock is. Rents increased across all years of construction and bedroom types
from 2006 to 2007 except for the limited number of three-or more bedroom units built from
1940 to 1959.
Refugees, because of their limited incomes, cannot afford these units and have no choice but
to remain in the older, poorer quality stock, which may also be smaller and not suitable for
larger household sizes. Most of the older stock (built prior to 1960) is in the core area.
5.3 Average Rents by Zone and Bedroom Type
The allowable increase under rent control guidelines in Winnipeg was 2.5 percent in both
2006 and 2007. In both years, however, increases in rental rates exceeded the guidelines
(Table 5.4). This was due to general improvements made to renovated units rejoining the
market. When landlords have made general improvements and necessary repairs they are
allowed to pass these costs on to the tenants in the form of higher rents. Increases in
energy/operating costs had a significant effect as well, with the older, less energy efficient
units concentrated in the inner city being more susceptible to such increases.
Further reasons for rental increases that are above the allowable rent control amounts
include: the fact that new units are exempt from the rent control guidelines for twenty years
after joining the marketplace; and, the loss of older and cheaper units of poor quality because
they have been condemned. The result is that core area rents increased by 5.3 percent in
2007, compared to 3.7 percent in the suburbs. The average apartment rent in the entire
Winnipeg CMA increased by 4.4 percent in 2007.
With 2007 rents averaging $591 a month in the inner city and $668 a month in suburban
areas of Winnipeg, refugees, with their limited incomes have trouble accessing housing
without paying more than an acceptable portion of their household income, and/or sacrificing
quality or size (or both). Rents for three bedroom apartments that are required by larger
refugee households average $876 in the inner city and $874 in the suburbs. In order to pay
less than thirty percent of their income on shelter costs for such rents households must have
annual incomes of $35,000 or more. Only twelve percent of the refugee households
interviewed in Winnipeg had income this high.
Rental costs in Winnipeg are expected to continue to increase at the same time as the number
of newcomers continues to increase. The number of immigrants the Province hopes to attract
under the Provincial Nominee Program has been increased, and arrivals have been increasing
under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, the majority of whom are expected to
live in Winnipeg upon arrival. This will contribute to continued low vacancy rates and high
Table 5.4: Percentage Change of Average Rent in Winnipeg, 2006 and 2007
% Change in Average Rent from
2006 Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Zone 2 - Centennial 418 541 703 776 561 0.0 ** ** ** 1.4
Zone 3 - Midland 400 466 563 ** 472 5.9 4.1 0.0 ** 3.9
Core Area (Zones 1-4) 410 525 702 868 565 3.7 2.8 2.2 0.0 2.3
Zone 7 - East Kildonan 377 534 640 769 574 3.1 2.7 2.7 4.3 2.7
Zone 10 - St. Vital 479 594 709 830 644 2.9 3.8 4.0 2.6 3.6
Suburban Areas (Zones 5-12) 442 580 712 830 637 3.5 3.1 4.1 4.0 3.4
Winnipeg CMA 420 557 709 839 608 3.6 3.0 3.4 3.2 2.9
2007 Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total Bach. 1 Bdr. 2 Bdr. 3 Bdr. + Total
Zone 2 - Centennial 469 566 768 ** 601 9.0 5.2 4.6 ** 6.1
Zone 3 - Midland 426 467 582 632 488 4.6 3.3 3.6 ** 3.8
Core Area (Zones 1-4) 446 546 725 876 591 6.0 4.6 4.9 ** 5.3
Zone 7 - East Kildonan 420 550 682 811 602 4.3 3.8 5.6 6.0 4.5
Zone 10 - St. Vital 494 614 751 908 679 3.0 2.6 2.0 ** 2.4
Suburban Areas (Zones 5-12) 464 601 746 874 668 3.3 3.9 3.5 3.2 3.7
Winnipeg CMA 2007 451 578 740 874 638 4.6 4.2 4.0 5.3 4.4
Source: CMHC 2006 and 2007 Rental Market Reports (Winnipeg)
5.4 Rental Inventory Changes: Low Starts and Stock Losses
Winnipeg has had a low number of new housing starts in recent years, although total starts
have more than doubled since 2001 (Table 5.5). Very few of these starts, however, have been
rental units. Market activity has focused almost entirely on the ownership and condominium
markets. Recently the proportion of multiple units has been rising modestly but rental units
continue to trail ownership numbers by a wide margin. Winnipeg condominium starts have
also risen significantly since 2001. Some condominium units may be rented but they are
generally at the higher end of market rents and of little help for low-income refugee
households. New rental units, unless they are non-profit units, also command high rents.
Although increases in rental rates have been running below the increases in the consumer
price index, this is not expected to last as rents are rising.
Between 2003 and 2007, there have been 2,704 units intended for rental tenure started.
However, these new units do not compensate for the 1500 rental units lost during the same
time frame plus the additional units required each year to meet the demand of the net
immigration increase, which for 2007 alone would require an additional 1600 units. Changes
in legislation have provided some stimulus, as new rental units constructed today are exempt
from rent control guidelines for twenty years.
Table 5.5: Winnipeg Housing Starts and Completions
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
New Units by Type
Starts, total 1,473 1,821 2,430 2,489 2,586 2,777 3,371
Starts, single 1,238 1,528 1,641 1,882 1,756 1,737 1,870
Starts, multiple 235 293 789 607 830 1,040 1,504
Semi-detached 34 24 48 50 34 94 16
Row 32 9 36 32 104 51 93
Apartment 169 260 705 525 692 895 1,395
Starts by Intended Market
Homeownership 1,204 1,502 1,615 1,861 1,758 1,755 1,846
Rental 76 179 411 397 474 619 803
Condo 109 140 404 231 354 403 722
Other 84 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1,473 1,821 2,430 2,489 2,586 2,777 3,371
Completed Units by Type
Completions, total 1,542 1,585 1,949 2,468 2,475 2,618 2,590
Completions, single N/A N/A N/A 1,762 1,847 1,748 1,707
Completions, multiple N/A N/A N/A 706 628 870 883
Semi-detached N/A N/A N/A 56 22 92 40
Row N/A N/A N/A 21 61 73 101
Apartment N/A N/A N/A 629 545 705 742
Rental vacancy rate (%)* 1.4 1.2 1.3 1.1 1.7 1.3 1.5
In privately initiated apartment structures with at least 3 units
Source: CMHC Market Absorption Survey; Statistics Canada; CMHC Starts and Completions Survey
In addition to relatively low rental housing starts, Winnipeg is experiencing rental stock
losses due to demolition, and condominiumization. This has resulted in an overall decline in
Winnipeg’s rental stock from 57,279 in 1992, to 52,430 units in 2007. Older units continue to
be demolished or condemned (200 units in the city in 2007), as Winnipeg’s rental units
particularly in the core areas, continue to age beyond feasible use or repair. Many units are
also temporarily removed from the available rental stock for renovation. Renovation and
demolition of the stock are big issues for the Winnipeg market, as one quarter of rental units
are more than 45 years old and in need of major modernization and improvements.
Conversions of rental units to condominiums have also been a major contributor to rental
stock loss. Rental stock losses contribute to lower vacancies and higher rental rates
increasing the challenges facing refugee households.
5.5 Home Ownership Costs Increase
Table 5.6 lists housing demand factors for the ownership market between 2001 and 2007.
The average sales price for homes sold under the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) has
increased by 85 percent from 2001 – 2007. With the rising costs for home ownership, more
pressure is being placed on the rental sector as some potential buyers are being priced out of
purchasing homes, and instead remain in the rental sector.
Table 5.6: Winnipeg Housing Market Demand Factors Since 2001
Housing Demand Factors 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
MLS® sales (units) 10,215 9,881 10,201 10,797 11,415 11,594 12,319
MLS sales/new listings (%) 70.9 77.5 84.9 81.9 81.5 78.4 85.0
MLS® average price ($) 94,214 98,054 108,812 121,925 137,063 154,607 174,202
1.8 2.6 3.7 6.6 8.5 9.4
New Housing Price Index (% change) (forecast)
Consumer Price Index (% change) 2.9 1.5 1.8 1.9 2.6 1.9 2.1
Owned accommodation costs (% change) 1.3 -0.2 1.0 2.1 3.4 - -
Rental accommodation costs (% change) 1.7 2.5 2.0 1.6 1.6 - -
Winnipeg Net Inter-Provincial Migration -3,060 -2,513 -1,840 -1,781 -4,730 -5,641 -
Winnipeg Net Intra-Provincial Migration 553 513 21 -579 -698 -698 -
Winnipeg Net International Migration 2,017 2,617 2,561 4,229 4,332 5,199 6,494
Winnipeg Net Migration 60 1,245 1,627 2,536 -615 578 2,747
Source: CMHC; CREA (MLS®); Statistics Canada (CANSIM); Manitoba Bureau of Statistics
The ratio of sales to listings has also been very high in Winnipeg – over eighty percent since
2002 and this helps drive prices higher. Annual sales rose while active listings remained at
historically low levels for the past several quarters. This has limited the opportunities for
renters who might consider home ownership. The owned accommodation cost index
(carrying costs of ownership) also rose during 2004 and 2005 and has exceeded the increase
in the consumer price index. The new house price index (increase in the price of new homes)
has also been rising and in some years the increase in new house prices has been more than
triple the increase in the consumer price index. The cost pressures on the ownership market
place even greater pressure on the rental sector, particularly as the existing rental inventory is
5.6 Additional Demand Influences on Rental Housing Markets
Winnipeg has experienced a dramatic change in net migration over the past fifteen years.
Throughout the 1990s, Winnipeg found itself in a negative migration situation with
population losses peaking in the later years of the decade. This changed abruptly at the turn
of the millennium when net migration surpassed net zero levels reaching over twenty five
hundred people in 2004 (Table 5.6). Much of this change has been due to the Province of
Manitoba actively targeting international migrants, including a significant number of
refugees. These international migrants place additional strains on the rental housing market
due to their higher likelihood of renting instead of buying in their first five years. Because of
the lower incomes of some immigrants, particularly refugees, the pressure is often on the low
end of the market.
This review of market circumstances illustrates the difficult situation that refugees face when
trying to access adequate, affordable housing:
- Rental vacancies are low and choice is limited;
- Vacancies that do exist are in the older rental stock which is in poor condition, or
the newer stock which is in a price range well beyond what refugees can afford to
- There are very few vacant three-or-more bedroom units that many of the larger
refugee households require;
- Current rents exceed what most refugee households can afford to pay without
exceeding acceptable rent-to-income ratios, therefore many households end up
paying more than 30 percent of their income and some even pay more than 50
- Rents are rising because of a number of demand pressures, including rising levels
of immigration and the rising cost of homeownership, amongst other factors;
- The rental inventory available has been declining because of demolitions,
condominium conversions and few new rental units have been built in recent
years to add to the stock; and
- Funding for the development of public housing for low-income households has
not been available in any significant amount for several years so the inventory of
affordable stock has been shrinking relative to demand.
- The vacancy rate is expected to remain low by historical standards over the next
couple of years.
- Numbers of new migrants to the city under the provincial nominee program and
the refugee sponsorship programs are likely to remain high for the foreseeable
As a result of these combined factors, refugee households face increasingly difficult
circumstances when attempting to access adequate, suitable and affordable housing in
6.0 Household Characteristics: Year One Interviews
In year one of this study, seventy-five in-person interviews were conducted between March
and November of 2006. Important demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the
sample population are profiled in this section of the report. Where possible the characteristics
of the sample are compared with the entire refugee population in Manitoba or Canada.
Comparisons are also made with the Canada-born population, or the population as a whole in
these same jurisdictions. This helps highlight differences and similarities of the study
population that are important in explaining some of the housing circumstances they
experience. Also reviewed in this section are the newcomers’ social support networks and the
interviewees’ experience with formal settlement supports.
Although the researchers aimed to interview only newcomers who had been in Winnipeg less
than a year, only about two thirds of the sample actually met this criteria: 21 percent had
been in Winnipeg less than 6 months, 44 percent between 6 months and a year.
Approximately one third had been in Winnipeg slightly more than a year.
6.2 Status and Country of Origin
The majority of the respondents in this study – 48 out of 75 (64 percent) - came originally
from fourteen different African countries. Twelve respondents were from South and Central
America (sixteen percent), seven came from Asia (nine percent), four from Europe (five
percent), and four from the Middle East (five percent).
The proportions of the study population by source area roughly correspond to the proportions
by source area for all refugees who came to Manitoba in 2006. The Africa/Middle East
region represents the largest share of both the study population and the 2006 Manitoba
refugees (Table 6.1), and both are similar in proportion. Larger differences exist between the
study population and the 2006 Manitoba refugees in the source areas of Asia/Pacific,
South/Central America and Europe/UK, but combined they represent a much smaller portion
of each of the two populations being compared, and so are less significant than the
Africa/Middle East source region’s numbers.
Table 6.1: Refugees by Source Area
Source Area Canada, 2006 Manitoba, 2006 Study Population
Africa & Middle East 31.5% 73.7% 69.3%
Asia & Pacific 32.5 16.8% 9.3%
South & Central America 23.4 5.6% 16.0%
United States 3.8 0.4% -
Europe & UK 8.5 3.5% 5.3%
Source: Study Sample; Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Facts and Figures 2006.
In 2006, six of the top ten countries of last permanent residence and top ten countries of birth
for government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees coming to Manitoba were
Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, and Eritrea (Manitoba Labour and
Immigration March 2007). In this study, these same countries were the top six countries of
origin of respondents. Therefore, the study sample seems to be a fair representation of the
larger refugee population of Manitoba, by source area.
6.3 Household Structure
The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) classifications by household type are used in
this study and include 1) non-family households, 2) one-family households; and 3) extended
family households. Non-family households include individuals living alone and non-family
individuals sharing. One family households include couples with or without children, and
lone parents with children. Extended families can be multiple families (two families living
together who may or may not be related, or intergenerational families such as parents living
with their children who have families of their own) or expanded families (one family living
with other unrelated persons).
One third of the study group, or 25 households, were non-family households (Table 6.2).
This is slightly lower than the 38 percent of Canadian-born households in the city of
Winnipeg, but higher than the 29 percent of recent immigrant5 households in the city.
Thirteen of the non-family households (seventeen percent of the study population) were
individuals living alone. Three of these were female. For comparison, one third of Canadian-
born and one quarter of recent immigrant non-family households in Winnipeg are individuals
living alone. Twelve of the non-family study households (sixteen percent of the study
population) were non-family individuals who shared housing. Only two of these households
had women in them.
Two thirds (65 percent) of the study households were family households, a ratio that is only
slightly higher than the Canadian-born households in Winnipeg (62 percent) and somewhat
lower than that of the recent immigrant households (71 percent). Forty of the 49 study group
family households were one-family households. Twenty-three of these forty were couples
with children, and seven were couples without children. The ten lone-parent households, all
of which were female-headed, comprised thirteen percent of the total study households. For
Winnipeg about eighteen percent of households are female-headed lone-parents.
Recent immigrants – those arrived during the 1996-2001 period.
Table 6.2 Household Structure
Households of Recent Canadian-born
Household Type Study Households Immigrants only, 1996- Households,
2001, Winnipeg CMA Winnipeg CMA
# % % %
Non-family households 25 33.3% 29% 38%
Individual person 13 17.3% 24% 33%
Multiple persons 12 16.0% 5% 5%
Family Households 49 65.3% 71% 62%
Nuclear families 40 53.3% 66% 58%
Expanded families 6 8.0% 4% 4%
Multiple families 3 4.0% 1% 0%
(Missing information) 1 1.3%
Total 75 100% 100% 100%
Source: Study Sample; CIC 2005.
Six households (eight percent) were “expanded-families”. Expanded-family households
occur less frequently among the Canadian-born and recent immigrant households in
Winnipeg, comprising only four percent of each category.
The three multiple-family households in this study comprised four percent of the sample. The
proportion of multiple-family households for recent immigrants in Winnipeg is one percent
and zero percent for Canadian-born households. For recent immigrants, and in particular the
recently arrived refugees in this study, their distribution among the different household types
varies substantially from that of the Canadian born population.
One way in which the study population was similar to Canadian-born and recent immigrant
populations in Winnipeg was that most live in one-family households with only immediate
family members. However, compared to the Canadian born population, the study population
has more multiple or expanded families and households of non-family individuals. The same
is true of recent immigrants to the city.
In this study there was an average of 3.6 persons per household. This is much higher than the
average for Canadian-born households in Winnipeg of 2.4, and a bit higher than Winnipeg’s
recent immigrant household average of 3.1 (Table 6.3). Only a little more than half of the
study households had one to three members, compared to almost eighty percent of Canadian-
born households. The proportion of the study households with four or more members was
just over 45 percent, more than twice that of Canadian-born households. The proportion of
study households with six or more persons (twelve percent) was almost twice that of
Winnipeg’s recent immigrants (seven percent) and the share of equally large households
among Canadian-born households is only two percent.
Table 6.3: Household Size
Households of Recent Canadian-born
Number of Persons in
Study Households Immigrants only, 1996- Households,
2001, Winnipeg CMA Winnipeg CMA
# % % %
1-3 41 54.7% 61% 79%
4 or 5 25 33.3% 32% 19%
6 or more 9 12.0% 7% 2%
Estimated average size 3.6 - 3.1 2.4
Source: Study Sample; CIC 2005.
6.4 Age and Gender
The age distribution of the study population is markedly younger than Winnipeg’s population
on the whole (Table 6.4). More than a third of the study population was younger than 15
years old compared to eighteen percent of the Winnipeg population and seventeen percent
among very recent immigrants. The study population also had a larger proportion of persons
in the 15 to 44 age bracket and proportionally fewer seniors. The 15 to 44 year olds in the
study group comprised over 54 percent compared to 42 percent of the total population in
Winnipeg. Seniors comprised only one percent of the study population compared to fourteen
percent of Winnipeggers and 4.5 percent of recent immigrants.
Table 6.4: Age Distribution
Study population Recent immigrants 1996-2001,
Age Category Winnipeg CMA, 2006
(266 individuals) Winnipeg CMA
% % %
0 to 4 10.9 5.3 2.7
5 to 9 12.8 5.8 5.8
10 to 14 11.7 6.6 8.5
Under 15 Sub-total 35.4 17.8 17.0
15 to 24 22.2 14.1 18.0
25 to 44 32.0 27.7 45.0
45 to 64 9.4 26.6 15.5
65 + 1.1 13.8 4.5
Source: Study Sample; CIC 2005; Community Data Network, Custom Tabulation, Statistics Canada, Census
of Population, 2001.
The proportion of females in the study group is the same as for the Canadian-born population
and the recent immigrant population in Winnipeg at 49 percent.
6.5 Employment Characteristics
The employment characteristics of the sample population were complex, illustrating the
difficult circumstances faced by recently arrived refugees and their creative strategies for
overcoming employment challenges. Forty-three of the people interviewed or 57 percent of
the sample population were not working at the time of the interview. When asked why not,
they provided the following explanations (some gave multiple reasons):
- 20 were studying English (EAL).
- 7 were going to school (non-EAL).
- 2 had just found work, but had not yet started their jobs.
- 9 were looking for work, and were having difficulties mainly because of their lack
of Canadian experience and/or necessary language skills.
- 6 were not looking because their English was not good enough.
- 3 interviewees were thinking of moving to Alberta for work.
- 2 had to quit their jobs to care for family.
- 2 had health problems that prevented them from working at the time.
Only twenty of the 32 who were employed (62 percent) were happy with their jobs. For those
who were not happy, generally it was because the work was not in their field of expertise.
Four said they were unhappy because they simply did not enjoy the kind of work they were
A little less than half of the employed respondents were happy with the amount of income
they were earning. For the fourteen who were not happy, their main concern was that they
were not earning enough money per hour. For a few, it was because they were not able to get
enough hours of work. Nineteen of those employed did not have opportunities for more
responsibility or promotion.
Seven respondents were working at more than one job, mostly to try to make ends meet.
Some participants felt they had not been told the truth about the reality of life in Canada
before they came. One woman who had been living in exile in India expressed her
“When they bring people here, when you apply no one tells you what’s
going to happen when you get here. They always tell you ‘That’s the
When asked whether they were finding it easy or difficult to find a job, interviewees
commented that qualification recognition was a problem, as was their lack of Canadian job
experience or lack of English proficiency. Respondents provided some interesting comments:
“My wife is a gynaecologist, but doesn’t have any documentation. People
at the International Centre say she would need to take two years of
English, then 7 years of university before she could practice again, so she
has given up this idea.”
The following woman was fluent in English, yet she reported …
“It’s difficult to find work. I don’t have a Canadian accent or experience.
Potential employers ask, ‘How long have you been in Canada?’ You say
‘5 months’. They say ‘Wow! Talk to you later’, or ‘come back in a couple
Many respondents recognized they would need to upgrade their education. However, they
faced several barriers. One interviewee wanted to go to university but could not earn enough
money to pay for it: “You have to go to school fulltime and work fulltime and who can do
that?” Another participant who was privately sponsored questioned, “Why doesn’t the
government support those that are privately sponsored, too? If private sponsored newcomers
don’t speak English, they can’t get work right away. Especially hard for big families.”
6.6 Household Income
In this study 66 interviewees (88 percent of the sample) could provide adequate information
about their household income. Income in this study, like employment characteristics, is
complex and difficult to quantify. Interviewees were asked to report their entire household’s
income, but sometimes were not entirely sure of how much other household members earned.
In such cases they could provide only their best estimate or nothing at all, and thus there is
missing household income information for nine households. In several cases, income varied
considerably from one month to the next, especially for those working casual or “on-call”, so
again, the amount provided may not have been completely accurate. In general, however, the
interviewees provided very reliable income information, often accurate down to the penny.
6.6.1 Source of Income
Approximately 57 percent of the gross household income of all of the interviewees reporting
came from some form of government transfer payment. In comparison, among the Winnipeg
population as a whole, government transfer payments comprise just eleven percent of total
income (Statistics Canada 2006). In the study, 34 percent of income was from employment
compared to 76 percent of income of the Winnipeg population.
Forty-two of the study households (56 percent of the total sample and 64 percent of those
reporting income) had no employment income during the month of their interview. For the
28 households who were earning at least some of their income, on average eighty percent of
their total household income was from employment. For fourteen households, or half of all
households that were earning income, all of their income was from employment. Five
households received income from private sponsors. Other sources of income identified
included bus passes, student loans, L.E.E.P. program6, and honoraria for volunteer work.
This represented approximately nine percent of total income.
L.E.E.P. - Life Employability Enhancement Program for War Affected Youth offered at the Salvation Army
Multicultural Family Centre.
Fifty-two study households received at least some of their household income from the
government (including social assistance, Resettlement Assistance Program, housing
assistance, seniors benefits, child benefits, child supplement, employment insurance, or
- For 28 households, all of their income was from government transfer payments,
with an average of $1,675 a month.
- Of those 52 households that received at least some income through government
transfer payments, the average amount they received was $1,255. Three of these
households did not know their total income, but on average, 77 percent of their
income was from government sources.
- Thirty-two out of 52 received child benefits.
- One received seniors’ benefits.
Below are the proportions of different household types that reported being on government
assistance (either Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) payments or social assistance):
- Seventy-eight percent of the single-parent households.
- Seventy-one percent of the extended family households.
- Thirty-nine percent of single individuals living alone.
- Approximately fifty percent of all other households.
Several interviewees mentioned that they were eligible for social assistance but refused it and
did without, or found another way to gain income. Others, who received it, didn’t like to be
in that situation. A common sentiment expressed by interviewees was their desire to not be a
burden on society: “If people give me money, I cannot enjoy the money. If I earn it, I can enjoy.
Pain in my heart, feel guilty to be given money.”
6.6.2 Average and Median Incomes
The average monthly gross income for couples with or without children in this study was
$2,082; less than one third the income of $7,169 for couples in Winnipeg (Table 6.5).
Monthly income for one-parent study households with children was $1,668 compared to
$3,700 for one-parent households in Winnipeg overall. For all study households the average
monthly gross income was $1,735 compared to a much higher average income of $5,252 for
all households in the city.
The average annual household income in 2006 in Winnipeg was $63,025 per year. For the
study households, the average annual income was less than on-third of this at only $20,819
(Table 6.6). The median annual income of Winnipeg households was nearly two and a half
times higher than the study household median: $49,794 compared to $20,244 respectively. In
fact, there was not one study household that had an income as high as the city median.
Table 6.5 Average Monthly Gross Income by Household Type
Household Type Study Households Winnipeg Households
Individual living alone $1,009
Non-related individuals sharing $1,431
Related individuals sharing $1,639
Couple (with or without children) $2,082 $7,169
One parent with children $1,668 $3,700
Expanded or multiple family $1,993
All household types $1,735 $5,252
Source: Study sample; Statistics Canada 2006.
Only six percent of the study households had incomes of $40,000 a year or over compared to
60 percent of households in the city. Just over thirteen percent of the study households had
income below $10,000 compared to only 5.5 percent of the city’s households.
Table 6.6: Average and Median Annual Household Income
% of Study population
Annual Household Income % of Winnipeg households, 2006
Under $10,000 5.5 13.6
$10,000 - $19,999 10.8 33.3
$20,000 - $29,999 11.3 34.8
$30,000 - $39,999 12.1 12.1
$40,000 - $49,999 10.5 6.1
$50,000 - $59,999 9.1 -
$60,000 - $69,999 8.1 -
$70,000 - $79,999 6.8 -
$80,000 - $89,999 5.5 -
$90,000 - $99,999 4.5 -
$100,000 and over 15.9 -
Total 100 100
Average household income $63,025 $20,819
Median household income $49,794 $20,244
Source: Study Sample (Calculations were made based on the average monthly household income amount
collected in interviews); Statistics Canada 2006.
The proportion of study households in the lower income ranges of $10,000 to $19,999 and
$20,000-$29,999 was triple that of the city overall.
6.6.3 Poverty Levels
To measure income insufficiency in study households, the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) was
used. The LICO threshold is based on a review of expenditure patterns and is calculated
according to family size and city size. When the study households’ incomes are considered
using this indicator, a large proportion (92 percent) falls into the low-income category (Table
Table 6.7: Incidence of Low Income by Household Size
Household Number of Study hhlds’ Incidence of low income in study LICO, Winnipeg 2006
size survey average income population by household size,
1 13 $12,112 85 $21,202.00
2 13 $16,505 85 $26,396.00
3 10 $20,875 90 $32,450.00
4 12 $22,177 92 $39,399.00
5 12 $24,982 100 $44,686.00
6 - - - $50,397.00
7+ 6 $37,900 100 $56,110.00
Total 66 92
Source: Study Sample; Canadian Council on Social Development 2007.
Table 6.7 shows high poverty levels among study households of all sizes, with poverty
generally increasing with household size, ranging from 85 percent for one and two-person
households to 100 percent for five or more person households.
Table 6.8: Incidence of Low Income for Economic Families and Unattached Individuals
% of Winnipeg population (2005) % of Study Population
Economic Families 14.9 93.8 (n = 48)
Unattached individuals8 42.5 82.4 (n = 17)
All household 20.1 90.8 (n = 65)9
Source: Study Sample; Statistics Canada 2006.
Table 6.8 illustrates that almost 94 percent of the economic families and over 82 percent of
unattached individuals in this study were below the Low Income Cut-Off compared to 14.9
A group of two or more persons who live in the same dwelling and are related to each other by blood,
marriage, common-law or adoption. In our study, this includes categories “couple with or without children”,
“one parent with children”, “expanded family”, “multiple family” and “singles related”.
Unattached individuals category includes “individual living alone” and “non-family individuals sharing”.
The reason this table’s total is different than the previous table’s total is that one household’s status as an
economic family or unattached individuals was unknown.
percent of all economic families in Winnipeg and 42.5 percent of unattached individuals in
the city. For the study population, almost 91 percent of the households fall below LICO,
while for Winnipeg the proportion is twenty percent.
All of the indicators used here to compare the study households’ income levels to those of the
general population indicate that the incidence of low income is much more pronounced
among the study population. The average annual household income in this study was only 35
percent that of the Winnipeg average. A far higher proportion of the study households than
city households had very low-incomes of less than $10,000 a year. In fact, only nine percent
of the 66 study households that reported income did not fall below LICO. All of these
indicators show a large gap between the average income levels in the city and the much
lower income levels of study households.
6.7 Household Expenses
Some challenges arose with collecting information about household expenses from each
interviewee. The respondents were very forthcoming, and generally very accurate about their
regular expenses, but some simply knew only their own and shared expenses, but not the
expenses of the entire household. This was the case most often in households of individuals
sharing, or where the interviewee was relying to some degree on the support of other
household members who paid the bills. Despite these challenges, it was important to collect
this information, especially for the purposes of comparing household income to household
6.7.1 Shelter Expenses
Table 6.9: Average Rents by Unit Size
# of units Average rent/unit in Highest rent per Average rent/unit
in study Winnipeg 2006 unit study group study group
Room in House 2 $325 $280
Bachelor 10 $420 $440 $314
One bedroom 14 $557 $569 $436
Two bedroom 27 $709 $713 $482
Three+ bedrooms 19 $839 $1,250 $676
Average 7210 $608 $496
Source: Study Sample; CMHC 2006.
In the study, shelter costs accounted for a large proportion of the household incomes, leaving
little for other expenses. Shelter costs include the monthly rent (for tenants) or the mortgage
payment (for owners) plus the costs of utilities and municipal services. Rental costs of units
occupied by survey households include amounts covered by government/social assistance
(Table 6.9). Although refugees’ average rental expenses in this study are lower than the
average rental costs in the city of Winnipeg - $496 versus $608 respectively – they are still
One unit was owned and two did not pay money towards rent or mortgage.
high compared to refugees’ low incomes. The average shelter-to-income ratio (percentage of
household income spent on shelter costs) for the study group was 34 percent. For
comparison, the average shelter-to-income ratio for Winnipeg in 2006 was only 16.9 percent
(Statistics Canada, 2007).
The study participants commented about the high cost of shelter relative to their income:
“The amount of money given by the government for housing is too low, it’s
very difficult to find ANYTHING in that price range.”
“Most people have to join together and rent a place, but most of the
people don’t know someone and face the possibility of living on the street.
Most private housing is really expensive. Manitoba Housing cost is O.K.
but to get in takes a long time.”
6.7.2 Other Expenses
On average, after their housing costs were paid for, the study households had $1,244 of their
gross income left each month (Table 6.10). Half of the households had only about $1,050
remaining. Of this income remaining after covering shelter costs, the average household
spent 38 percent on food ($410 per month or approximately $115 per person per month).
Table 6.10: Household Income and Expenses
Per study Per person in household
household (Avg hhld size = 3.55)
Average Income $1,735
Average Shelter costs $530
Average Income remaining after Shelter costs $1,244 $350
Median income remaining after Shelter costs $1,048
Average food costs $410 $115
Average debt repayment (hhlds who paid debt repayment) $169
Average remittances (money sent home) $167
Average Household Costs for: Food, Debt, & Money Sent $587
Average $ remaining after housing, food, debt and $ sent home $671 $189
Source: Study Sample.
Note: Figures in the table cannot be totalled because the number of total responses varied depending on participant
knowledge of household expenses.
For those households with debt repayments (62 percent of the study group), they spent
approximately fourteen percent of the after-shelter-costs-income on these payments (average
$169 per household per month). Eighty-eight percent of these payments were for their
government immigration/transportation loan, repayments which began immediately after
their arrival. As one interviewee stated,” Before you even receive your first money, you have
to start paying the loan back.”
Thirty-two of the 75 respondents, or almost 45 percent of the study households, were sending
money to family or friends outside of Canada on a regular basis. On average they sent $167 a
month, ranging from $33 to $500 a month. For some interviewees, as one put it, sending
money home “… is absolutely the highest priority. We might not have enough to eat, but they
would have nothing to eat if we didn’t send money.” One family even reported going hungry
in order to cover medical costs for their mother back home: “Once we had to send all our money
home because our mom was sick, so our ESL teacher called to see why we weren’t in school. Then
ESL paid for our bus passes and took us to the foodbank because we had no food to eat.” Several
respondents indicated that they were the only source of financial support their friends and
relatives overseas had.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents expected their expenses to increase over the
subsequent year. Sponsoring friends and relatives would mean a substantial increase to their
expenses. At the time of the interviews, sixteen respondents (21 percent) had tried to sponsor
family members to come to Canada. Of the sixteen, two had already successfully sponsored
someone, and nine were in the process. Five respondents had made enquiries about
sponsoring and were told they could not sponsor until they had adequate income to support
them. Of those who had not sponsored or tried to sponsor anyone, 37 planned to do so in the
future. Ten had no plans to sponsor anyone, usually because they didn’t know where their
family was or even whether they were alive. The interviewees generally chose to sponsor
immediate family members (siblings, parents, spouses, children). About ten were planning to
sponsor more distantly related family and/or friends.
After paying shelter costs, food, debt repayments, and sending money back home, the
average study household had only $671 to meet all remaining expenses including income
taxes, transportation, education, clothing and personal items, savings, furniture and
household items, telephone, insurance, cable T.V., internet, entertainment, etc. Considering
that the average study household size is 3.55 persons, it is very little money to cover all of
these expenses. In fact, sixty percent of the respondents indicated they had difficulties
meeting all of their expenses every month, and seventy-one percent were not able to save any
money on a regular basis.
6.8 Coping with Tight Finances
Another indicator of income level is usage of food banks. With little income left after
expenses, a large proportion of the respondents turned to food banks as a coping mechanism.
Over 41 percent of study households had used a food bank at some point, and fifteen
interviewees - twenty percent of the study households - continued to rely on food banks
every month. This compares to 3.7 percent of Manitoba’s population that relies on food
banks (Canadian Association of Foodbanks 2007). A couple of interviewees indicated that
the reasons they were not using the foodbank at that time were not because they didn’t need
to, but rather because it was impossible to get an appointment that didn’t conflict with their
work schedule, or because all the foodbank locations were too far away.
When expenses outweigh income, people may turn to borrowing money to meet unexpected
costs or to get them through a tight financial time. When asked whether they were able to get
loans from banks or credit unions if they needed them, of the forty respondents who had
tried, only fifteen respondents received a loan. Twenty-five tried to get a loan and were told
they were turned down because they needed a credit history or a co-signer, they needed to
live in Canada longer, or they needed an employment history in Canada first.
Examining the economic situation of the interviewees provides insights into the difficulties
faced by refugees as they struggle with low-incomes compounded by the challenges of
meeting basic housing and living expenses, plus the extra costs of establishing a new
household, providing support to family and friends left behind, accessing education and
training, repaying the government transportation loan, and trying to still put food on the
table. These challenges left many in the research group with difficulties meeting their
expenses, unable to save money, unable to access loans, and often having to rely on food
banks. Many were also expecting their expenses to increase in the subsequent year.
6.9 Settlement Supports
The many challenges faced by refugee newcomers in the process of settlement are very
interrelated. This is especially true in terms of housing. Living in substandard, crowded,
unsafe housing can in turn impact newcomers’ abilities to access other opportunities and
adjust to other aspects of their new life. Settlement supports, either informal or formal, can
aid newcomers significantly in dealing with the many challenges they face.
6.9.1 Informal Social Supports
Friends and relatives constitute a significant part of informal social support networks. For
newcomers, these informal supports can act as resources providing information, referral,
advocacy, advice, and in some cases, even economic assistance. In terms of housing
challenges, they can provide information about how to search for housing, advice about
neighbourhoods, personal references for housing applications, or advocacy in negotiating and
understanding housing contracts or dealing with caretakers or landlords. In some cases,
friends or relatives might provide short-term shelter or financial support for damage deposits
or down payments.
At the time of the interviews, approximately half of the respondents had friends and/or
relatives living close-by in their neighbourhood. Other than those in their own household,
forty-five (sixty percent) of the respondents did not have any relatives in Winnipeg. Of the
thirty who had relatives in the city, the majority were immediate family members such as
siblings, children, or parents. In most cases their relatives in the city were supportive, often
providing emotional as well as financial support.
Seventy-six percent of the respondents did not have relatives anywhere else in Canada. Of
the eighteen that did, twelve had only one other relative, and in most cases they were less
closely related cousins, aunts, or uncles. Most respondents reported that these relatives were
emotionally, but not financially, supportive.
The support of relatives seemed important for many of the interviewees. Forty percent
consulted with and relied on their relatives before making important decisions; usually their
close relatives such as spouses, parents or siblings. One third of the respondents had seen
relatives (other than those in their household) within the previous week. One third had seen
other relatives within the previous year. A third of respondents had not seen any relatives for
more than a year generally because they had no relatives in the country. Eighty-seven percent
of the respondents were in regular contact with relatives outside of Canada.
Close, reliable friends are another important part of social support networks. Fifty-four
respondents, or 72 percent, indicated they had someone other than a family member or a
professional they could go to in an emergency or crisis situation, and three quarters of them
said they had between one and three such persons in their lives. The remainder had 4 or more
people they could go to.
When asked, “is there someone, other than a family member/professional, who you talk to
before making important decisions?” only 24 respondents, or 32 percent, answered ‘yes’.
Seventy-one percent of those had between one and three such people in their lives. A couple
interviewees indicated they talked to many friends before making important decisions.
Respondents who answered ‘no’ often explained that important decisions in their lives were a
family matter only, and that it was best to not discuss these issues with others.
Sixty-one percent of interviewees indicated they had someone other than a family member or
a professional to talk to when they were sad or upset, and of these, two-thirds said they had
between one and three such people in their lives. The remainder had four or more such
people. Some interviewees indicated that they did not feel comfortable sharing their
problems with others and preferred to cope on their own:
“I don’t trust friends. Don’t want to be talking about my problems to
people who don’t understand.”
“I don’t let any friends interfere in personal problems.”
When asked, twenty of the 75 respondents (26 percent) said they did not have anyone nearby
who made them feel loved or cared for. The other 55 said they did, half of whom had from
one to three such people in their lives. The remainder had four or more, with five people who
said they had ‘many’.
In conclusion, the information from the survey does not suggest that the sample group had a
vast social support network that they depended on extensively. This may be related to the
recentness of their arrival at the time of the interview. However, approximately half had
relatives in the city that they saw frequently and that they generally depended upon for
emotional - as opposed to financial - support. Over half who had relatives in the city did not
depend on them for advice when making major decisions. Approximately sixty percent had at
least one friend (several had more) they could turn to when they felt sad or upset. However,
about a quarter of the interviewees indicated they did not have anyone in the city that made
them feel loved or cared for. They seemed to be very much alone.
6.9.2 Formal Settlement Supports
Formal settlement supports include professional settlement counsellors, housing counsellors
and others working in settlement agencies and organizations that provide services for
newcomers. Settlement agencies welcome newly arrived refugees and claimants and assist
them with their settlement and integration process. Their role is to provide the necessary
information, referral, and support to help the newcomers achieve their goals. Although there
were no interview questions regarding the formal settlement supports received, several
respondents offered comments that settlement counsellors were too busy to help when
“The counsellor at [settlement agency] is SO busy, too busy. He’s a good
person. He tries to help when he can.”
“Counsellors are very busy and don’t have time to answer questions.
Newcomers have so many questions because everything is different.
Sometimes they need answers right away and counsellors can’t call back
for a couple of days.”
“When you reach here the counsellors help some. They need to hire more
counsellors. They are too busy. They didn’t even pick us up at the
airport. We had the baby and only $20 in pocket. [The baby] was hungry
and crying. No one was helping us. No one to pick us up at the airport.
No money. No food. You get scared, nervous and stressed.”
Others mentioned that they had found formal settlement supports provided through the
International Centre, Welcome Place and NEEDS Centre to be very helpful.
“Our settlement counsellor was calling us when we moved in to make
sure we were OK. And that our place was good.”
Some interviewees mentioned the specific supports they needed when they first arrived:
“When you come here and everything is new, they have to show people
how to integrate in this society, understand other people. Have to explain
the context to newcomers. Tell you how to react, who to ask for help.
Know the laws and appropriate behaviour.”
Respondents who mentioned the Entry Program as a source of support indicated it was a very
good program that helps familiarize newcomers with Canadian life, housing, as well as the
psychological process of adjustment:
“The Entry Program is very good. They talk about all laws, behaviours,
etc. This is very good work.”
Settlement supports also include assistance with housing and housing related issues,
which are discussed in other sections of this report.
The average study household came to Canada from the African continent as refugees. It is a
nuclear family with two children under fifteen, and the parents are in their thirties.
The average study household has no employment income, because both adults are studying
English or are in other schooling. Although they are looking for work, they have not been
successful at the time of the interview because their language skills are not adequate, and
employers require Canadian job experience, which they do not have. Employment that they
had a chance to obtain was not in their field of expertise and offered little income. It would
require working more than one job to try to make ends meet. Therefore, the family decided to
improve their English skills and find a way to obtain credential recognition in their fields of
As no one in the average household has employment income, they have to rely on
government transfer payments including Resettlement Assistance Program funds, and child
benefits. This four-person household has an average monthly gross income of approximately
$1,735 and falls into the annual income range of $20,000-$29,999, which puts the family
well into the low-income category.
The average household rents, and their rent is high compared to their income. They spend 34
percent of their gross income on shelter costs. The household has on average $1,250 to spend
each month after their housing costs are taken care of. This four-person household spends
about a third of this amount on food – approximately $410 per month.
This household has substantial debt repayments for their government immigration fees and
transportation loan for which they pay $169 each month. They have difficulties meeting all
of their expenses every month and are not able to save money on a regular basis. The
household has not used a food bank, although it may need to, but faces obstacles that make it
impossible to access. At one point the household needed money and tried to get a loan from a
bank or a credit union, but they were not able to get one. They were told that they needed to
have an employment history in Canada first.
The average household has some friends that live in their neighbourhood and in the city.
However, they do not have relatives in the city or anywhere else in Canada other than those
in the household. Generally their relatives are emotionally, but not financially, supportive.
When making important decisions or when support is needed, the household members rely
on their immediate family only. The household has some relatives outside of Canada with
whom they are in regular contact and would like to sponsor.
For the average family the first year in Canada was extremely stressful. Some of the formal
settlement support services were helpful. They found supports such as the Entry program to
be very helpful in familiarizing them with Canadian life, housing issues, as well as the
psychological process of adjustment. Settlement support agencies may or may not have been
helpful, depending on whether the settlement counsellors were too busy to help.
7.0 The Housing Experience of Refugees in Winnipeg: Year One
The housing circumstances of recently arrived refugees can facilitate or hinder their efforts to
successfully re-settle in a new place. A stable residential environment in a safe, welcoming
neighbourhood helps facilitate their efforts to achieve other objectives related to education,
employment, health care, language training and community services that assist the
integration process. The following discussion describes many of the housing circumstances
that affect the resettlement process: location, affordability, suitability, condition and safety. It
also examines neighbourhood satisfaction levels and relationships with landlords and
caretakers. Adjustment to a new home can be facilitated by a safe and welcoming
community, and fair treatment by landlords and caretakers can make the task of adjusting to a
new housing environment much easier.
7.1 Housing Type
At the time of the interviews seventy-two study households were renters and one was an
owner. Two respondents neither rented nor owned, but lived with their friends or family.
Eleven households were renting a house or a unit in a house. Two of these houses were single
detached and nine were semi-detached or townhouses. Of the eleven respondents that rented
a house or unit in a house:
- One person rented a room in a family home;
- One household had a 3-bedroom self-contained suite in a home;
- One household rented a 2-bedroom house;
- Five households each rented 3-bedroom houses;
- One household rented a 4-bedroom house; and,
- Two households each rented 5-bedroom houses.
Sixty-one study households (81percent) rented apartments. About two-thirds of these were in
low-rise buildings. Of those who rented apartments:
- Forty percent (24 households) were renting bachelor or one-bedroom apartments
(43 percent of all apartment renters).
- Twenty-six households (43 percent) rented two-bedroom units.
- Ten households, or sixteen percent of all apartment renters, rented three-bedroom
- One respondent lived in a rooming house (in this study he was considered to be an
7.2 Housing Mobility
Before coming to Winnipeg, seven of the 75 respondents had lived in other cities: four lived
in Toronto, and one each in Charlottetown, Lethbridge and Vancouver. Upon arriving in
Winnipeg some of the refugee households lived in temporary housing provided for new
arrivals. This includes accommodation in Welcome Place where refugees can stay for the
first few weeks while they become familiar with the city, seek the services they need and are
assisted in their search for more permanent housing.
At the time of the interview, ninety-three percent of study households had lived in more than
one place since arriving in Winnipeg. Almost a quarter of households had moved more than
once since arrival and a quarter had lived in three or more places. Not including the time
spent in initial temporary housing like Welcome Place, the average length of tenancy was
approximately twelve weeks per place. In 68 percent of the cases tenancy lasted eight weeks
or less. At the time of the interview, ten percent of the households had lived in their place a
year or more, and half had lived in their place for 6 months or less.
When asked about all of their reasons for moving (including single and multiple moves per
household), interviewees often gave more than one response. Over sixty percent had moved
because they were leaving a residence they lived in temporarily upon arrival, either at
Welcome Place, Hospitality House, or with a sponsor, family member, or friends. Beyond
this, the other reasons most frequently mentioned for moving were:
- the dwelling was unsuitable: either too noisy, expensive, small or in bad
- the dwelling was overcrowded;
- the household had been accepted into subsidized housing; and,
- the place where they were living felt unsafe.
Comments relating to their reasons for moving included:
“There were always drunk people around in the middle of the night, and
children chasing each other up and down the halls at 3 a.m. Two times my
wife was attacked when coming from shopping. There was noise from the
train brakes, and the building was old. Nothing was fixable.”
“We had applied to Winnipeg housing where payment is according to
income. We still had the year lease on the other place, but moved because
it’s half the cost here.”
“The neighbours were doing drugs and having loud parties. Police
coming and knocking on the door. When I see police, I am terrified: in my
country they terrorize you, they never help you. Needed a quiet place, not
where fear controlled me. The place was not well maintained. They
wouldn’t come and fix the window. I was sharing toilet with 4 people, not
“I moved from the last place because it was cold, bad smelling, can’t
control heat, cracks in all the walls, paint peeling off, mould in bathroom
and on walls. I had reported all the problems, but no change, so moved
out, but had a year lease, but never got damage deposit back.”
Based on experiences like these it is not surprising that more than half of the interviewees
answered ‘no’ when asked whether they expected to live for a long time in their residence at
the time of the interview.
Seven households said they were unhappy with their place at the time, yet were not even
trying to find another place to live. Why not? Respondents found themselves ‘stuck’ in
unsuitable housing for various reasons:
- three interviewees said they knew they could not find another place in their price
- three were waiting for public housing to become available;
- two were tied to a year lease;
- one had no time to look for another place; and
- another one was planning to move away from the city.
7.3 Experience with Finding Housing
Forty-nine out of 75 interviewed households were happy with their current place, while four
were of mixed opinion. These 53 households were asked: “What would you do if you became
unhappy with the place that you are living in?” Thirty-two responded that they would look
for a different place to live. Ten said they would try talking to the landlord first. Five said
they would just have to put up with it. One said they would talk to Welcome Place, and
another one would buy a house. If they needed to find a new place to live, 23 respondents
said they would not have time to look for it and fifteen respondents said they would not have
the energy. Some of the comments provided include:
“Don’t know anymore. Always moving city-to-city, country-to-country.
Just too tired of moving. I have been offered a place and job in Toronto
but can’t do it because we are just TOO tired of moving.”
“Just don’t know much about the system, if there are agencies to help.
Don’t know how the experience would be, so I don’t know if I’d have the
Of those households who were looking for another place to live, eleven had applied for
public housing. The others were looking through rental listings, walking around looking for
signs, and had friends looking on their behalf. Five people mentioned how long they had
been looking – two had been looking for a month, one for two months, one for six months,
and one for nine months.
When interviewees were asked whether they knew of any services that would help them find
a place, 58 (78 percent) could not identify any service that would provide assistance. In the
past, some respondents received help from Welcome Place, private sponsors, or friends and
relatives in finding a place to live.
“A volunteer at Welcome Place [helped]. She visited us at our place and
immediately made it her mission to find us a better place. She had a friend
who lived in this building, and found out how to get us into it.”
“My uncle found the place and signed the lease before we arrived. Then
friends suggested we apply to Winnipeg Housing.”
The role of settlement agencies regarding housing for refugees includes: providing initial
temporary housing upon arrival; assisting newcomers with finding and establishing
themselves in affordable housing; providing information regarding their rights and
responsibilities; and offering linguistic and cultural interpretation and advocacy.
Housing counsellors at these settlement agencies, however, have the difficult task of finding
suitable housing that is affordable within refugees’ low incomes. One young man related his
experience: “The only places [the settlement agency] could find in my budget were too far
away or the carpet not clean, smelly. One place was $340 plus Hydro, but that was too
expensive.” So he ended up in a rooming house because it was the only place he could
afford to live in alone.
The housing counsellors face significant challenges due to low vacancy rates, few units in an
affordable range, and few units large enough to accommodate what are often large refugee
households. In addition, the housing counsellors often have large caseloads and a very short
time frame to work within. For the interviewees, sometimes this meant that, despite the best
efforts of the housing counsellors, they had to settle for unsuitable housing situations.
“The settlement counsellor walked through the inspection with us. The
counsellor has lots of clients. They want to get rid of us so he kept saying
‘It’s good, it’s good’.”
“[The settlement agency] couldn’t find affordable places for people to
live. Sometimes they put you in a place you don’t like that is not good. If
you don’t like it the counsellor says ‘Well, I won’t find any other place.’
It’s very difficult for a person who is new to find a place on their own, they
don’t know the language, the ways. Housing counsellor says ‘If you don’t
like it look for yourself’.”
In some cases, the housing counsellors simply gave the newcomers addresses of a few places
that had available apartments, or areas that might have places to rent and then sent them out
on their own. Finding housing in this way posed many challenges for the newcomers. One
“The housing counsellors were not very helpful: when you are new, they
give an address and send you off. You get lost. That happened a lot.”
One family of thirteen spent every day for two weeks looking for a place for all of them to
live together. They could not find a place big enough that was affordable on their budget. In
speaking about the lack of assistance they said“[the settlement agency] should not make new
people look for their own place when they first arrive because they don’t know their way
around. Very frustrating.” The family finally had to split up and live in different places.
The time interviewees spent searching for housing on their own could slow their settlement
progress in other respects. In one instance, the settlement agency found an apartment for a
newcomer that was too far from services, school and her job. She said that when she
objected, they refused to help her find another place, so she moved into the apartment and
immediately started looking for another place to live. She said that for a month she didn’t go
to school or work so she could look for better housing. When she finally found a place,
because the housing counsellor had not told her the policy of giving notice, she lost her entire
damage deposit when she moved.
“When you’re new in Canada, it’s so hard. Some have no knowledge
about the culture and situation. Should give government housing
immediately when you arrive until you learn the system and language. In
[settlement agency] they push people a lot to find a house. Newcomers
should be given a warm welcome and as much support as they need.”
Eleven study group households had not had any help finding housing at any point since their
arrival. Without any assistance, they were met with considerable challenges in trying to find
housing on their own. One interviewee described his friend’s problem with having to search
for housing on his own, only to end up stuck living in an unsuitable place after having signed
a year lease that he didn’t understand:
“When you move to another country you have to face a new culture. It’s
very difficult for us to find a place to live. We don’t know how to look for a
house; don’t know if area is safe. My friend signed a year lease, but he
didn’t read English. No heat in the winter, no air conditioning in summer.
He wanted to move but they insisted he pay full year. [Newcomers] need
to know about contract details or importance of contract. Government
must find a good place for newcomers because it’s too hard to leave it for
newcomers to do it by themselves.”
Quite a few of the interviewees mentioned that they would have appreciated more assistance
when searching for housing when they first arrived. Without adequate help, many didn’t
know even how to go about finding accommodation in this culture. The process of searching,
viewing, applying, signing a contract and doing a move-in inspection report was unfamiliar
to them. Housing regulations, and tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities were also
not known by many:
“The problem for so many African people is that they don’t know their
rights here, and don’t know how to learn about them.”
“You cannot apply for Manitoba Housing as a family of 4 adults. The
family structure in Afghanistan is different: children, though grown-up,
live with dad to support him. Here you can’t do that if applying for
Compounding these challenges was the problem of finding their way around the city and the
neighbourhoods on their own. They were unfamiliar with the housing market and didn’t
know where the safe areas were in the city.
When respondents were asked how long it had taken them to find a place in the past, the
average length of time spent searching was a month, but some had looked for three or four
months. Regardless of whether they had help finding housing or not, interviewees often faced
a number of other challenges in finding housing, difficulties related to their level of income
or newness to the city, including:
- Their lack of housing history: many places require a one-year or two-year
reference from their previous housing or a co-signer, which most refugees do not
- Being unemployed: “I didn’t have a job so wouldn’t rent to me, even with a
- The amount refugees receive from the government is not enough to pay the
- Some households are larger than average, so they have difficulty finding a large
- Difficulty in accessing subsidised housing, including long wait lists.
Some respondents also felt that racism was a barrier in finding housing, as described in the
experience of one black African interviewee:
“When looking for an apartment I made an appointment to see one place.
When I got there, the man said it was already rented. But the sign was up
for a month, and a neighbour said that it continued to be un-rented for
another month. The person who did finally rent it was Caucasian. I don’t
want to make accusations but what else can I think?”
7.4 Housing Affordability, Adequacy and Suitability
7.4.1 Housing Affordability
In this study, shelter costs accounted for a large proportion of the household incomes, leaving
little for other expenses (Table 7.1). Over 53 percent of tenant households in this study were
spending thirty percent or more on shelter. This compares to 37 percent of all Winnipeg
tenants in 2006 (Statistics Canada 2006 Census).
Table 7.1 Housing Affordability
Tenant study Tenant Winnipeg households All Winnipeg households
households 2006 2006
Pay 30% or more 53% 37.3% (City) 20.6% (City)
Pay 50% or more 15% 10.1% (CMA 2001) 8.7% (CMA 2001)
Shelter-to-income ratio 34% 24.7% (CMA) 16.9% (CMA)
Source: Study Sample; Statistics Canada 2006
Over fifteen percent of the study group renters were spending more than half of their income
on shelter every month. Only ten percent of Winnipeg renters spent more than half their
income on shelter in 2001 (SPCW 2005). For all households in the city it was 8.7 percent
(CMHC 2005). The only owner-household in the study spent 31.5 percent of the household
income on shelter costs.
7.4.2 Housing Suitability
Almost sixty-three percent of respondent households said that their place was suitable for all
those living there. However, that means that over thirty-seven percent of respondents thought
their place was not suitable and often provided multiple reasons for this. The most common
reason mentioned regarding unsuitability was the inadequate size (75 percent of these cases).
Four other reasons were listed by one quarter of respondents each: the place felt dangerous or
unsafe; the place was in poor condition; repairs were not made; and, it was not possible to
control the temperature. A few mentioned that their housing was too expensive, in an
inconvenient location, and that the poor housing condition caused health problems.
In this study 35 of the 75 households (47 percent) lived in units that did not meet National
Occupancy Standards (NOS). This means that these units did not have enough bedrooms for
the size and composition of the household and, thus, the residents were living in crowded
conditions. Overcrowding generally occurs because of affordability issues. One interviewee
commented that “the amount of money given by the government for housing is too low, it’s
very difficult to find ANYTHING in that price range.” This interviewee was living with four
other adults in a two-bedroom apartment because it was the only place they could afford.
When asked whether they liked the size of their place or not, sixty percent of the
interviewees said they did. In at least one case, however, the family said they were happy
with the size of their place, yet there were eight household members (two parents with six
children) living in a three-bedroom townhouse.
Of the forty percent who didn’t like the size, most said it was because they found the entire
place to be too small (eighteen respondents) and/or that there were not enough bedrooms for
the number of people living there (fifteen respondents). Other comments were about
individual rooms being too small or needing another bathroom. When asked whether they
were happy with their place or not, those who weren’t also most often mentioned that their
place was too small.
“ Not enough space for guests, kids, etc. We’re used to more open space
culturally, including a backyard or some outdoor space.”
“Our place is not big enough, 8 people, 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom. We are
living here only temporarily until we find another place.”
The majority of the study sample (eighty percent) liked the floor plan and design of their
place. For half of those who did not it was because they did not like an open-concept design
and would have preferred to have the kitchen as a separate room from the living space. Other
responses provided more reasons for dissatisfaction with the floor plan and design:
- When there is only one bathroom, the tub and toilet should be separate.
- Murphy bed is not a good design.
- No laundry inside unit.
- In a 2-bedroom unit, the only bathroom access is through one bedroom.
- Kitchen is too far from the dining area.
Eighty-eight percent of the households had only one bathroom. Only eight households had
two bathrooms. One unit (the rooming house) had no bathroom at all, but shared a bathroom
with eight other units in the building.
7.4.3 Housing Condition
When asked if they felt their place was in good condition overall, almost three-quarters of the
respondents answered “yes.” They said their places were clean, freshly painted and well
maintained. For those who felt their places were not in good condition, in most cases they
had multiple issues, averaging three reasons each. In more than half of these cases, it was due
to cracking and peeling walls and ceilings. The same number of households had heating,
electrical or plumbing problems (or some combination of the three). Thirty-nine percent of
the households said that the common hallways were dirty or had graffiti. One- third of the
cases had broken windows or windows that wouldn’t open, and a third of the places were in
need of painting. Broken appliances, and pest infestations (including bedbugs, cockroaches,
silverfish and/or rodents) were also often mentioned as indicators of poor housing condition.
Other responses about the condition of their housing included:
- One-third of the households did not have satisfactory control over the temperature
in their places, generally because they had no thermostat (61 percent of these
cases). For a few it was because the thermostat didn’t work, or they had no air
conditioning and it was uncomfortably hot in the summer.
- Almost one-third of respondents were not satisfied with the air quality in their
places; equally because they either got cigarette smoke or cooking smells from
other areas of the building, and/or they couldn’t open windows to let fresh air in.
Some also mentioned that the air quality was poor because they had no fan in the
kitchen so cooking smells permeated their places.
- Twenty percent were not satisfied with the lighting. The two most common
complaints (three quarters of these cases combined) were that there were not
enough lights and, often, no overhead lights in main rooms. In a couple of
households, the breakers would go off and they would be without power until the
caretaker reset the breakers, but often the caretaker wasn’t around so they would
be without power for a day or more.
- Fourteen percent felt there were safety hazards inside their homes. Half of the
complaints concerned doors or locks that were not secure. There were also
instances of burn hazards, crumbling ceilings/walls and broken glass in windows.
- Twenty-eight percent were not happy with some aspect of their kitchens. For most
it was because they did not have enough cupboards or counter space. In five
instances, they had appliances that did not work properly or at all. For a few, they
felt the kitchen was in need of repairs or required a fan. In one case, there were
mice making nests in the oven.
- Thirty-five percent felt their storage space, such as cupboards and closets was
The interviews for this study were conducted in the newcomers’ homes, which provided the
opportunity for the interviewers to develop a sense of the housing circumstances and
conditions. In some cases, the respondents’ judgement about the condition of their place did
not correlate with that of the interviewer. Below are just a few examples in which the
interviewee indicated that their place was in good condition, but what the interviewer saw did
not demonstrate the same:
- The apartment was clean, but in the bathroom, there were no towel racks and there
was no lock on the door. The caulking around the tub base was cracked and
covered in mildew, and the towel wrapped around a pipe - with a puddle of water
underneath - indicated a leak.
- There were cracks in the windows. The bathroom floor was heaving up to the
point where most of the tiles were broken or missing. The shower head didn’t
work. The kitchen countertop needed major repairs.
- The ceilings were leaking, the sink was leaking, but with the low rent the
interviewee was paying, they said the condition was good.
- Some baseboard pieces were missing, the front of the kitchen cabinets was
- The interviewee was concerned that the screens on windows were broken, so the
kids could fall right out the window. When he pulled back the curtains to show the
windows, the interviewer also noticed that there were large cracks (about 1/2”)
between the frame of the window and the casing, where the caulking had shrunk
and the wind could blow right through.
7.5 Housing Safety
Three quarters of the respondents said that overall their current housing was safe for them
and their children. When asked, “What makes it feel safe?” the reason most frequently
mentioned was the absence of problems (44 percent of all responses). The presence of
security features (27 percent) was also mentioned often, as well as having quiet and law-
abiding neighbours (21 percent). Two interviewees mentioned that it felt safe compared to
their previous place.
“Everyone here is quiet. People don’t harm each other. The other place
had people always swearing, fighting with knives, drunk, and bad ladies
(prostitutes) every night.”
“It has been safe to now. Security doors. It’s all families in the building.”
“In my first place, I could not sleep… you need a better place where you
feel you can start a new home.”
Twenty-two percent of the respondents did not feel their current housing was safe for them
and their children. The most common reasons cited included: security features were
inadequate or did not work, the neighbours were often noisy or drunk, and evidence of
crime/illegal activities in the building. Two households had been broken into. Other issues
included harassment by the caretaker, the fact that they did not know their neighbours, a
recent fire in the building, and neighbours with mental health issues. Some of the issues
associated with unsafe housing that made interviewees worried or concerned included:
“Before Christmas there was a person found dead outside. I’m not very
comfortable with the people environment. These people around here drink
too much. I’m climbing the stairs at 12:30 at night and there are people
drinking beer. It makes me scared.”
“Even during the day it’s not safe for the kids. Adults are yelling at them,
and bullies come into the building. People leave the back door of the
building propped open.”
“[The building] is old and cheap. At night there’s drugs and noise and
partying and drinking. People are banging on the door, trying to break
down the door.”
“On Saturday nights people are drinking and yelling in the building.
There is a woman with mental health problems down the hallway. There
was a fire here two weeks ago across the hall. A cigarette was left on the
sofa at midnight. The hall was so full of smoke a person couldn’t get out.”
Some respondents reported that trying to get problems like poor heating fixed upset the
caretakers or landlords. In one particular incident, after repeated requests to have the heating
fixed were ignored, their settlement counsellor reported the problem to the health department.
From then on, their caretaker ignored them and on a couple of occasions called the police
with false claims that the couple was fighting in the middle of the night. They then had to go
to the Residential Tenancy Board for advice on what to do and eventually had to find another
place to live.
7.6 Housing Accessibility and Health Problems
Three households reported needing special features for family members with disabilities. One
needed special lighting due to vision loss, and the two who had difficulties with stairs each
needed a single-floor unit. Two other people reported health problems that were exasperated
by going up and down stairs in their places.
Almost a quarter of respondents reported feeling that their housing contributed to their health
problems. There were a wide range of reasons: four felt that the cold in their place made
them sick in the winter; six reported rashes or breathing problems from dirty carpeting or
smoky or dusty air. Peeling paint and crumbling walls were health concerns for some. Two
households had bedbugs, which affected their quality of sleep. Also mentioned was the fact
that mental health was negatively affected because their places were dark, windowless or too
small. A mother living with two children in a one bedroom apartment mentioned the mental
stress of living in a place that was too small, with too little room for the children to play and
too little privacy for herself.
The following quotes from interviewees highlight several health issues associated with poor
“If someone had asthma, they couldn’t live here – dusty and dirty. Wood
“The kids are getting sick – cockroaches, too cold in winter, caretaker
controls that and sometimes doesn’t turn on heat in winter. Paint is
coming off the tub – not safe for kids when bathing them.”
“Sometimes people are smoking drugs in the corridor and our daughter is
very allergic. Even cigarette smoke is bad for her.”
“There is a crumbling ceiling over our daughters’ beds (rotting) and it
falls on them, but we won’t tell the caretaker because we don’t want
further problems. Will find another place instead. Owner and caretaker
already know about the ceiling.”
Some of the respondents were not able to identify an actual health issue, but recognized that
their current housing was not good for them. One interviewee said that he didn’t feel terrible
about going home to his place, but he also didn’t feel great: “When the neighbourhood is not
safe to go out in, and your apartment is not healthy or comfortable, it just makes you feel
bad, you can’t go out at night like in Africa, and walk around to get away from a bad place
to live.” Another interviewee described her feelings about her place: “The halls are smelly, I
feel bad when I walk in the door because of the smell. It doesn’t feel safe or comfortable.”
Another interviewee talked about his family’s housing experience when they first arrived in
Winnipeg. The interviewee had secured a job soon after they arrived, but they were living
near the railway tracks, so the noise from the trains kept them from getting a good sleep at
night. Then his wife was attacked twice, each time in the middle of the day in their apartment
building. After being at his job only fifteen days he quit because he was so worried about his
wife’s safety that he was, as he described it, “Always nervous in the head. Couldn’t work
right.” This example illustrates the considerable effect that housing circumstances can have
on mental health and other aspects of newcomers’ settlement experience.
7.7 Experience with Landlords/Caretakers
The interviewees’ experiences with their landlords and caretakers varied greatly. Most of the
interactions with landlords or caretakers were regarding repairs to the rental unit. In the
majority of cases, repairs were made by an on-site caretaker or landlord. About twenty
percent of the repairs were done by professional trades-people or by someone approved by
the property management company.
When respondents were asked about their experience in having repairs done when they made
a request, almost one third indicated things were not fixed when necessary. A few
respondents said that when it was something in urgent need of repair, such as a broken water
pipe, it was fixed right away, but when it was not urgent, like a broken light fixture, it often
took a week or more.
Thirty percent of the interviewees reported that repairs were usually done the same day the
problem was reported. Another seventeen percent said that repairs usually took two-three
days. One third of respondents said that it took a month or more for things to be fixed, and
that they often had to regularly remind the caretaker. At the time of the interviews, there were
twelve households who had been waiting for several weeks or even months and the repairs
were still not made.
Most of the respondents did not know why the wait for repairs was so long. Of those who
had some idea, half said they were told delays were caused by long approval processes or
waiting for parts on order. The lack of maintenance personnel, high caretaker turnover rate
and low priority for management were also identified as being responsible for the long
delays. Below are some of the refugees’ opinions on the timeliness of repairs:
“It took two weeks for them to fix leaking taps, but it’s still leaking.
Leaking taps/pipes have made the wood under the sink rot, and now there
are cockroaches everywhere and the caretaker is doing nothing about it.”
“As soon as I told the caretaker about problems with the toilet and closet,
they were fixed. I have heard that in some apartments it is very difficult to
get repairs done. We avoided telling the caretaker about problems at first
because of the language barrier. When we learned more English, we felt
more comfortable to speak to the caretaker.”
“In Manitoba Housing they come right away when there is a concern,
even at 11 at night.”
“Sometimes you have to call them two or three times before they’ll come.”
Half of the interviewees had found their past or present landlords/caretakers to be helpful, as
they were responsive when repairs were needed, and respectful and helpful regarding special
requests. Several respondents said that the landlord/caretaker checked on them regularly to
see if they needed anything, and would answer questions and offer advice. A couple of
interviewees indicated that it was very helpful that their landlord/caretaker spoke their own
language. Below are a couple of positive comments from respondents:
“Here they are respectful and very helpful. We asked for a closer parking
spot, so now we park right in front of the building instead of furthest away
where it was before. We needed that because of the baby and because
[four-year old daughter] cannot walk and has to be carried.”
“Landlords and caretakers have been very nice and helpful…he gave us a
good reference to help get our current place.”
Not all interviewees found their landlords/caretakers to be helpful: a quarter said they had
experiences with landlords/caretakers in which they were helpful at times and unhelpful at
other times. Another quarter said that in their experiences they were completely unhelpful.
The reasons given were that sometimes they would not make repairs in a timely fashion (52
percent of these cases) or simply would not make repairs at all (48 percent of the cases).
Unfortunately, there were also quite a few reports of caretakers/landlords making personal
threats, being rude, threatening eviction, harassing the tenants, falsely accusing the tenants of
doing damage, ignoring requests for assistance, and not returning damage deposits. In one
case, the entire rooming house an interviewee was living in had the electricity cut off for four
days because the landlord hadn’t paid the Hydro bill. Below are examples of other negative
experiences with landlords and caretakers:
“The first place we lived, they were not helpful, they didn’t give the
damage deposit back. They said the place was dirty. The damage deposit
was $275 and they only gave $62 back. Then we went with photos taken
when we moved in and they gave another $75, but they said we had
removed the curtain rod, which was never even there.”
“We have never met the landlord. The caretaker is nice and helpful, but
the problem is with the landlord who does not give permission to have
7.8 Awareness of Tenant/Landlord Rights and Responsibilities
When faced with a difficult living situation as a tenant, such as experiences with
unresponsive or unfair landlords or caretakers, knowing one’s rights can be a useful tool in
improving that situation. Knowing one’s responsibilities can improve relationships and
prevent some potential difficulties with landlords or caretakers. Nineteen percent of the
interviewees indicated that they did not know their rights and responsibilities as a tenant. A
few more said they knew of some, but not all their rights and responsibilities. Many
interviewees who indicated that they knew their rights and responsibilities, when asked to list
them could only identify one or two points. Perhaps they knew them, but could not recall
them right away, or perhaps they had not been fully apprised.
Three quarters were able to identify some responsibilities, and primary among them were that
they had to keep the place in good condition, pay the rent on time, and keep the noise level
down. Very few, however, could identify what their rights were. One interviewee didn’t
know any of his rights or responsibilities. In his words, “I know that the information is in the
lease, but the lease is in English and I can’t read it well enough to understand.”
Forty percent indicated they did not know the rights and responsibilities of the landlord.
Those who indicated that they did know, most often mentioned that landlords were
responsible for doing repairs when needed and for keeping the common areas clean and well
maintained. There were only a few mentions of the responsibility to provide building
security, collect rent, and resolve noise issues and other problems. No one mentioned they
have to respect tenants’ privacy or give adequate notice of entering occupied units. Several
respondents felt that management did not make rights and responsibilities very clear to the
tenants. It was interesting, however, that two of the interviewees said that if they needed to
go to the hospital that they were to tell the caretaker. In both cases, the caretaker had made
this point clear to the newcomer, knowing that the newcomer did not have others to help
them out in case of emergency. This suggests that some caretakers go above and beyond their
Of the 41 interviewees who had some understanding of tenants and/or landlords’ rights and
responsibilities, almost half said they learned it from their landlord and/or from reading their
rental agreement. Only a third received the information from a settlement agency. Quite a
few learned it during English class (22 percent).
“No one at [settlement agency] told me about landlord/tenant
“I would go to [settlement agency] for this info, but the year of support
from them is finished, so I don’t know where to turn.”
“There are potential clashes with caretakers/landlords because of lack of
English. When I arrived I spoke no English and the housing counsellor
spoke no French. The counsellor told me to sign the contract and
completed the condition report for me, but I didn’t understand the contract
Knowledge of tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities is only a first step in improving
an unsatisfactory housing situation. As one interviewee said, “Even if you know where to go
if you have problems with getting your rights, you don’t want to make troubles.”
7.9 The Desire to Become Homeowners
When asked, “Do you want to own your own home?” Only one respondent said no, and the
reason he gave was that it is too expensive to own a house. Seventy-three out of 74
respondents said “yes” (one already owns). Responses on why interviewees wanted to own
their own home varied and included:
- Thirty-four said it would be an investment in their future or their children’s future.
“We want to put the dollars for rent toward a mortgage and then own a home in
- Twenty-three said it would mean they could do what they wanted with their own
place, make it to their liking/tastes. The same number said that their own place
would be nicer than the place they were renting.
- Twelve said it was for security of tenure. No one could evict them, they would be
able to put down roots and know they were settled.
- Eight wanted to own for the increased privacy it would provide.
- Five indicated it would be safer.
- Four said that it would be in order to be a good citizen, explaining that
homeownership was an indicator of responsibility: “In Africa, when you rent, you
are not considered to be a responsible person. You have to own your own home to
be considered responsible.” Another related comment was: “We will feel really
Canadian because we will own property.”
Other reasons for wanting to own their own home included that they wouldn’t disturb others
with noise, their children could make friends, they could have a yard, they could have their
own laundry, to live in the countryside, and to earn income by renting part of the house.
Of those who were planning to buy a house, only one respondent had learned about the
process of buying a home and the responsibilities of homeownership. They had been
provided this information through English classes.
7.10 Overall Housing Satisfaction
About three quarters of respondents said that they were proud of their apartment or house,
and that they liked to show their place to their friends. When asked, whether they were happy
with their place overall, sixty-eight percent of the sample said “yes.”
Those who were not happy generally had two or three reasons, most commonly that the place
was too small or it was in poor condition. Other frequently mentioned reasons were that the
building was noisy or unsafe, that the neighbourhood felt unsafe, that repairs take too long,
and that the rent is too high. In this case, the family’s unhappiness was due to a lack of play
space for their children: “There are no common areas in the building, no playground for
kids. No place for them to meet other kids to play and practice English.”
Eighty-four percent of the respondents said they looked forward to going to their place at the
end of a long day. Reasons given for this were mostly because they felt it was comfortable
and quiet, they felt safe and secure there, because their family was around, and because they
had independence and privacy. For those who did not look forward to going to their
apartment/house at the end of the day, it was generally for a combination of issues such as a
lack of safety, the place was too small or it was too cold. Other reasons are mentioned in the
“It’s uncomfortable because it’s noisy. Neighbours are drunk and drug
users. I cannot allow my son to go outside.”
“It’s not easy to take rest here. You have to be inside. No place to get
fresh air and exercise.”
“We live in the basement. People above throw their garbage outside their
kitchen window and it rots and stinks so we can’t open our window.”
A few households that were unhappy with their housing had been looking for better housing,
but could not find anything in their price range, so they had given up their search entirely.
Many of those who were unhappy with their private housing had applied for and were
waiting for public housing to become available.
7.11 Public Housing vs. Private Housing
The households in this survey that were renting were either living in publicly assisted (social)
housing or were in private market rental units. This permitted a comparison between the two
housing sectors based on household characteristics, affordability ratios, suitability,
tenant/landlord relationships, household satisfaction levels and other housing and
At the time of the interviews two-thirds of the seventy-two renter households lived in
privately owned and managed buildings, and the other one-third lived in publicly owned and
managed projects operated by groups such as the Immigrant and Refugee Community
Organization of Manitoba, Manitoba Housing, and the Winnipeg Housing and Rehabilitation
The average size of household was very similar in both sectors (Table 7.2) but differences
existed in the types of households. Among the public housing tenants, over half were couples
with children and approximately one-quarter were single individuals. Non-family and related
singles comprised another twelve percent of tenants in social housing. Eight percent were
lone-parent households and four percent were extended family households.
Household types in private housing were very different. Only 34 percent were couples with
or without children. There was a higher proportion of lone parent (fourteen percent) and of
extended family (12 percent) households. Singles and related singles comprised fourteen
percent each and non-family were ten percent of the households.
Table 7.2: Private/Public Housing and Tenant Characteristics
# % % of All # % % of All
Household Size & Composition n = 50 n = 25
Average Household Size 3.56 N/A N/A 3.52 N/A N/A
Number of Households 50 100.0 66.7 25 100.0 33.3
Single (Individual) 7 14.0 53.8 6 24.0 46.2
Couples 17 34.0 56.7 13 52.0 43.3
With children 15 88.0 - 13 100 -
Without children 2 12.0 - - - -
Lone Female Parent 7 14.0 77.8 2 8.0 22.2
Non-family 5 10.0 83.3 1 4.0 16.7
Extended Family 6 12.0 85.7 1 4.0 14.3
Related Singles 7 14.0 77.8 2 8.0 22.2
Housing Type n = 47 n = 25
Room in House 2 4.3 100.0 0 0.0 0.0
Bachelor 7 14.9 70.0 3 12.0 30.0
1 Bedroom 12 25.5 85.7 2 8.0 14.3
2 Bedroom 15 31.9 55.6 12 48.0 44.4
3 or More Bedroom 11 23.4 57.9 8 32.0 42.1
House 9 19.1 81.8 2 8.0 18.2
Single-detached 2 4.3 100.0 0 0.0 0.0
Duplex, Rowhouse, or Townhouse 7 14.9 77.8 2 8.0 22.2
Apartment 38 80.9 62.3 23 92.0 37.7
National Occupancy Standard Violation n = 50 n = 25
Yes - Violation 28 56.0 80.0 7 28.0 20.0
# of children less than 20 years of age n = 50 n = 25
Average Number of Children Per Household 1.6 1.9
All 81 N/A N/A 47 N/A N/A
0 to 4 16 19.8 55.2 13 27.7 44.8
5 to 9 19 23.5 55.9 15 31.9 44.1
10 to 14 22 27.2 71.0 9 19.1 29.0
15 to 19 24 29.6 70.6 10 21.3 29.4
Shelter Costs as a Percentage of Income n = 37 n = 22
Average Rent $547 $399
Average % of Income Spent on Shelter 36.20% 29.70%
Paying 30% or more of Income on Shelter 21 56.8 65.6 11 50.0 34.4
Paying 50% or more of Income on Shelter 9 24.3 100.0 0 0.0 0.0
Income n = 43 n = 23
Mean Income $1,853 $1,516
Median Income $1,800 $1,300
Source: Sample Survey
In this study, private rental housing accommodated a broader mix of household types while
social housing accommodated mainly married couples and single individual households. All
the couples in public housing had children. The eligibility criteria for public housing, which
gives priority to families with children, influences these differences in household types
between public and private housing.
Size and Suitability of Units
The majority of public housing units rented by interviewees contained two, three or more
than three bedrooms (eighty percent). This compares to 55 percent in private housing:
approximately one third of the privately owned units were two-bedroom, and another quarter
were three or more bedrooms. Forty percent of the private housing tenants lived in one-
bedroom or bachelor units, double that of those living in public housing. Private housing
tenants were more than twice as likely to live in single-detached houses, duplexes, rowhouses
or townhouses (nineteen percent) than social housing tenants (eight percent).
There was a better match with household size and composition, to unit size and number of
bedrooms in public housing than in private housing. Although social housing tenant
households had a slightly higher average number of children, a lower percentage had a
mismatch between household composition and unit size. Of those households that did not
meet National Occupancy Standards (NOS) because their household composition was not
congruent with the number of bedrooms in their unit, eighty percent lived in private housing
compared to twenty percent in social housing. Over half (56 percent) of the units of private
housing occupied by survey participants did not meet NOS, compared to only 28 percent in
One of the main differences between public and private housing is the rental cost. On
average, private housing households in this study paid a larger share of their income on
shelter costs. They paid 36 percent, compared to slightly less than thirty percent for social
housing households11. Fifty-seven percent of private housing tenants were spending thirty
percent or more on shelter costs compared to fifty percent of the social housing renters. A
large difference is apparent when comparing those households paying more than half of their
income to shelter costs. None of the households living in social housing spent more than half
their income for shelter, but almost a quarter of refugee households in private rental housing
did, even though their median income was $500 per month higher than those in public
housing. The average rent for privately owned units ($547) was $150 a month higher than for
publicly owned units ($399). This means that on average, the households in privately owned
units paid 38 percent more per month on rent than did those in social housing.
Tenant households in most public housing in Manitoba pay a set 27 percent of their monthly
income on rent. This rent-geared-to-income policy does not apply to privately owned
Shelter costs include utility costs, which in some cases made shelter-to-income ratios higher than the 27% rent-
geared-to-income ratio for most social housing in Manitoba.
housing. This policy, plus the slightly lower income of public housing tenants would be the
primary factors accounting for the differences in shelter costs found between those survey
households living in private housing and those living in public housing.
Housing and Neighbourhood Satisfaction
A higher percentage of those survey households living in private housing than those in social
housing (27 and 17 percent respectively) felt their housing was not in good condition.
Seventy-three percent of those in private housing felt that their current housing was safe for
themselves and their children, compared to eighty percent of those in social housing. Table
7.3 presents other differences between respondents’ satisfaction with public versus private
rental housing, and illustrates that social housing renters were more satisfied with their ability
to control temperature and air quality, they were more satisfied with the safety in the home
and felt more positive about the floor plan and cooking facilities. Households in privately
owned units felt slightly more positive about the lighting and storage areas.
Table 7.3: Satisfaction with Private/Public Housing Characteristics
Satisfied Not satisfied
% in private % in public % in private % in public
housing housing housing housing
Ability to control air temp. 61.2 76.0 38.8 24.0
Air quality 65.3 80.0 34.7 20.0
Lighting 83.7 72.0 16.3 28.0
Safety in home (no of hazards) 83.7 92.0 16.3 8.0
Floor plan / design of unit 72.9 87.5 27.1 12.5
Cooking facilities / kitchen 65.3 84.0 34.7 16.0
Storage areas (closets, cupboards) 67.3 60.0 32.7 40.0
When asked, “Overall when you think of the place you live, are you happy with it?” only
sixty percent of the study households living in private housing said they were happy,
compared to 87 percent of the social housing tenants.
When looking specifically at those living in Winnipeg’s inner city, eighty-six percent of the
households renting social housing units in the inner city were happy with their place,
compared to only 47 percent of inner city study households renting private housing (Map
There were no significant differences in the knowledge of tenants’ and/or landlords’ rights
and responsibilities between households living in the two housing sectors. And
approximately the same proportion of public and private sector renters found their
landlords/caretakers to be helpful.
The interviewees’ level of satisfaction with their neighbourhood presented an interesting
picture. Although overall the respondents who were renting social housing were more
positive about their units than were those in private housing, they were less positive about
their neighbourhoods. Seventy-six percent of private housing renters said “yes” when asked
whether they felt safe in their neighbourhood, compared to 64 percent of those in social
7.12 Neighbourhood Satisfaction
Satisfaction with housing is very connected to satisfaction with the neighbourhood in which
the housing is located. Upon arrival, many newcomers live in a central location because of
the convenient proximity to services, amenities, public transportation, and potential
employment. In Winnipeg, refugees and other low-income newcomers also often live
centrally because this is where most of the affordable housing is found. One interviewee
pointed out the benefits: “Why do they put people in downtown? Easy to reach where they
work, where they go to school, easy to catch bus. Then when they get used to things then they
can move. It’s right to put people central.” In the first year of this study, almost eighty
percent, or fifty-nine of all respondent households were living in the inner city (Appendix B,
7.12.1 Neighbourhood Perceptions
When respondents were asked if they liked their neighbourhood at the time of the first
interview, three-quarters of the interviewees said they did. Fifteen percent of respondents
said that they didn’t, and the remaining ten percent answered that they didn’t know, that they
were indifferent, or that they liked some aspects of the neighbourhood but not others.
Eleven interviewees from seven different neighbourhoods answered that they did not like
their current neighbourhood. In every one of those neighbourhoods, however, there was also
at least one other interviewee who said they did like it. Therefore, there were no
neighbourhoods universally disliked by all interviewees living there.
All interviewees living in non-inner city areas liked their neighbourhoods (Appendix B,
Maps 7.2 and 7.3). All of the neighbourhoods that were disliked, about which people were
indifferent, or about which they had mixed opinions were located in Winnipeg’s inner city.
When inner city study households were asked if they liked their neighbourhoods, 57 out of a
possible 59 responded:
- Forty-one (72 percent) liked their neighbourhood;
- Eleven households (19 percent) did not like their neighbourhood;
- Three of the households (5.3 percent) both liked and disliked their
- Two respondents (3.5 percent) were indifferent.
7.12.2 Important Qualities of Neighbourhood
When asked to think about all the factors about where they lived and to identify the most
important things about living there, 83 percent of the respondents mentioned the proximity to
services, stores, jobs, family and transportation. Twenty-two percent said it was the safety of
the area, and eighteen percent indicated it was the affordability factor. The following
comments provided by respondents explain why they liked living in their neighbourhoods:
“St. Vital is nice and quiet. Everyone in the area is helpful. They don’t
ignore you. In November, my wife was in the hospital with the baby and
this was the first snow and 3 women shovelled my parking place. I didn’t
even have a shovel.”
“Everything is close. We had an opportunity to live further away from
downtown, but wanted to get to know the ‘heart’ of the city.”
“The area (Garden City) is quiet, everything is close. Easy to get a bus to
go everywhere. We have gotten to know our neighbours in the building
and have made many friends that way.”
“The only reason I live here is because I can afford it. Nothing else is
good about it."
“Nice scenery, like the big windows, and balcony. Like to see the sun and
trees. Very clean building (IRCOM).”
“It’s not in downtown, but everything is near. It’s walking distance to all
you need, St. Vital Mall. Love that about this area.”
Other important qualities of the neighbourhood that were mentioned included the friendliness
of people, the quiet atmosphere in the neighbourhood, as well as being close to friends and
the same ethnic community. A few mentioned an aesthetic appreciation of the trees and
greenery in their area, and a few others mentioned the importance of having good neighbours
When asked whether they had services in their neighbourhoods that they found helpful, half
of those who answered “yes” mentioned stores. Other services nearby that were helpful
included churches, gyms, clinics and hospitals, and schools. A few other services mentioned
by respondents were the Manitoba Housing office, employment services, daycare and
community centre. One respondent felt that “…there is everything in downtown, but the way
you live is a problem here.”
Among the services identified by the respondents as lacking in their communities, the most
frequently mentioned were a cheap grocery store, followed by hospital, local park,
clothing/household store, library, school, and community centre. Three respondents would
have liked to have their jobs nearby, three mentioned immigrant services, and two
interviewees would have preferred more social activities in the area.
7.12.3 Neighbourhood Safety
For those interviewees who didn’t like their neighbourhood, almost exclusively it was
because they were worried for their personal safety and that of their families in the area
where they lived. Several respondents indicated there were illegal activities in their area such
as gangs, prostitution, car vandalism, thefts, break-ins and drug abuse. Some of the negative
opinions expressed about their neighbourhoods included:
“A bunch of kids asked for cigarettes and then jumped me. Not a good
place for kids. Kids will learn things that are not good for them. Bad
“[There are] lots of families in downtown for kids to play with, but the
streets are busy with traffic, afraid for accident. The downtown is too
When the refugee respondents were asked whether they felt safe in their neighbourhood, 54
respondents, or 72 percent of the study group, said “yes”. Two answered both “yes” and
“no”, depending on the time or day or circumstance. Nineteen, or 25 percent of the
interviewees, said that they didn’t feel safe in their neighbourhood, usually for more than one
- Fourteen of them said they felt afraid to walk alone or after dark.
- Six respondents mentioned they were afraid to let their children outside.
- Four respondents had been targets of crime, one had witnessed crime, and five
knew of incidents of crime in the area.
Some of the responses interviewees provided to the question on safety of their
“The area is not safe. Many bad persons in area drinking, smoking, not
too safe for children.”
“Sometimes I’m scared when I see people who are drunk – I don’t know
what they might do.”
“People swearing in the area, they knock on the door, sometimes people
steal our mail.”
“There are gangsters on the next street. Two of our family have been
chased on their way home: one from Safeway at 7 p.m., another at 8 p.m.”
Case Study 1
The Household: 20-year-old man, government sponsored, living alone, attending high school and
not working. He received $590 a month from social assistance.
The Search for Housing: Stayed in temporary housing for first two weeks. He was told by the
settlement agency that he had to leave after 20 days, and he said “They didn’t even try to find a
place for me.” He searched on his own and found a room in a rooming house for which he paid
$270 a month and shared a bathroom and kitchen with 5 other people. The place was noisy,
people kept knocking on his door, and he couldn’t sleep so after two months he moved to another
rooming house. Each time he had to look for a new place, he went through the renter’s guide, and
walked around looking for “For Rent” signs. “It took a long time, asking and applying to a lot of
places,” and as a result he missed a lot of classes.
At the second rooming house he shared the washroom and kitchen with 4 others. On one
occasion, the previous tenants entered his unit and “trashed” it, took his key away, and told him to
tell the landlord they wanted their damage deposit returned. At other times there were
disturbances that scared him so much that he would leave in the middle of the night to stay with a
friend. Then there was a leak in his unit that destroyed everything he owned. At the end of only
one month there, he moved again, this time into a bachelor apartment for $325 per month
(including heating costs). It was October but the landlord wouldn’t turn the heat on, so the
interviewee called the health inspector who never showed up. He moved again at the end of that
month. For November, he lived with a friend and paid $250. Then on December 1st, after a six-
month wait, he got a subsidized housing unit.
His Residence: A spacious one-bedroom apartment, in good condition except for the worn-out,
stained, filthy carpets, which had given him a skin rash. Big windows, but all painted shut. The
rent, though geared to income, was still $161 and when the cost of medication for the rash was
calculated in, he was only left with $279 to live on each month. He said he was happy with his
apartment and proud of it, but if the carpet wasn’t changed, he would soon have to move again.
He felt safe in the area because it was quiet and nobody bothered him. But there were no shops
or services nearby. He only knew one neighbour. He said he wished there was a community
centre nearby for social activities, so he could have fun and meet people.
Relationship with Caretaker: Although he said that repairs were made when necessary, he also
mentioned that he didn’t have hot water for an entire week. He said the delay was because the
housing authority had to approve any repairs before they could be done.
Relationship with Landlords: Based on his former experiences he said, “They only own
buildings to get money, but they don’t care for the place. You can’t blame the caretakers. The
owner has the most responsibility and he’s the one to put money to fix it up.”
Support and Assistance: He had a general understanding of his and his landlords’ rights and
responsibilities, but he had to learn it on his own. Each time he had moved, he said he had called
the settlement agency to let them know his new address, but “[the settlement agency] didn’t even
call to see why I was moving place to place to place. They showed no concern. The government
should be responsible for your well-being…they should take care of you if they sponsor you.” This
young man had lost all of his family. He said he splurged on cable T.V. because he didn’t have
any friends and the T.V. was like his friend.
7.12.4 The Desire to Move to Better Neighbourhood
Sixty percent of the interviewees said that they would move to another area of the city if they
had the opportunity, almost all of whom said they would prefer to live anywhere except
downtown (inner city). However, four interviewees who didn’t live downtown wanted to
move there. Opinions about living in the downtown area were quite mixed. One respondent
explained: “Downtown is where all bad things happen. Gangs are here. Lots of alcohol
abuse. Not safe in this area as a single woman. Sometimes I have heard gunshots when
walking late.” Another comment was: “When we arrived we were told the downtown was
dangerous. But on the contrary, we find the area safe.” Another supported this opinion
saying that he likes downtown because as a newcomer he doesn’t know other places, and
doesn’t have a car, so everything is in walking distance. Another echoed this: “Right now it
suits my needs because it’s affordable rent and I don’t know my way around the city so the
central location is important.” But another respondent expressed the opposite viewpoint,
“The government was supposed to take us away from violence, but then puts us downtown
where there is violence.”
A quarter of the respondents mentioned St. Vital, in south Winnipeg, in their list of areas of
the city they would prefer to live. Other parts of the city where respondents said they would
prefer to live were all non-downtown areas.
For approximately 63 percent of those who named another area of the city in which they
would prefer to live, they felt it would be safer there and would have less crime than the one
in which they were living. Many believed the other neighbourhood would also be quieter (25
percent), or more beautiful (19 percent). For one-quarter it was not the attributes of the
neighbourhood, but the proximity to friends, family, school and/or work that made it more
7.12.5 The Importance of Living in a Good Neighbourhood
Interviewees emphasized the importance of living in a good neighbourhood upon arrival, and
the negative effect that living in a bad area can have:
“It’s really important where you put the refugees. We’re dealing with
emotions and feelings not just a house. Canada wants us to bring good
things to this society but how can we when we can’t sleep at night, when
we fear our neighbours? Let’s give newcomers the best chance from the
beginning. Let’s make it a priority.”
“When the new refugees’ first experience in Canada is in an environment
where all around there is drug dealing, violence, and prostitution, they
may think, ‘Oh, so this is how things are in Canada’. They think it’s
normal, and then when they don’t get enough assistance or can’t find jobs
or can’t earn more than minimum wage, when someone in this
environment offers them a chance to make lots of money selling drugs,
they may do it. So, when you hear about refugees in gangs, you have to
understand the circumstances.”
7.13 Transportation Issues
The lack of adequate transportation can be a barrier for newcomers in accessing the services
they need. Where they live can be related to their access to transportation. Only twelve
interviewees (sixteen percent) in this study owned a car, so the majority were dependent on
other less flexible forms of transportation.
Despite this lack of flexibility forty-five (sixty percent) of the total respondents said they had
no problem getting to services or appointments. Fifty-nine respondents said that they were
familiar with bus routes and forty-nine respondents said they had someone who could give
them a ride when needed.
Twenty-nine respondents indicated they had a problem getting to services or appointments
that were not nearby. The difficulties mentioned included:
- Twelve said they had to take buses, which they found to be unreliable.
- Three said that the winters made it difficult to get around.
- Three said it was because they didn’t know their way around the city.
- Four had disabilities or mobility issues that prohibited walking.
When asked, “What type of transportation do you use most often?” fifty respondents, or 73
percent of those who answered, most often took the bus. Nine used a car or bicycle. Eight
respondents walked as their primary mode, but others mentioned walking as a common mode
as well. Two households, both large families, generally used a taxi.
The fact that such a large percentage of interviewees lived in the inner city may help explain
the lack of significant transportation problems mentioned. Being centrally located in
Winnipeg certainly enhances accessibility.
In Winnipeg, the housing circumstances for most recently arrived refugees are very difficult.
They often find themselves living in housing that is overcrowded, unsafe, in poor condition,
and/or unhealthy. Sometimes they receive assistance from settlement agencies, family or
friends in finding housing, but often they have to search on their own. This can be very
difficult because they may not understand the procedure for house-hunting, may not know
where or how to find available units, they may have trouble finding their way around the city,
struggle with communicating if they don’t have strong English skills, or have trouble finding
places that are in good condition. These challenges are complicated by others including the
low vacancy rates, affordability issues, and a shortage of units big enough to accommodate
the often large newcomer families. Add to this the fact that when they first arrive, newcomers
do not have a housing history or references and many are not employed (requirement of
many landlords). In some cases, instances of racism stand in the way of finding housing.
Even when they have help with their housing search, a lot of newcomers end up settling for
places that are far from ideal. Whether their families are small or large, often their housing
has too few bedrooms for the number of people in the household simply because their
budgets cannot cover the higher rents charged for larger units. For some individuals, this can
mean that their only option is to live in a one-room unit in a rooming house, sharing cooking
and washroom facilities.
The first places refugees live are often in poor condition. Housing conditions commonly
reported by the interviewees included peeling and cracking walls and ceilings; broken doors
and windows, insecure locks, broken appliances, leaking pipes, and pest infestations
(including bedbugs, cockroaches, silverfish and/or rodents). Inadequate lighting, insufficient
storage space, and poor air quality were also mentioned. Many did not have control over the
temperature in their units, so their places were too cold in the winter and too hot in the
summer. For one-third of the interviewees, these poor living conditions were contributing to
or causing physical or mental health problems.
Units are often in need of maintenance and repairs, some of which is not just cosmetic work,
but also includes major work such as plumbing, electrical and heating. The interviewees’
experiences with getting repairs completed were not always positive. Some landlords and
caretakers were responsive to requests for repair work, but in other cases the tenants had to
make repeated requests sometimes over a period of months before the work was completed
(if at all).
Relations with landlords and caretakers were quite varied. Half of the interviewees reported
having had good experiences with caretakers who sometimes even went above and beyond
their responsibilities to ensure the newcomer tenants were satisfied with their living
situations. One-quarter of the interviewees, however, had very negative experiences with
landlords and/or caretakers, some of which even involved harassment, personal threats,
threats of eviction, and not returning damage deposits.
An inadequate knowledge of tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities was common
among the refugee newcomers, leaving them vulnerable to misunderstandings and
exploitation. There were cases in which they did not understand the rental agreements they
signed and found themselves tied to one-year-leases in unsafe, unsuitable housing in poor
Sometimes, even though tied to leases, their living situation was so unsatisfactory that they
moved out and paid the consequences. For many, even after they found a place, they
continued looking for better housing and moved as soon as they found it. High mobility rates
among the interviewees reflected their overall level of unhappiness with their housing
situations. Others never found better housing, and gave up looking altogether or were simply
waiting for a place to become available in public housing - a wait that sometimes stretched
longer than a year.
Inadequate size, affordability issues and poor condition of housing are not the only reasons
that newcomers in the study moved. The issue of personal safety was paramount for some
households. Twenty-two percent of the respondents did not feel their housing was safe for
themselves or their families, usually due to inadequate security features, disruptive
neighbours, or illegal activities in the building.
Seventy-nine percent of the interviewees in this study lived in Winnipeg’s inner city.
Although some of them felt the area was safe and preferred the centrality of the location and
proximity to services, amenities and transportation, others felt that the safety risks
outweighed the benefits of inner city living. Three-quarters of all the interviewees said that
they liked their neighbourhoods, but of those who didn’t like their neighbourhoods, all lived
in the inner city. Their reasons for not liking their neighbourhood were most often related to
Those interviewees who were living in social housing were somewhat less positive about the
safety of their neighbourhoods than were those living in private market housing. This may be
explained by the fact that social housing projects are highly concentrated in the inner city.
Overall, however, social housing tenants in this study were more satisfied with their housing
than those in private-sector housing. Social housing was certainly more affordable and
suitable for the interviewees, who also expressed a higher level of satisfaction with the
quality and safety of their accommodations and the overall housing condition.
The current housing circumstances for low-income newcomers, especially refugees, are far
from ideal overall. The disruption to their lives that comes with frequent moves and the
unsatisfactory living situations can slow or halt other aspects of their overall settlement
Related to the issue of affordability is the finding that social housing may be a better
resettlement option and an option that is more likely to facilitate a quick adjustment for low-
income newcomers. However, there is not enough social housing in the city to meet the
needs of these newcomers. With the long waiting times, the opportunity for newcomers to
access social housing is limited. By the time many get accepted into social housing, they
would have already struggled through difficult housing circumstances that could cause long-
term impacts on their overall settlement. One interviewee provided a succinct comment that
“The government money given is not enough for needs. Should increase
this, especially the rent allowance. Most people have to join together and
rent a place, but most of the people don’t know someone and face the
possibility of living on the street. Most private housing is really expensive.
Manitoba Housing cost is O.K. but to get in takes a long time. For my
uncle, it took a year and a half.”
8.0 The Housing Experience of Refugees in Winnipeg: One Year After
One year after the first interviews a second round of interviews was undertaken to examine
the housing trajectories of the refugee households. Using basically the same interview
questionnaire, the results from the interviews helped answer key questions such as: are the
housing circumstances of refugee households improving or deteriorating? what has changed
regarding their perceptions of neighbourhood? and, is there general evidence of improved
resettlement circumstances; and hence integration? Answers to these and other questions help
to determine whether the housing circumstances of refugees in Winnipeg facilitate or
generate barriers to successful integration of newcomers.
In this second year 55 refugee households were re-interviewed: the research team was not
able to contact twenty of the original 75 households. There were really no distinguishing
features of these households lost from the research. Approximately sixty percent were non-
family households, thirty percent were one-family households and ten percent were multiple
family households. Sixteen of the twenty households, or eighty percent, lived in the inner city
at the time of the first interview. The average monthly gross income of the households that
were lost was $1,361, lower than the average of the study households at the time of the first
interview at $1,735. The employment status was similar to that of all 75 respondents, as were
the housing conditions of these households at the time of the first interview.
In the comparison undertaken of the first and second year interviewees, the information
gathered from the 55 households re-interviewed in the second year was compared to the
information from the first year interviews with the same 55 households – not to the
information from all 75 first year interviews.
8.2 Household Characteristics
The classification of household composition used for this analysis included family and non-
family household types. Family households include one-family households, extended family
households including expanded and multi-family households. The one-family household is
defined as a husband-wife family with or without children living at home, or a lone parent
living with children. An "expanded family" results from the addition of aunts, uncles,
grandparents, grandchildren, or other relatives, to a one-family household. Multiple-family
households include two or more family units living together. A non-family household refers
to either one person living alone in a private dwelling or to a group of two or more unrelated
people who share a private dwelling, but who do not constitute a census family.
8.2.1 Household Types
Fourteen households in the second year were non-family households compared to thirteen in
the first year of interviews. The number of single person non-family households grew from
six to nine, while multiple-person non-family households declined from seven to five (Table
Within the family household group the number of expanded family households declined from
six in the first year to four in the second. There were two multiple-family households
compared to one multiple-family household in the first survey.
Table 8.1: Household Structure
First Year Second Year Hhlds Lost
# % # % # %
Non-family households 13 23.6 14 25.5 12 60.0
Individual person 6 10.9 9 16.4 7 35.0
Multiple persons 7 12.7 5 9.1 5 25.0
Family Households 42 76.4 41 74.5 8 40.0
One family households 35 63.6 35 63.6 6 30.0
Couples with children 26 47.3 25 45.5 3 15.0
Couples without children 2 3.6 1 1.8 0 0.0
Lone parent 7 12.7 9 16.4 3 15.0
Expanded Family Households 6 10.9 4 7.3 0 0.0
Multiple Family Households 1 1.8 2 3.6 2 10.0
Total 55 100 55 100 20 100
Source: Study Sample
The proportion of one-family households remained the same, comprising 64 percent of the
sample. Within this category in the second year there were two more lone-parent households
than the previous year.
These changes indicate a modest move toward Canadian born household composition
distribution. It may mean less crowding, more independence and privacy for families and
individuals, and a better match to market supply. It may also mean a decrease in availability
of family support such as emotional and financial support, child-minding, and cost-sharing.
Smaller households are also more likely to meet public housing requirements, providing
greater opportunity to access more affordable housing.
8.2.2 Household Size
Among the first year interviewees, there was an average of 3.91 persons per household. This
declined slightly in the second year to 3.85 (Table 8.2) - still much larger than the average
Winnipeg household size of 2.4 persons (Statistics Canada 2006). A little less than half of all
study households had one to three members, the same ratio for both years. The proportion of
interviewee households with four or more members in the second year was 36 percent
compared to 38 percent in the first year. The proportion of study households with six or more
persons was sixteen percent, slightly higher than the proportion of similar refugee households
in the first year (almost fifteen percent).
In the second year, thirteen of the 55 households (24 percent) had other family members who
arrived with the interviewee but no longer lived with them. When asked, “Why do they no
longer live with you” almost half of the responses indicated that the others wanted to live
separately and/or independently. For three respondents the reason was separation or divorce.
Other responses included the lack of space, family disputes, and leaving to attend school or
university. These changes indicate a move to smaller household units.
Table 8.2: Household Size
Number of Persons in Household First Year Second Year
# % # %
1-3 26 47.2 26 47.2
4 or 5 21 38.2 20 36.4
6 or more 8 14.6 9 16.4
Total Number of Persons in Households 215 - 212 -
Estimated average size 3.91 - 3.85 -
Source: Study sample
8.3 Housing Characteristics
8.3.1 Dwelling Types
At the time of the second interview, 36 of the 48 renters lived in apartment units (75 percent
of the renters compared to 83 percent in the first year), and twelve households (one quarter
compared to seventeen percent in year one) lived in houses (Table 8.3). This indicates a shift
to houses/single family homes compared to the first year survey circumstances. Of the twelve
renters who lived in houses, seven households (58 percent), lived in row-houses or
townhouses compared to only three such households in the first year. Two households lived
in single-family homes, and two lived in semi-detached homes.
Table 8.3: Housing Type: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year n = 53 Second Year n = 48
# % # %
Apartment 44 83.0 36 75.0
House 9 17.0 12 25.0
Single family home 2 22.2 2 16.7
Semi-detached (duplex) 3 33.3 2 16.7
Rowhouse or townhouse 3 33.3 7 58.3
Rooming house 1 11.1 1 8.3
Source: Study sample
Of the 36 households who rented apartments, 25 percent lived in three-bedroom apartments
compared to twenty percent of households in year one. The proportion of those living in
bachelor apartments in year two was lower. The decrease in average household size and
increased proportion living in larger units illustrates an improvement in living space since the
first year of interviews.
8.3.2 Housing Tenure
The number of owners increased from one in the first year to six in the second year. In the
second year, forty-eight households rented (88 percent) and one neither rented nor owned. In
the first year there was one owner, 53 renters (96 percent) and one household neither owned
nor rented. In both years all owners owned single-detached homes.
In the first year the average monthly gross income of the five households that became owners
a year later was $2,722 and their median income was $2,350. In the first year four of these
five households had employment income. They were among the higher income households in
the study, which certainly improved their potential for moving into ownership. In the second
year, three of the five provided full income information, and for those three new
homeowners, their mean and median incomes had increased considerably to $4,067 and
$3,750 respectively. All five households had members who were employed at the time of the
In year two almost three quarters of the respondents who were renting had plans to buy their
own home in the subsequent few years, but almost 72 percent of them felt they did not have
enough information at the time to feel comfortable with buying their own home.
8.4 Residential Mobility
8.4.1 Household Mobility
Thirty-six households, or almost two-thirds of the interviewees at the second year were living
in the same place as they were at the time of the first interview, and nineteen had moved
(Table 8.4; Map 8.1). Of the nineteen, some had moved multiple times. One respondent
reported being without a place to sleep overnight since the last interview and “couch-surfing”
for two weeks before moving into public housing.
Of the nineteen households that had moved, the highest mobility was among lone parents –
56 percent had moved. Two of the four expanded families, and one of the two multiple-
family households also moved since the time of the first interview. Among the non-family
household, the multiple-person category also had a high mobility rate at forty percent. The
lowest mobility rate was within single-person households (22 percent had moved), followed
by couples with children (28 percent).
Table 8.4: Household Mobility Since Year One Interview
Second Year (n = 55) Movers (n = 19) Non-Movers (n = 36)
# % of all hhlds # % # %
Non-family households 14 25.5 4 28.6 10 71.4
Single person 9 16.4 2 22.2 7 77.8
Multiple persons 5 9.1 2 40.0 3 60.0
Family Households 41 74.5 15 36.6 26 63.4
One family households 35 63.6 12 34.3 23 65.7
Couples with children 25 45.5 7 28.0 18 72.0
Couples without children 1 1.8 0 0.0 1 100.0
Lone parent 9 16.4 5 55.6 4 44.4
Expanded Family Households 4 7.3 2 50.0 2 50.0
Multiple Family Households 2 3.6 1 50.0 1 50.0
Total 55 100 19 34.5 36 65.5
Source: Study sample.
Mobility of the sample since the first year interviews indicates a move out of the inner city
(Table 8.5; Appendix Map 8.2). The inner city lost eight, or almost fifteen percent, of the
study households. Of the 19 households that moved, none moved from a non-inner city
location to the inner city. While this suggests that households may have more choices in
housing options and increased capacity to pay for them over time, it may also indicate that
for some refugees the inner city is not a desirable area to live. At the same time, among the
36 households that had not moved since year one, 28 (78 percent) lived in the inner city.
Table 8.5: Mobility by Area
Year One Year Two Change
# % # % %
Inner City 43 78.2 35 63.6 - 14.6
Non-Inner City 12 21.8 20* 36.4 + 14.6
Total 55 100.0 55 100.0 -
* Includes one household that moved to Calgary.
Source: Study sample.
Statistics on the number of times households have moved illustrate continued mobility (Table
8.6). The proportion of households that have moved two or three times since arriving
increased from year one to year two. However, the average length of tenancy at their current
home has also increased from 31 to 73 weeks (Table 8.7). There is evidence of increasing
stability (time at current place of residence) but how much of this is related to reduced
mobility and how much is simply related to the fact they have been in Winnipeg longer is
difficult to determine.
Table 8.6: Length of Tenure
Up to Time of First From Time Arrived in Winnipeg
# of Places Lived in as Residential Interview Until Time of Second Interview
# % # %
1 24 43.6 11 20.0
2 25 45.5 30 54.5
3 5 9.1 13 23.6
4 1 1.8 0 0.0
5 0 0.0 1 1.8
Total 55 100 55 100
* Residential Location: living in a place for 6 + weeks (may include Welcome Place).
Source: Study sample.
Table 8.7: Duration of Tenure at Current Place
Months First Year (n = 55) Second Year (n = 55)
0–3 20.0 7.3
3–6 23.6 9.1
6 – 12 43.6 16.4
12 – 18 12.7 16.4
18 – 24 0.0 21.8
> 24 0.0 29.1
Total Responses 100.0 100.0
Average 31.2 weeks 73.3 weeks
Median 30.0 weeks 82.0 weeks
Source: Study sample.
8.4.2 Reasons for Moving
For one-third of the nineteen respondents who moved between year one and year two, their
reason for moving was to search for better quality housing and/or a better neighbourhood.
Other reasons for moving included:
- Fifteen percent moved to have more privacy and independence (e.g. not sharing
with family, friends or sponsor).
- For approximately sixteen percent safety of the neighbourhood or building was
the reason for moving.
- Ten percent found a cheaper place or got into subsidized housing.
- Six percent moved to more convenient locations, to be closer to work or study.
- Five percent said they changed the location of their residence to be closer to better
schools for their children.
- Four households (six percent) moved because they bought their own place.
The reasons for moving reported during the first interviews were quite different.
Approximately one-half had moved because their first residence was temporary
accommodation at Welcome Place or Hospitality House. Thirteen percent had moved
because they had been living with sponsors, family, or friends. Fourteen percent had moved
because their housing was unsuitable, in bad condition, unsafe or too expensive. Five percent
said they moved because it was overcrowded. Another five percent moved because they got
into subsidized housing.
8.5 Experiences with Finding Housing
8.5.1 Ways Refugees Look for Housing
At the time of the first interview, those interviewees who had indicated they were not happy
with their residence were asked if they had tried to find another place to live, and fifteen
participants (27 percent) said they had. In the time between the first and second interviews,
almost half of the interviewees said they had tried to find another dwelling, either to have a
safer neighbourhood, better housing conditions or more suitable (spacious) accommodation.
Those who were dissatisfied with their place but were not looking for another one were asked
“why not?” In the first year, the interviewees said it was because they could not find another
place in their price range, or did not have time to look for another place. Some were waiting
for public housing to become available or were tied to a year-long lease. One respondent said
he was planning to move to another city. At the time of the second interview, responses were
similar to those above, but additional reasons included waiting to hear from immigration
authorities about the date other family members would arrive; waiting to be able to buy a
house; and, they had grown accustomed to their place and wanted to avoid moving.
Those who had tried to find another place were asked how they had been looking. One-half
of those at the time of the first interview and one-quarter at the time of the second interview
said they had applied for public housing.
In year one, over half of the interviewees had help from Welcome Place with finding
housing. Another thirteen percent were helped by a church or their sponsor. Family and
friends were also an important source of information for finding housing for one-third of the
interviewees in the first year.
In the second year, when asked, “Where did you get information on housing when you were
looking for a place to live since the last interview?” respondents identified the following as
the most important sources (Table 8.8):
- Over forty percent from family or friends
- Seventeen percent from government agencies
- Thirteen percent from real estate agents/brokers
- Eight percent walked/drove around
Differences in approaches to finding housing for the respondents in year two may represent a
voluntary shift away from reliance on sponsor and immigrant agencies to other sources such
as social networks and real estate or government agencies. A possible reason for the shift
away from reliance on a sponsor may be that for those who were privately sponsored, the
period of formal sponsorship support had ended by the time of the second interview. For
those who had settlement agency help with finding housing prior to the first interview, that
assistance is only available for the initial search for housing. After that, the newcomer can no
longer access those services and therefore has no choice but to find other ways of finding a
Table 8.8: Sources of Information on Housing in Year Two
Family or friend 10 41.7
Sponsor 1 4.2
Immigrant or refugee serving agency 1 4.2
Government agency 4 16.7
Real estate agent/broker 3 12.5
Walked/drove around 2 8.3
Same landlord 1 4.2
Television 2 8.3
Total Responses 24 100.0
Source: Study sample.
8.5.2 Difficulties Finding Housing
Participants reported significant difficulties in finding a place to live. When asked, “Have
you had any problems or difficulties in finding housing in Winnipeg since the last
interview?” almost 65 percent of the respondents said “yes”. Almost one-quarter of them said
that financial constraints were the most serious obstacle in finding housing since the first
interview. Some of the other difficulties in finding housing that interviewees had experienced
- Long wait times for public housing,
- Not knowing how to find a house or apartment,
- Not being able to find what they needed or wanted,
- Few vacancies,
- Language problems, and
- Not having a job.
At the time of the first interview, one-third of the respondents identified financial constraints
and almost one-quarter said that long wait times for public housing were the major
difficulties they faced.
When respondents were asked in year one how long it had taken them to find a place, 64
percent reported a month or less, and for about one-third of the households it was from 1.5 to
three months. In the second year, for almost one-quarter of the interviewees the length of
time was between 6.5 and twelve months. The longer periods of finding housing between
year one and year two can be explained by the time spent on the waiting list for public
housing, the tighter market circumstances, and higher market prices, particularly for
ownership. It can also be explained by the fact that for many there was an initial urgency to
find their first place and so they had to take whatever was available right away. After this,
once they were housed, they may have had more time to search for better housing, but were
not under such a tight time deadline to do so.
8.6 Household Employment, Income and Financial Circumstances
8.6.1 Employment Characteristics
When asked, “Are you working now?” almost 66 percent of participants said “yes” at the
time of the second interview compared to 42 percent in the previous year. Participants who
were not working were asked why they weren’t. Although the reasons were similar in both
years, the proportion of some of the most common responses changed:
- Studying English (31 percent in year two compared to 44 percent in year one)
- Caring for family (23 percent and six percent respectively)
- Going to school (other than ESL) (fifteen and thirteen percent)
- Needs better English (twelve and sixteen percent)
Other reasons in year two included looking for work, health problems, waiting for a daycare
spot, and being laid off then collecting Employment Insurance.
In year two almost 35 percent of the interviewees said they had had difficulties finding a job
in Winnipeg since the first interview. When they were asked to describe these difficulties, the
largest proportions of responses in both years were language/accent problems and not
knowing how to find a job. Other common explanations in year two were not having enough
job experience or job references in Canada, their job experience and/or qualifications from
outside Canada were not accepted, and a lack of employment opportunities. Other reasons
ranged from not knowing their way around the city or transportation constraints, to not
having family or friends who could help, not having connections in the job market, not being
able to find a job in their field, or not being able to find/afford child care, to discrimination,
health problems, and a lack of jobs in their field.
Job satisfaction improved somewhat from the first to the second year. More employed
respondents said they were satisfied with their job in the second year: 61 percent compared to
58 percent in year one. Only 28 percent in year two said they were unsatisfied compared to
38 percent in the previous year. In year two there were more respondents who provided
neutral answers. Of those in year two who were happy with their job at the time, 46 percent
said they are very satisfied and 55 percent said they were satisfied. Of those dissatisfied, ten
percent were very dissatisfied.
Case Study 2
The Household: A husband, wife, and three children under age of 8. At time of first
interview, had been in Winnipeg for 11 months. This family of five was privately
sponsored by the woman’s two brothers, an uncle, and a community group. The
husband was working at two jobs while studying for exams to re-certify as a physician.
Cost of $6,500 to write three exams (in Saskatoon) plus the University’s fees for
credential recognition. Brothers had purchased a car for the family, contributed up to
$1000 per month, plus money to cover rent and utilities. The wife’s mother was living
with family for six months to care for the children while the wife looked for work as a Lab
The Search for Housing: Before arrival their uncle had rented an apartment for them
for $616/month plus utilities. They were no longer living there, but were still paying rent
for it because they got into government housing two months before the one-year lease
at their first place was up. Because it is Winnipeg Housing (public) their rent is geared to
income: only $300 including parking and utilities.
The Residence: Spacious three-bedroom apartment with large storage room, play area
for kids, eat-in kitchen, sizeable balcony, plus dining and living rooms. Unit was bright,
quiet, freshly painted, clean, and in good condition. There was a fenced play area for the
kids attached to the building. Family had been living there for one month at the time of
The Neighbourhood: Quiet residential area a couple blocks from retail area with
grocery stores, restaurants, and other shops. Walking distance to downtown. Family felt
safe there, had not heard of any violence or crime in the area.
Relationship with Caretakers/landlords: At both places caretakers and landlords had
been very nice and helpful. The first landlord gave a good reference so they could get
their current place, and was trying to find someone to sublet their apartment so they
wouldn’t have to pay the remainder of the lease.
Support and Assistance: The wife’s brothers had been in Winnipeg for years, and
lived close by, so they saw them daily. One brother was a counsellor for refugees
dealing with trauma, so he helped them work through their emotional issues. They also
had made many Canadian friends, and had friends from their home country who live in
Winnipeg, all of whom gave the family advice and information about Canadian culture,
systems, climate, services, etc.
One year later… The family was living in the same apartment, and was still very happy
with it. However, they felt the neighbourhood was not as safe as they had first thought.
They had developed really good relationships with the caretaker and their neighbours.
The wife’s mother was still staying with them to help care for the children. The family
was still struggling financially, having to draw on their savings despite being in
subsidized housing, having continued generous support of their sponsors, the husband
working two jobs, having accessed government funded job training for the wife to work
in her field, full scholarships for their children to attend private school, and government
support to cover the husbands’ physician recertification exams.
The reasons respondents were unhappy with their work in year one were mainly that their
jobs were not in their field of expertise or they did not enjoy the actual job duties. A year
later, a variety of explanations were provided including poor pay, not enough hours of work,
problems with workload/responsibilities, work not being in area of specialization, or being
overqualified. Other responses included discrimination, lack of job security, absence of
benefits, job stress, conflicts in the workplace, inconvenient shift times, and lack of
opportunities for advancement.
In the second year of interviews only 37 percent of the respondents said they were working in
their field of expertise. When asked if they wanted to work in their field of expertise, more
than three-quarters said “yes”.
Almost 28 percent of the interviewees were working at more than one job in year two
compared to 25 percent in the previous year. Nine respondents in the second year said they
had two jobs, and one had three jobs. In the previous year all six respondents who worked
more than one job had only one additional job. When asked why they were working at more
than one job, most participants in both years said “Not enough income at one job”.
Almost 67 percent were happy with their employment income in year two, ten percent more
than in the previous year. When those who were unhappy with their income were asked to
explain why, most respondents in both years said they did not make enough money per hour
(81 percent in year two and 71 percent in year one). The rest said they did not get enough
hours of work.
Table 8.9: Annual Household Income: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year Second Year Winnipeg Households,
Annual Household Change
(n=49) (n=48) 2005
% % % %
Under $10,000 6.1 4.2 - 1.9 5.5
$10,000 – $19,999 32.7 22.9 - 9.8 10.8
$20,000 – $29,999 40.8 35.4 - 5.4 11.3
$30,000 - $39,999 16.3 16.7 + 0.4 12.1
$40,000 - $49,999 4.1 10.4 + 6.3 10.5
$50,000 + 0.0 10.4 + 10.4 49.8
Total 100.0 100.0 - 100
Mean $22,374 $29,357 + 31.2 $63,025
Median $21,480 $26,700 + 24.3 $49,794
Source: Study Sample; Statistics Canada 2006.
Participants reported considerable improvements in household income between the first and
second interviews. In year one the study households’ average annual income was $22,374;
the median household income was $21,480 (Table 8.9). By year two, the average annual
income had increased 31 percent to $29,357. The median income increased 24 percent to
$26,700. It should be noted, however, that these incomes are still low compared to Winnipeg
overall. The average annual household income in Winnipeg in 2005 was $63,025; the median
income was $49,794.
At the time of the second interview, there were a smaller proportion of households making
less than $30,000 a year – 63 percent compared to almost eighty percent in the first year. The
proportion of those making $30,000 - $39,999 in year two was similar to that in year one -
just over sixteen percent. The proportion of households making over $40,000 a year
increased considerably to 21 percent in year two compared to just four percent the previous
year. This is still only about one-third the proportion of Winnipeg households making over
$40,000 which is approximately 60 percent. The income distributions illustrate a substantial
decline in the proportion of households in the lower income brackets, with the most
substantial growth in the proportion of households earning $40,000 and more. This is
certainly a positive upward trend.
In the time between the two interviews, family households experienced lower rates of income
growth (26 percent) than non-family households (62 percent) (Table 8.10). Multiple person
non-family households experienced a 146 percent increase in income, perhaps because many
of these households include more potential income earners.
Table 8.10: Average Gross Monthly Income by Household Type: Year One vs. Year Two
Household Type First Year ($) Second Year ($) % Change
Non-family households 1,241 2,008 + 61.8
Single person 1,096 1,682 + 53.4
Multiple persons 1,415 3,475 + 145.6
Family Households 2,045 2,577 + 26.0
One family households 2,018 2,405 + 19.1
Couples with children 2,080 2,535 + 21.9
Couples without children 2,075 2,500 + 20.5
Lone parent 1,590 2,074 + 30.5
Extended Family Households 2,394 2,442 + 2.0
Multiple Family Households 2,800 5,533 + 97.6
All Household Types 1,865 2,446 + 31.2
Source: Study sample.
Income for lone-parent households with children was $1,590 per month in year one and
$2,074 per month a year later, a 31 percent increase, but still much lower than even the
$3,700 average earned by all Winnipeg lone-parent households in 2000 – a figure that would
undoubtedly be higher for 2007. However, this may represent a brighter picture for lone-
parent study households than really exists. Two families classified as lone parent in year two
had children in these households who were also employed. If their incomes were removed,
the average income for lone-parent families would be $1,387 in year one and $1,727 in year
two, an increase of 25 percent.
In the year two interviews, twelve households (25 percent of the 48 who were able to provide
full household income) received all of their income from government transfer payments
(Table 8.11). Another 22 (46 percent) received some of their income from government
transfers and fourteen households (29 percent) received no income from government
transfers. In year one, twenty households (41 percent) depended entirely on government
transfers, another eighteen (37 percent) received some of their income from this source, and
eleven households (22 percent) received no government transfer income. These figures
illustrate that interviewee households are becoming less dependent on government transfer
Table 8.11: Income from Government Transfers: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 49) Second Year (n = 48) % Change
% of Avg. % of All % of Avg. % of All % of Avg.
Hhlds ($) Income Hhlds ($) Income Hhlds ($)
All Income from
Government 20 40.8 1,797 100.0 12 25.0 1,878 100.0 - 15.8 + 82.31
Some Income from
Government 18 36.7 774 42.2 22 45.8 804 33.2 + 9.1 + 30.01
No Income from
Government 11 22.4 - - 14 29.2 - - + 6.8 -
Source: Study sample.
For the 22 households for which government transfer payments were part of their income in
year two, the amount they received was on average $804 a month, and this was equivalent to
one-third of their monthly income. For the twelve households that reported receiving all of
their income from government transfer payments, they received on average $1,878 a month,
about $82 more than the $1,796 for the households in this category in year one.
The child benefit proportion of government transfers has increased with time. In year one,
child benefits comprised 43 percent of all government transfers, whereas in year two the
share had risen to 59 percent. In year two, for sixteen of the total 34 households receiving
government transfers, that money came in the form of child benefits only, compared to 38
households in year one.
Table 8.12: Income of Wage-Earners and Non-Wage-Earners by Source
Average Income by Source First Year Second Year Change %
Wage Earning Households n = 22 n = 35
All Income $1,989 $2,660 33.7
Wage / Employment $1,522 $2,140 40.6
Government Transfers $406 $478 17.7
Private Sponsors $45 0 -
Other Sources $16 $41 164.2
Non-Wage Earning Households n = 27 n = 13
All Income $1,763 $1,873 6.2
Government Transfers $1,516 $1,808 19.3
Private Sponsors $152 0 -
Other Source(s) $9 $65 -29.6
All Households n = 49 n = 48
All Income $1,865 $2,446 31.2
Wage / Employment $683 $1,561 128.4
Government Transfers $1,018 $838 -17.6
Private Sponsors $104 0 -
Other Source(s) $58 $47 -17.5
Source: Study sample.
As shown in Table 8.12 above, income for all households was up 31 percent from year one to
year two. Average employment income increased 128 percent; income from government
transfers was down eighteen percent, as was income from other sources. When wage earners
(including those who are self-employed) are considered separately, their average income
grew almost 34 percent. Non-wage earning households experienced a six percent income
increase on average.
8.6.3 Poverty Levels
Table 8.13 presents the incidence of low-income among the interviewees by household size.
Using the LICO as a measure of low-income, the table shows high poverty levels among
households of all sizes in both years. Almost 73 percent of all study households were below
the Low Income Cut Off (L ICO) in the second year compared to 92 percent in year one, an
improvement of 19 percent. In the time between the first and second interviews poverty
levels decreased for all household sizes, from as much as a 30 percent decrease for two-
person households down to 1.4 percent decrease for four-person households. In both year one
and year two, it was the larger households that had the highest incidence of poverty.
For economic families, the incidence of low-income declined from 93 percent in year one to
79 percent in year two (Table 8.14). For unattached individuals it declined more dramatically
– only half of them were low-income in year two compared to almost 88 percent in the
Table 8.13: Incidence of Low Income by Household Size: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 49) Second Year ( n = 48) % Change
Size ($) Average Incidence of Average Incidence of Average Incidence
Income ($) Low Income Income Low Income Income ($) Rate
One $21,202 13,156 83.3 20,187 55.6 +53.4 -27.7
Two $26,396 17,370 80.0 23,640 50.0 +36.1 -30.0
Three $32,450 19,224 100.0 24,255 77.8 +26.2 -22.2
Four $39,399 23,391 88.9 28,334 87.5 +21.1 -1.4
Five $44,686 26,817 100.0 30,778 81.8 +14.8 -18.2
Six $50,397 - - 50,700 50.0 - -
Seven + $56,110 36,881 100.0 49,598 80.0 +34.5 -20.0
All - 22,374 91.8 29,357 72.9 +31.2 -18.9
*Source of LICO: 2006 Census, based on 2005 income, Study sample.
Table 8.14: Incidence of Low Income for Economic Families and Unattached Individuals
First Year Second Year
# % # %
Economic Families* 37 (n = 40) 92.5 30 (n = 38) 78.9
Unattached Individuals 7 (n = 8) 87.5 5 (n = 10) 50.0
All Households 44 (n = 48) 91.7 35 (n = 48) 72.9
* In this study Economic Families includes all Family Household types plus related individuals in the Multiple
Person Households category. Source: Study sample.
8.6.4 Household Budget
On average the study households at year two had $1,871 to spend each month after paying
shelter costs (rent or mortgage plus utilities), an increase of forty percent in after-housing-
income compared to year one (Table 8.15). From this remaining income, in year two,
households on average spent:
- Thirty-three percent on food, or $618 per month. This is 36 percent more than
households spent for food the previous year;
- Eleven percent on debt repayments, or on average $197 per household per month;
- Seventeen percent on money sent to family or friends outside of Canada. On
average they sent $311 a month; and,
- Fifty-two percent or approximately $979 to meet all remaining expenses including
transportation, education, clothing, savings, household and personal items,
furniture, telephone, insurance, cable T.V., internet, entertainment, etc. These
residual expenses were 42 percent higher than in the first year.
Table 8.15: Household Budget: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year Second Year % Change
Average Gross Income $1,865 $2,446 + 31.2
Average Shelter Costs $566 $626 + 10.6
Shelter as a % of Total Income 32.5 % 25.3 % - 7.2
Income Remaining after Paying Shelter Costs $1,340 $1,871 + 39.7
Average Food Costs $456 $618 + 35.6
Average Debt Repayment $179 $197 + 9.7
Average Money Sent Home (remittances) $168 $311 +85.1
Average Sub-Total of 3 Core* $776 $1,131 + 45.8
3 Core* as a % of Total Income 34.6 % 39.7 % + 5.1
Residual Income to Meet Other Expenses $690 $979 + 41.9
Residual as a % of Total Income 32.7 % 34.0 % + 1.3
Note: n values are different; therefore, numbers are not additive and cannot be weighted
*3 Core include: Average Food Costs + Debt Repayment + Money Sent Home. Source: Study sample
As a percentage of the total income, shelter costs in year two were 25 percent (33 percent in
year one), residual expenses were 34 percent (33 percent in first year), and food costs, money
sent home and debt repayment combined made up forty percent (35 percent in previous
In year two, fewer participants reported having outstanding debts compared to the first year.
The types of debt being repaid in year one included personal loans (twelve percent of
households) and Immigration/Transportation loans (88 percent). A year later, seventeen
percent of respondents were repaying personal loans and seventy percent were repaying
Immigration/Transportation loans, but some were also repaying student loans (seven
percent), and other loans (seven percent). In year two, 38 households said they had
transportation loans still to repay while thirteen households had already finished repaying
When total monthly household income and monthly household expenses in both years are
compared, incomes grew at a slightly higher rate than expenses. The difference between
incomes and expenses in year one was approximately $230. In year two this difference had
increased to approximately $355. These very small margins between income and expenses
illustrate the very precarious nature of the financial situation of refugee households, even in
the second year.
Note: N values are different for each category therefore numbers are not additive. Some households,
particularly those who have debt or send a lot of money home, have considerably less residual income – closer
to $700 than $979.
8.6.5 Meeting Expenses Each Month
In the second year, a lower proportion of interviewees said they experienced difficulties
meeting expenses every month (54 percent compared to sixty percent in the previous year),
again a sign that the households’ economic situations were improving. There were also
several respondents in year two who said they sometimes had difficulty meeting expenses
(22 percent). Twenty-four percent of respondents reported no difficulty meeting expenses
each month, compared to almost forty percent of interviewees in the first year.
In both years, participants were asked whether they expected their monthly expenses to stay
the same, increase, or decrease over the subsequent year. Approximately three-quarters of the
participants in each year said they expected their expenses to increase. More participants in
the second year thought their expenses would stay the same and fewer of them expected their
expenses to decline.
When asked, “Why do you expect your expenses to increase?” the most common responses
in both years were: their children’s costs would increase as they grow, they expected housing
costs to increase, they expected the general cost of living to increase, and they were planning
major purchases like a car.
In the second year of interviews, more respondents also said they planned to sponsor a family
member, would send more money to their family, or would have a student loan to pay.
Participants in year two also provided types of explanations (not mentioned in year one)
which seem to suggest they were settling in and turning their attention to longer-term goals
and objectives. Among these were increasing their savings or investments, making plans to
move to another city, the interviewee or spouse would be going to university, a family
member would be moving in, or they planned to move into a house which would mean that
payments and utilities costs would be higher.
Both the intention to sponsor others to Canada and being in the process of sponsoring may be
considered indicators of permanent or successful settlement and also of positive immigrant
experiences. When asked, “Have you sponsored or started the process of sponsoring any
family members to come to Canada yet?” sixteen participants in year two said “yes”
(compared to eleven in the previous year). Approximately three-quarters of participants in
each year who said “no”, did however plan to sponsor family members to come to Canada
The ability of households to save money did not increase significantly from one year to the
next. In year one, only 35 percent of participants said they had been able to save some money
on a regular basis. In year two, 38 percent of respondents said they were able to save some
money most months, and nine percent said they were able to save “sometimes”. Over half of
the households (53 percent) in the second year were still not able to save money most
In the second year, when asked, “How would you describe your household’s present
financial situation?” one-third of the interviewees said they did not have enough money to
meet their basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing and other necessities. Fifty-four percent
said they had just enough money, and only thirteen percent said they had more than enough
money to meet these basic needs.
While fewer people used the food bank between the two years than before the first year, they
used it more regularly. In the first year 42 percent of respondents said they had used the food
bank at some point. In the second year this fell to approximately 22 percent. One-half of
them were using it twice per month in the second year compared to thirty percent in the first
8.6.6 Access to Loans or Credit
In year one, when asked “Are you able to get loans from banks or credit unions if you need
them?” eight of the 28 participants who responded said “yes”. In year two, 31 respondents
said they had tried to get loans or credit from banks or credit unions since the first interview
and twenty-two of them (71 percent) experienced no problems. Those participants who had
problems were asked to describe their experiences with banks or credit unions and why their
requests were rejected. Responses were similar in both years and included a lack of
employment history in Canada, a lack of credit history, or a need to have a co-signor.
Overall, however, it seems clear that access to credit improved with time.
8.7 Housing Affordability, Adequacy and Suitability
8.7.1 Shelter Costs
Table 8.16: Owners’ Payments Year Two
Second Year (n = 6)
Average Mortgage Payment Amount, $ per month 800
Mortgage Payment Range, $ per month 672 – 900
Average Annual Taxes, $ 1,930
Range in Annual Taxes, $ 860 – 2,500
Average Down Payment, $ 11,668
Range in Down Payments, $ 1,400 – 25,000
Average Monthly Cost of Utilities*, $ 336 (n = 4)
Range in Monthly Cost of Utilities*, $ 276 – 389 (n = 4)
*Note: Utilities include electricity, gas, and water.
Source: Study sample
Table 8.16 provides the average mortgage amount, range in mortgage payments, average
annual taxes, tax ranges, plus the amount and range of down-payments for the six
homeowners in the second year. When the monthly mortgage payment, monthly taxes and
utilities are combined, the average homeowner households were paying approximately
$1,300 per month for shelter. If the households were to pay thirty percent of their income for
shelter, these shelter costs would require an annual income of approximately $52,000. Of the
six homeowners, four specified their income. The average income of these four owners was
reported as $49,638 a year.
Comparison of the average and median rent payments and ranges between the two interviews
do not indicate any significant change (Table 8.17). In the second year, the average rent
payment was $523 compared to $517 in the first year. The increase might be attributed to
annual rent increases due to inflation.
Table 8.17: Rent Payments: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 53) Second Year (n = 48)
Mean $517 $523
Median $478 $488
Range $236 - $1250 $232 - $1,300
Table 8.18 presents the highest and average rental costs for study households in both years.
Average rents were higher for rooming house and bachelor units, but the sample size of these
units in both years is very small. Average rents paid by the interviewees for one- and two-
bedroom apartments declined slightly, while three-or-more bedroom units were slightly more
Respondents were asked, “Comparing the place you live now to the first place you lived in
Winnipeg that was not temporary housing (i.e. not Welcome Place, etc.), is this place more or
less expensive?” Fifty-five percent said that their rent was higher; twelve percent said it was
the same, and one-third said their rent at the time of the second interview was lower.
Table 8.18: Rent Payments by Number of Bedrooms: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 53) Second Year (n = 48)
Rental units in
Study Unit Rents Study Unit Rents
apartment Average $ Average $
buildings Winnipeg 2006 Winnipeg 2007
High Average High Average
1 Bedroom 10 557 569 460 9 569 583 429
2 Bedroom 20 709 713 479 18 733 680 465
3 or more bedrooms 17 839 1,250 676 17 843 1,300 688
Source: Study sample, CMHC 2007.
8.7.2 Housing Affordability
In the second year, affordability improved for both renters and owners (Table 8.19). Twenty-
two percent of all interviewee households were spending thirty percent or more on shelter
costs in year two, compared to 51 percent of households in the previous year. Almost forty
percent of all renters paid thirty percent or more for shelter in year one, compared to nineteen
Table 8.19: Housing Affordability: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year Second Year (2006 City of Winnipeg
% of Income Spent on Shelter unless otherwise noted)
# % # % %
30% or more 22 51.2 10 21.7 20.6
Renters 21 39.6 (n=53) 9 18.8 (n=48) 37.3
Owners 1 100.0 (n=1) 1 16.6 (n=6) 11.6
50% or more 5 11.6 1 2.2 8.7 (CMA 2001)
Renters 5 9.4 (n=53) 1 2.0 (n=48) --
Owners 0 0 0 0 --
Shelter-to-income ratio 32.5 25.3 16.9 (CMA 2006)*
Renters 32.3 25.1 24.7 (CMA 2006)*
Owners 39.2 28.4
Source: Study Sample, Statistics Canada 2006 Census, CMHC 2005, & Winnipeg Free Press website*
percent of all renters a year later. Twenty-one percent of all households in Winnipeg, and 37
percent of renters, were paying thirty percent or more of their income on shelter in 2006
(Statistics Canada 2006).
The situation for renter households is interesting. A lower proportion of refugee renters
experienced affordability problems in the second year than renter households in the city
(19% vs. 37%). At first this may seem surprising, but when one considers the fact that 46
percent of all second year refugee households lived in public housing, and that the proportion
of Aboriginal households and households on social assistance with affordability problems in
the city is very high, the statistics seem more believable.
Only one household in year two spent more than fifty percent of their monthly income on
shelter costs, compared to five such households in the previous year (twelve percent). These
households in both years were renters. For all households in the city, the proportion paying
fifty percent or more on shelter in 2001 was 8.7 percent.
The average shelter-to-income ratio for all households in year two of 25 percent had
improved substantially since the first year (32.5 percent). For all households in Winnipeg the
average shelter-to-income ratio in 2006 was 16.9 percent. The average shelter-to-income
ratio for renters in year two was 25 percent compared to 32 percent in the previous year. For
homeowners, the ratio declined from 39 percent in the first year to 28 percent in the second
8.7.3 Housing Suitability
In the second year, housing was more suitable (Table 8.20) for the composition of the
interviewee households. There was an increase in the average number of bedrooms and
bathrooms per household, and the average number of persons per bedroom decreased. The
proportion of households living in three-bedroom units increased in the second year, the
proportion of those living in four-or-more bedroom units remained the same. Fewer
households were living in bachelor units and units with one or two bedrooms.
Overall, the average number of bedrooms per unit increased from 2.24 bedrooms per
household in year one to 2.41 in year two. At the same time, the average household size
decreased from 3.91 to 3.85 people. Therefore, the average number of persons per bedroom
decreased from 1.75 to 1.6, which can be considered as a slight improvement in housing
Eighty-five percent of the households in year one had one bathroom, and only seven
households had two bathrooms. Between the first and second year, the proportion of
households with one bathroom declined slightly to eighty percent. Eight households (14.5
percent) had two, and two households (3.6 percent) had three bathrooms. The average
number of bathrooms increased slightly from the first to the second year – from 1.1 to 1.2
bathrooms per household.
When asked about the size of their dwelling, in year one sixty percent of the interviewees
said they liked it. A year later this proportion had increased to 69 percent. More respondents
liked the size of their place, including the number and the size of the rooms. Of the
respondents who did not like the size of their units in both years, most said it was because
they found there were not enough bedrooms for the number of people living there, the entire
place was too small, or they needed another bathroom. This illustrates increasing satisfaction
among interviewees with the number and size of rooms in their housing units.
Table 8.20: Number of Bedrooms: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 54) Second Year ( n = 54) Change
# of Bedrooms
# of Hhlds % of Hhlds # of Hhlds % of Hhlds % of Hhlds
Bachelor / room in house 5 9.3 4 7.4 - 1.9
1 11 20.4 9 16.7 - 3.7
2 20 37.0 18 33.3 - 3.7
3 14 25.9 19 35.2 + 9.3
4 1 1.9 1 1.9 0
5 2 3.7 1 1.9 - 1.8
6 - - 1 1.9 + 1.9
9 1 1.9 1 1.9 0
Avg. # of Avg. # of + 0.17
Total # of Bedrooms13 121 bedrooms/ 130 bedrooms/ bedrooms/
hhld = 2.24 hhld = 2.41 Hhld.
Source: Study sample.
Counts bachelor / room in a house as one bedroom, not zero.
In the second year, more refugee households lived in units that met National Occupancy
Standards – 64 percent, compared to 49 percent in the previous year. In the second year,
there were still twenty households that lived in places that did not meet these standards,
which means these households did not have enough bedrooms for the size and composition
of the household and would be considered to be overcrowded. Overall, since the first year,
eighteen percent of the households had improved living conditions in that they were no
longer violating National Occupancy Standards, while 3.6 percent of households moved the
opposite way. Of those whose suitability conditions improved, sixty percent had moved to
larger units and forty percent had a decrease in number of persons in the household.
8.7.4 Housing Condition
In the second year, more respondents indicated their units were in need of repairs (42 percent
compared to 26 percent in the previous year). An increase in concerns with unit maintenance
and repair in year two may be due to the fact that those interviewed felt more comfortable
reporting these problems and perhaps had also become more familiar with the standard of
condition they should expect.
One-third of respondents reported in year two that minor repairs were required, such as
missing floor tiles, bricks or shingles, defective steps, railing and siding. Nine percent
reported a need for major repairs like defective plumbing, heating or electrical wiring, and
structural repairs to walls, floors and ceilings. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the
second year said their dwelling was in good condition and only regular maintenance was
needed, such as painting or furnace cleaning.
8.8 Other Housing Characteristics
8.8.1 Building Safety
In the second year, participants reported slightly higher levels of satisfaction with the safety
of their buildings. When asked, “Do you feel that your building is safe for you and/or your
children?” 82 percent of the interviewees in year two said “yes”, which is almost eight
percent more than in year one. Sixteen percent of the respondents in year two said their
buildings were unsafe, compared to 22 percent in the previous year.
The reasons they considered their building to be safe changed in between years. The
importance of the presence of security features, such as locks or buzzer systems, declined
from 27 percent in year one to eighteen percent in year two. One-fifth of year two
respondents said that quiet and law abiding neighbours made their housing feel safe,
compared to a quarter of the respondents in the previous year. In year one, the presence of
police in the area was a factor of safety, but it was not mentioned in year two. In the second
year, the interviewees provided a variety of reasons not mentioned in the first year. Thirteen
percent felt that because the building was well maintained, it felt safe. For ten percent,
responsive management contributed to their feeling of safety. Five percent said their building
felt safe compared to their previous place. Other opinions on what made their building feel
- Safe daycare on premises,
- Close to school for kids,
- Close to Portage Avenue so the area is busy, well-lit, and clean,
- Do not have to walk down residential streets,
- Yard is fenced / private,
- Have own entrance as opposed to sharing one with the entire building,
- Do not see people roaming, drunks, or drugs, and
- People try to look out for each other.
Overall, responses in year two illustrated an increase in newcomers’ appreciation of good
management and maintenance, a sense of community, and privacy in contributing to a sense
of safety in their building.
Thirteen percent of the respondents in year two who felt their building was not safe for them
and their children said it was because safety features were inadequate or non-existent (thirty
percent in year one). Nineteen percent said their neighbours were often noisy or drunk (26
percent in year one). Over 35 percent of the interviewees who felt their buildings were not
safe in year two had been broken into or experienced attempted break-ins or saw evidence of
crime/illegal activities in the building, compared to 26 percent of the respondents a year
earlier. In year two, the respondents were also concerned about the safety of their children
playing outside, as homeless people were sleeping in doorways, and guns/weapons had been
seen or heard.
When asked, “Do you feel that your housing makes your physical and/or emotional health
worse or better?” the proportion of respondents who said “worse” decreased from 24 percent
in year one to thirteen percent in year two. More people felt their housing made their
emotional and physical health better.
Of those in year two who thought their housing contributed to their health problems, over
forty percent mentioned it was because their place was too small. Seventeen percent
experienced general stress over safety concerns. Other problems included being sick from the
cold in winter or heat in summer, stairs that were painful to climb, paint peeling/walls
crumbling, and cockroaches in the unit. These complaints were not different from the
responses refugees provided in the first interview, except a year earlier more people said they
were sick because they were too cold in the winter.
Those respondents in the second year who thought their housing made their emotional and
physical health better explained that a quiet, safe place was good for their mental health (41
percent). For 29 percent, a place of their own and a place to escape from the world were good
for their mental health. Fourteen percent found sunlight and greenery surrounding their
homes to be peaceful and relaxing. Other comments on features of their housing refugees felt
contributed to their well-being included:
“Place has elevator - don't have to carry disabled daughter”
“No carpets - son's dust allergies no problem now”
“No worries about neighbours’ illnesses making our kids sick”
“There is space for kids to play”
“No cockroaches or other vermin”
“Helpful neighbour reduces stress” (the neighbour cuts the grass)
“There is balcony for fresh air”
8.8.2 Elements of Housing Design
In year two the respondents reported higher levels of satisfaction with several elements of
their housing, including the size of their units, design/floor plan, and kitchen facilities (Table
8.21). At the same time, there were more complaints about repair problems.
When asked about their ability to control the air temperature in their place, 83 percent of the
interviewees gave a positive response in year two, compared to 62 percent in year one. Of
those who were not satisfied with air temperature control in both surveys, major concerns
were with adequate heating and/or absence of air conditioning.
Almost seventy percent of respondents in year one and eighty percent in year two were
satisfied with the air quality in their dwellings. Those respondents in both years who were not
satisfied with air quality provided the following reasons:
- No fan in kitchen so cooking smells go everywhere,
- Can't open any/enough windows to let fresh air in, and
- Musty smell inside the unit and smells from other units/hallway.
In both years, participants were satisfied with the lighting in their dwellings (82 percent in
year one and 94 percent in year two). There were fewer concerns about the quality of lighting
in year two, but comments were similar in that there were not enough lights and there was an
absence of overhead lights in some rooms. When asked about safety (hazards) in their units
approximately ninety percent of respondents in both years had concerns including security of
doors/windows/locks; mould; crumbling ceiling/walls; broken glass in windows/doors; and
alarms out of order.
Ninety percent of interviewees liked the design and floor plan of their units in year two
compared to 81 percent in the previous year. In both years, dissatisfaction with the design and
floor plan of their dwelling was associated with their preference for a better separation of
space: a kitchen separate from the living room, and having the tub and toilet separate. Many
of the interviewees in this study would have preferred not to have the more open design
concept that characterizes housing in Winnipeg. Lack of laundry facilities inside the unit was
also mentioned in both years.
In year two, more participants were positive about their kitchens and cooking facilities (82
percent compared to 71 percent in the first year). In year one the major concern was the lack
of counter/cupboard space. For respondents in year two, it was the poor condition of the
kitchen appliances. Other complaints were: the smoke alarms go off unnecessarily, the sinks
leak, it gets very hot when cooking, and an absence of fans.
Table 8.21: Satisfaction with Elements of Housing
Ability to Control Air Safety (Hazards) Design/ Floor Cooking Facilities/
Air Quality Lighting Storage Areas
Temperature in Unit plan Kitchen
Second First Second First Second First Second First Second First Second First Second
Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year
Rating # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # %
Excellent (5) - - 16 29.1 - - 13 23.6 - - 15 27.3 - - 20 36.4 - - 11 20 - - 12 21.8 - - 13 23.6
Good (4) - - 27 49.1 - - 24 43.6 - - 33 60 - - 24 43.6 - - 35 63.6 - - 28 50.9 - - 27 49.1
Neither (3) - - 3 5.5 - - 9 16.4 - - 4 7.3 - - 6 10.9 - - 4 7.3 - - 6 10.9 - - 6 10.9
Bad (2) - - 3 5.5 - - 8 14.5 - - 3 5.5 - - 4 7.3 - - 4 7.3 - - 7 12.7 - - 8 14.5
Very Bad (1) - - 6 10.9 - - 1 1.8 - - 0 0 - - 1 1.8 - - 1 1.8 - - 2 3.6 - - 1 1.8
Total 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 54 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100 55 100
34 61.8 43 82.7 38 69.1 37 80.4 45 81.8 48 94.1 48 87.3 44 89.8 44 81.5 46 90.2 39 70.9 40 81.6 35 63.6 40 81.6
(4 or 5)
21 38.2 9 17.3 17 30.9 9 19.6 10 18.2 3 5.9 7 12.7 5 10.2 10 18.2 5 9.8 16 29.1 9 18.4 20 36.4 9 18.4
(1 or 2)
Total 55 100 52 100 55 100 46 100 55 100 51 100 55 100 49 100 54 100 51 100 55 100 49 100 55 100 49 100
Score - - 3.8 - - 3.73 - - 4.09 - - 4.05 - - 3.93 - - 3.75 - - 3.78
(out of 5)
Source: Study sample.
In the second year, participants were more satisfied with the storage areas (82 percent
compared to 64 percent in year one). Participants who were not satisfied had a similar
concern in both years - lack of storage space. A few complained that the closet or cupboard
doors were broken.
Of all the questions asked about different elements of their units, in year two the
respondents were most positive about lighting and the absence of safety hazards, and less
positive about air quality, the condition of kitchen facilities and the lack of storage space.
Overall, however, the respondents were more satisfied with all aspects of their dwelling
compared to year one.
8.8.3 Current Place vs. First Place: Levels of Satisfaction
When asked about their place at the time of the second interview compared to the first place
they had lived (that was not temporary housing), over three-quarters of the respondents said
their place at the time was better. Twelve percent said it was about the same, and nine
percent said it was worse.
- Sixteen percent said their place was in better condition/cleaner/repairs were made;
- Fourteen percent said the building was safer;
- Seven percent said the neighbourhood was safer;
- Thirteen percent stated their place was quieter; and
- Eleven percent indicated their place was bigger.
Responses that were also mentioned often include: the place at the time of the interview had
better outdoor space or place for kids to play, the location was more convenient, the place
contributed less to health problems, they had an increased sense of freedom, they had pride
of ownership, they had fewer problems with the caretaker, the place was more family-
oriented, and the absence of cockroaches or other vermin. Other reasons mentioned less
frequently included the landlord or caretaker was very helpful, the place had air conditioning,
the kitchen was separate from the living space, the appliances were better, and people were
Participants who considered their place at the time of the second interview to be worse
explained it was because the building was dangerous or unsafe, repairs were not made, the
place was in poor condition and not clean, or the place was smaller.
Other factors mentioned were: the place contributed to health problems; the location was less
convenient; the neighbourhood was less safe; there were problems with the current caretaker;
or they were not happy with the behaviour of other tenants.
8.8.4 Overall Happiness with Place
More interviewees said that they were happy overall with their place in the second year than
in year one. In year two the participants were asked, “Overall, when you think about the
place you live, are you happy with it? Is it suitable for everyone who lives there?” Eighty
Case Study 3
The Household: 28 yr old single man, government sponsored, living alone. Unemployed for
over a year, until just before the interview. Had been in Winnipeg for 13 months.
The Search for Housing: Lived in temporary housing for 6 weeks. Settlement agency found
current place for him.
His Residence: Room in an inner city rooming house. One washroom (tub only) shared with
8 other units. Room dimensions about 15 x 20 feet, but with angled ceilings on two sides, so
standing up straight only possible in the centre of the room. Only a tiny kitchen area, and two
burners on the stove didn’t work. The heating didn’t work in the winter, so the caretaker gave
him an electric heater but it was still cold. In the summer it was stifling and he only had one
tiny window. The things he liked about where he lived were the cost ($236/month), and
proximity to bus routes and settlement agency.
The Neighbourhood: The area is dangerous. He got “jacked” for his pizza at 2 a.m., but ran
away from the guy. “It’s not safe to walk after dark even with others.”
Relationship with Caretaker: When interviewee moved his belongings in, he was asked to
change apartments before he’d even unpacked. The caretaker said he would move his stuff
for him while he was out, but when the interviewee returned, everything he owned was
gone… everything he had brought with him from Africa had been stolen. The caretaker did
absolutely nothing about it. The caretaker would enter the unit daily, saying he had to check
the breaker box. He’d also look around the place, and one time, the caretaker was very
drunk and had a big knife tucked in his waistband.
Support and Assistance: Interviewee only knew one neighbour. He had no friends or
family, he was lonely and cried a lot: “All day long, sometime.” He had no one to call to get a
ride in case of an emergency. He became really sick at one point and called the settlement
agency for help, but no one there would take him to the hospital, so he had to call a taxi. He
had no one to talk to. When he went to see a mental health counsellor who works with war
affected refugees, the interviewee was worried that the counsellor would tell others in the
community about his problems. He had a real sense of loneliness and despair.
What could he do? He was unhappy living there, and had been trying to find a new place.
The interviewee didn’t know his rights and responsibilities or those of his landlord, and didn’t
know where he could learn these. He had just started work at two jobs (working 12 hours a
day, five days a week) so could afford a better place, but didn’t have any time to look. He
asked for help from his settlement agency, but they didn’t have time to help. He didn’t know
of anyone or any service that could help him find another place to live.
One Year Later… the interviewee was still living in the same rooming house room and
facing the same issues. The stove had not yet been fixed, the temperature extremes had not
been resolved, and his place had been broken into three times. Neither the caretaker nor
management had been helpful. He was spending as little time as possible in his unit because
it was too stressful to be there. Living in such a confining space had been very stressful and
had caused him to become depressed. He continued to look for another place to live, but
was not hopeful. He was working at the same jobs as the year before, and was dissatisfied
with his work which is not in his area of expertise, and only pay minimum wage. Although he
had made a few friends since the previous year, he still has no significant supports here.
percent responded “yes.” In the first year, 67 percent said that overall they were happy with
their dwelling and 62 percent found it suitable for the needs of everyone living there.
The most common reason housing was considered to be unsuitable was the inadequate size of
units (twenty percent in year two and 36 percent in year one). Approximately twelve percent
in both years said that repairs were not made or the place was in poor condition. Other
- Current housing contributes to health problem (twelve percent in year two
compared to seven percent in year one);
- The place feels dangerous or unsafe (ten percent and sixteen percent respectively)
plus twelve percent in year two said that the neighbourhood was unsafe;
- It was not possible to control the temperature extremes (ten percent and thirteen
A few interviewees mentioned that their housing was too expensive, noisy, not family-
oriented, in an inconvenient location, and there were problems with the caretaker
(confrontation, harassment). Eight percent in year two and four percent in year one wanted
more freedom for their kids, and more outdoor space.
When asked, “Are you proud of your apartment or house?” there was no substantial
difference between responses in the two years: eighty percent of respondents in the first and
83 percent in the second year said “yes”. When asked if they looked forward to going to their
apartment or house at the end of the day, 84 percent of all households in year one and over 96
percent a year later responded positively. This was because they viewed their place as
comfortable and relaxing places to be and their families were there. Participants in year two
also seem to have more appreciation of having independence and privacy. More of them said
their place was secure. Those respondents who were not looking forward to going home at
the end of the day in both years said it was because they did not feel safe, did not feel at
home, could not relax, their place was too small, or it was not in good condition.
In the first year the most important thing about where respondents lived was associated first
of all with proximity to stores, schools, work, family, and good bus routes (over forty percent
of all answers). A year later the emphasis shifted to safety in the area (thirty percent of
respondents). Thirteen percent of respondents in year one mentioned affordability as an
important factor compared to nine percent of respondents in year two.
8.9 Private vs. Public Housing
In the second year more households lived in public housing than in the first: 46 percent
compared to 32 percent of year one participants (Table 8.22).
In year two there was a better match between household composition and unit size in private
housing than in year one. Suitability of public housing units remained about the same.
A higher proportion of private housing households were happy with the place they lived in
year two compared to the first year, but the reverse was true for public housing households.
A higher proportion of both public and private sector renters found their landlords/caretakers
to be helpful in year two compared to in the first year.
Table 8.22: Private vs. Public Housing: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year (n = 53) Second Year (n = 48)
Private % Public % Private % Public %
Proportion of All Households 67.9 32.1 54.2 45.8
Meets NOS Criteria 38.9 64.7 57.7 63.6
Happy with Home 55.6 93.8 73.1 81.8
Care Land Care Land
Caretakers/Landlords are Helpful 51.5 57.1
88.0 72.7 81.8 90.0
Housing is Safe 73.5 76.5 88.5 68.2
Neighbourhood is Safe 75.0 70.6 80.8 70.6
Average Rent per month ($) 563 421 610 421
Median Rent per month ($) 506 400 515 384
Note: Some percentages do not add to 100%, as “neutral” responses are not shown. Source: Study sample.
In the second year, refugees renting private housing were more positive about the safety of
their neighbourhood than were the public housing renters. In each year, renters in private
housing felt more positive about neighbourhood safety than did the public housing tenants.
In the second year, the difference in average rent for privately-owned units, compared to
publicly-owned units, was $189 a month ($610 and $421 respectively) not including the cost
of utilities. This difference between the two had increased by $47 from the first to the second
year. In the second year, the households in private rental units paid 45 percent more on
average than those in public housing. This compares to 34 percent more in the first year.
8.10 Neighbourhood Characteristics
8.10.1 Neighbourhood Safety
More respondents in year two (83 percent) than in year one (75 percent) felt their
neighbourhood was safe. Of the respondents in year two who said they felt their
neighbourhood was safe, almost one-half said it was “somewhat safe” and over one-half said
it was “very safe.”
The reasons they felt their neighbourhood was unsafe were similar in both years. The
difference was in that more respondents in year two had witnessed crime, knew of crime in
their area, or had experienced a break-in. On the other hand, only twenty percent of
respondents were afraid to walk alone or after dark in year two compared to 41 percent a year
The number of respondents who had friends and/or family in their neighbourhood declined
slightly – from fifty percent in the first year to 46 percent in the second. However, more of
the respondents said they knew their neighbours (64 percent in year two compared to 50
percent in year one).
8.10.2 Satisfaction with Neighbourhood
The proportion of all interviewee households who disliked their neighbourhood increased
from thirteen percent in year one to twenty percent in year two (Table 8.23). The proportion
of inner city residents who didn’t like their neighbourhood increased from seventeen to 29
percent, and from zero to five percent in the non-inner city. Those who liked their
neighbourhood declined slightly from eighty to 78 percent overall, with a decline from 74 to
69 in the inner city and from 100 to 95 percent in the non-inner city. The fact that in year two
a smaller proportion of both inner city and non-inner city households liked their
neighbourhoods may illustrate that with time newcomers have higher expectations about
their neighbourhood characteristics.
Table 8.23: Satisfaction with The Neighbourhood: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year Second Year
Do not like Neighbourhood 13.0 20.0 + 7.0
Inner City 16.7 28.6 + 11.9
Non-Inner City 0.0 5.0 + 5.0
Like Neighbourhood 79.6 78.2 - 1.4
Inner City 73.8 68.6 - 5.2
Non-Inner City 100.0 95.0 - 5.0
Neutral 7.4 1.8 - 5.6
Inner City 9.5 2.8 - 6.7
Non-Inner City 0.0 0.0 -
Total 100.0 100.0
Source: Study sample.
When asked why they liked their neighbourhoods, in both years interviewees most often
identified safety of the area and quiet atmosphere in the neighbourhood. Many respondents
mentioned the proximity to services, stores, jobs, schools and convenient transportation.
Others said that the friendliness of the people, and being close to family, friends and the same
ethnic community were important. In year two there was also greater appreciation for the
greenery in the community and good maintenance of the area.
For those respondents who did not like their neighbourhood in year one, almost exclusively it
was because they worried for their personal safety and the safety of their families, and were
concerned about illegal activities in their areas such as gangs, prostitution, car vandalism, and
drug and alcohol abuse. Safety was a major concern in year two as well, but several other
explanations were also provided including living too far from services and stores, having no
family or friends close by, noise, unfriendly people, transportation that was not convenient,
and lack of green space or recreational/social activities nearby.
8.10.3 Desire to Move to a New Neighbourhood
Fifty-seven percent of participants in the second year said they would rather live in a
different neighbourhood, compared to almost 67 percent in the first year. Of those
interviewees who would have liked to live in a different neighbourhood in year one, a higher
proportion of the inner-city residents wanted to move than non-inner city residents. A year
later, the proportions living in both inner and non-inner city locations desiring to move were
about the same.
Destination preferences had not changed since the first year. Approximately 85 percent of
respondents in both years would have preferred to move to non-inner city areas. Only two
respondents would have preferred to move to the inner city in year one and one respondent in
The major reasons given by respondents in both years for wanting to move to another area
included looking for a safer area with less crime, and a more quiet neighbourhood overall.
Other reasons included to live in a more beautiful area, and to be closer to school, work,
services and amenities, friends, family or others of their ethnic/religious group.
Participants also mentioned in year two that they would like an area with big parks, more
green space and a nice atmosphere, as well as to live in an area that is family-oriented, where
“kids do not have as much exposure to bad influences.” A few said they would like to live in
an area with better quality housing and where “houses are not as packed together, more
8.10.4 Transportation and Access to Services
A lower proportion of interviewees in the second year said they had problems getting to
services or appointments: thirteen percent compared to over 44 percent in year one. Half of
all participants in both years said their problem was having to take a bus, which was not
reliable and takes too long. However, 78 percent of respondents in year one and 86 percent in
year two knew the bus routes and how to use public transit.
Forty percent of participants in year two reported owning a car, compared to just sixteen
percent in year one. When asked, “What type of transportation do you use most often?” three
times more interviewees used a personal vehicle most often in year two than year one (Table
8.24). Fewer relied on the bus (55 percent in year two compared to seventy percent in the
previous year), and no one mentioned using a taxi. The same number of respondents in both
years said that walking was their primary mode of transportation. When asked, “Is there
someone who can give you a ride somewhere if there is no bus running or in case of an
emergency?” the number of refugee respondents who did not have someone increased from
fifteen to seventeen between year one and two (28 and 31 percent respectively).
years said that walking was their primary mode of transportation. When asked, “Is there
someone who can give you a ride somewhere if there is no bus running or in case of an
emergency?” the number of refugee respondents who did not have someone increased from
fifteen to seventeen between year one and two (28 and 31 percent respectively).
Case Study 4
The Household: Single man, 44 years old. Came to Winnipeg as a claimant 6 months
before first interview, and had already been granted status as a protected person. Was
looking for work, but was unemployed and receiving $431 a month on Social Assistance.
The Search for Housing: Stayed in temporary housing for 4 months while he looked for an
apartment on his own, so he had only lived in his apartment for 2 months.
The Residence: The entire building smelled bad. Interviewee lived in a downtown bachelor
apartment, which he shared with bed bugs, cockroaches and mice. Many window panes
were broken. Some electrical outlets didn’t work. Only one window would open, so it was
very hot in the summer. No screens on windows, so the bugs came in. All the door knobs
were broken. The bottom hinge on the bathroom door was broken, so it wouldn’t close. Wood
flooring was rough and splintery.
Finances: The rent was $294 – Social Assistance paid $241 of that amount and on top of
that he had to pay $53, which left him with $137 a month to pay for any other expenses such
as utilities, transportation, food, clothing, etc. He relied heavily on the foodbank and walked
anywhere he needed to go. The interviewee wanted to upgrade his education, but education
costs would not be covered until he became a permanent resident. He had six months to
save the $550 application fee for permanent residency. After applying, it would be another 6
months until he would be granted status.
The Neighbourhood: He felt the neighbourhood was safe because of the high level of
security in the area and all the police patrolling. Most important for him was the centrality of
the location, because then he didn’t have to buy a bus pass.
Relationship with Caretaker: He had told the caretaker and reminded him many times of all
that needed to be fixed. The caretaker would always say he was coming to fix it… but never
Support and Assistance: He had a few new friends in the neighbourhood, but only one
close friend in the city. He said he believed he would find a way to overcome the obstacles,
and that he’d be able to take advantage of opportunities in the future.
What could he do? He had been looking for another place, but any place he found required
a year lease and they were also more expensive, so he had given up looking.
One year later… the interviewee had not been able to find better housing to live
independently on his budget. He lived at the first apartment for another 7 months after the
first interview, then “couch surfed” for 2 weeks until he could move in with a friend in public
housing. He had been there for five months, and although it was only a one-bedroom
apartment for the two of them, he liked it much better than his previous place. The caretaker
was helpful and everything in the apartment was in good condition. He reported that the new
place had a positive effect on his mental health because it was quiet, comfortable, relaxing,
safe and it had no vermin. He had recently received a social insurance number, which meant
he could apply for subsidized housing of his own. He had also found work as a security
guard, but was very dissatisfied because he was not working in his field, he was earning very
little and was not receiving any benefits.
years said that walking was their primary mode of transportation. When asked, “Is there
someone who can give you a ride somewhere if there is no bus running or in case of an
emergency?” the number of refugee respondents who did not have someone increased from
fifteen to seventeen between year one and two (28 and 31 percent respectively).
Table 8.24: Transportation Used Most Often: Year One vs. Year Two
First Year n = 54 Second Year n = 55
Type of Transportation % Change
# % # %
Bus 38 70.4 30 54.5 - 15.9
Taxi 3 5.6 0 0.0 - 5.6
On foot 7 13.0 7 12.7 - 0.3
Personal vehicle (car or bicycle) 6 11.1 18 32.7 + 21.6
Total 54 100.0 55 100.0 -
Source: Study sample.
8.11 Tenant/Landlord Relationships
8.11.1 Relationships with the Landlord
In the first year, 54 percent of the interviewees said their landlords and caretakers were
helpful. In the second year, interviewees felt much more positive about caretakers and
landlords, indicating that 84 percent of their caretakers and 78 percent of landlords were
When asked, “If helpful, in what ways?” interviewees provided similar explanations in year
two to those provided in year one. In addition, they appreciated caretakers and landlords
being friendly, responsive, reliable, understanding about rent payments, and making
themselves available to answer questions.
When asked, “If unhelpful, why?” respondents in both years said that sometimes the
caretaker/landlord did not make repairs in a timely fashion or did not make repairs at all, and
did not keep the building clean. There were fewer reports in year two of caretakers/landlords
harassing the tenants, being rude, or not returning the damage deposit. A few complained that
their requests for assistance were ignored (for instance, wanting to move to a larger
apartment in the building).
A few respondents in year two said their caretakers and landlords were both helpful and
unhelpful. One such participant explained that the caretaker was respectful and friendly but
did not make repairs at all or did not do repairs well. Another respondent said the caretaker
“helps with basics, and nothing more.”
Final thoughts from the family: When they were accepted to come to Canada, they
thought the government would have a place ready for them. Instead, they had to spend a
month searching day and night on foot, getting lost, and not knowing the neighbourhoods.
The government should have more houses for newcomers. They know when they are
arriving, so they should have a furnished place ready when they get off the airplane. The
government would get the rent money back, instead of losing it to private owners. In
government housing everyone is taken care of. With private housing, they don’t come to fix
things and they take advantage of you because they know you are new and don’t know the
laws of the country. “We could freeze to death and the landlord wouldn’t care.” At the very
least “the government people should be with you when you look for housing so the slum
landlords don’t cheat you.”
8.11.2 Knowledge of Tenant/Landlord Rights and Responsibilities
In year one, 41 percent of the respondents said they did not know what the landlord’s rights
and responsibilities were and almost twenty percent did not know their own rights and
responsibilities as tenants. By year two, there were very few respondents who said they knew
nothing or almost nothing about landlord/tenant rights and responsibilities.
In the first year, there were four major sources from which respondents learned what landlord
and tenant rights and responsibilities were: English classes, Welcome Place, from reading the
rental agreement, and from the landlord. In the second year, almost one-half of respondents
said they have learned about landlord/tenant responsibilities from reading rental agreements.
In addition, a wide range of other sources were noted, including the Entry Program,
Manitoba Housing, a number of settlement agencies, and friends.
Better awareness of tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities, as well as expanded sources
of information on this matter in year two suggests refugees’ improved knowledge of the
Canadian rental housing system, services available, and government structures in place that
can provide assistance. Perhaps it is also an indication of strengthening social ties, such as
friends and neighbours that can help, and more independence on the part of the respondents
in solving their housing problems.
8.12 Social Support Networks
When asked, “Besides those in your household, do you have other family members in this
city?” approximately the same proportion of respondents in both years said “yes” (44 percent
in year two and 42 percent in year one). In the second year, however, there were more
respondents who had four or more other family members in city besides those in their
household. About the same proportion of respondents in both years said that members of
their family in Winnipeg were supportive. Nearly all second year respondents (94 percent)
felt their family members were supportive only emotionally (not financially) compared to 64
percent in the first year. It seems that fewer respondents in year two rely on family members
for economic support.
Case Study 5
The Household: Government sponsored family of seven. Six dependents ranging in age
from 10-22 yrs old relying on one wage-earner – their mom (the interviewee) - who could
find only casual work as a health care aide. Income was supplemented by reliance on a
foodbank, child tax benefits and social assistance. They also sent money to family members
in refugee camps who otherwise would go without food or water for days at a time.
The Search for Housing: Stayed only one month in temporary housing when they arrived,
as the settlement agency “rushed them out” without helping them find a place to live. There
were 11 family members who came together, and they did not want to be separated. Four of
the family members were provided a unit in IRCOM, but their settlement counsellor did not
give IRCOM the rest of the family’s information. By the time they realized, there were no
other units available.
The Residence: In July 2005 (10 months before first interview) the family moved into a 3
storey, 5 bedroom, two bathroom house for $850/month plus utilities. They didn’t know at
the time that the heating bill alone would be $1,150.00 for the month of February. In the
winter the top two floors were so cold that all seven of them slept in the living room next to
the heat registers. The house looked to be in good condition, but there were broken
windows, seepage in the basement, a leaking bathtub drain, a broken pipe in the other
bathroom, and leaking faucets.
Relationship with Caretaker: Once a month, the caretaker would visit to collect the rent.
Each time, the family reminded the caretaker of the repairs that were needed, and each
time the caretaker assured them all would be fixed, but would not been seen again until the
next month. The family told the caretaker about a broken window in the fall and it didn’t get
fixed until Spring. A few times the caretaker put tape and clamps on leaking pipes, but it
never held and the pipes were never fixed.
Relationship with Landlord: Once the bank accidentally deposited the interviewee’s pay
cheque into someone else’s account, so the rent cheque bounced, but she wasn’t informed.
Two weeks later the landlord called and, through curse words, threatened eviction unless
the rent was paid that day. While the mother was gone to the bank, the landlord went to the
house and told the kids to pack up and move out because he was locking them out.
The Neighbourhood: In the inner city, but with no shops or grocery stores nearby.
Although the family had lived there 9 months, they didn’t know any neighbours: “They don’t
even say hello back to you.” The interviewee said “The neighbourhood is dangerous. Most
of the time we stay indoors. We’ve seen groups of kids hanging around in the
neighbourhood stealing things. There was even a group right beside the house with a gun
recently.” There was no peephole in the front door and the deadbolt often didn’t work.
Numerous times someone would be heard trying to open the front door, only to leave when
they found it locked. There was a community centre nearby, but the children were afraid to
go there. The interviewee reported that when she returned to her house at the end of the
day, it was “not with eagerness or pride. It’s just a place of shelter, and I’m afraid to come
home late at night because the streets are not safe.” She added that the only good things
about living there were that the house was large enough and it was centrally located.
One year later…Conditions did not improve where they were living: their relationship with
their landlord did not improve, repairs were still not made, one of the boys was badly beaten
up, and the interviewee was almost raped. Two months after the interview, five of the family
members moved into a two-bedroom townhouse. The unit was filthy with pet urine in the
carpets, food and garbage left behind in the fridge, stove, and cupboards. The bugs and
flies were so bad they couldn’t sleep at night. They went to the manager’s unit to complain,
but the manager would look through the curtains but not talk to them. Finally the interviewee
ran into the manager outside, and told her that they needed the place cleaned. The
manager said she couldn’t find anyone to come and clean. After living there a total of six
days, the family moved just down the street to another 2 bedroom unit, but for almost $200
a month more. Shortly after they moved, the interviewee saw that there were cleaners in
their previous place and they were replacing the appliances in the unit. She met the new
tenant, a young white woman, and made the observation “They think that because we come
from Africa that we are used to filth and garbage and that we’ll live with it because we don’t
know better. As soon as a white person wants to rent, they clean the place up.” The
interviewee took the matter to the tenants’ board and received the full month’s rent plus the
damage deposit back.
The family lived in the two-bedroom apartment for almost a year. Whenever the manager
dropped by she would rave about how clean the family was keeping the unit, and even
commented that they would have no trouble getting their damage deposit back. But when it
came time to move, the new manager made excuses to not be available for the move-out
inspection. When the interviewee finally saw him, he said that the apartment looked fine. He
had a blank inspection form that he had her sign and told her that he would send her the
deposit cheque. But what the interviewee received in the mail instead was not a cheque,
but a copy of the inspection form she had signed which now had comments indicating that
the unit was dirty and that she returned the wrong key, so she would not receive the
damage deposit back. The interviewee, once again, had taken the matter to the tenants’
board for resolution.
The interviewee had such bad experiences with landlords and managers that she decided
to buy. They put an offer in on a house, and then the interviewee was working 24 hours a
day trying to earn the downpayment. The deadline was only a couple of days away and she
only had $1,400 of the downpayment. Then, out of the blue, she received a phone call from
an organization that offered to pay the balance of her downpayment ($4,000). The family
was able to buy the 4-bedroom house. The organization has continued to help by
purchasing new appliances and showing the family how to do maintenance, and the only
requirement of the family is that if they choose to move within 5 years time, they will have to
repay the organization.
The interviewee (mother of the household) and the only other wage earner (her son) were
both attending university full-time and working part-time. They were paying on a personal
loan, credit cards and the government transportation loan (which was still $5,000
outstanding). They still regularly relied on the foodbank. The mortgage for their own home
($838/month) was less than the rent they were paying for the house they were living in at
the first interview, and they liked it much better because it is bigger, contributes less to
health problems and even improves their mental health, the neighbours are very friendly and
helpful, it is quieter, is in excellent condition, has better outdoor space for the kids to play,
they are independent, the neighbourhood is safer, the location is closer for work and school
and close to services/stores, transportation is convenient, and the area is beautiful, green
and clean. The most important thing for them is the safety in the area.
In year two, twenty-four percent of the respondents said that they had other family members
in Canada, compared to 27 percent in the previous year. Fewer participants felt those family
members were supportive – 54 percent compared to 71 percent in the first year.
In the second year, 54 of the 55 participants said they had made new friends since coming to
Winnipeg. When asked, “Is there someone in the city (not including a family member or a
professional such as a settlement worker) you can talk to when you are sad or upset?” the
proportion of those who said “yes” was about the same in both years. A slightly lower
proportion of respondents said there was someone in the city, other than a family member or
professional, who made them feel loved and cared for: 67 percent in the second year
compared to 73 percent in the first. However, in the second year more interviewees said they
had someone in the city (not including a family member or professional) that they talk to
before making important decisions – 44 percent compared to 29 percent in the first year.
When asked, “Is there someone in the city (not including a family member or professional)
that you can go to in an emergency or when you are in a crisis?” 75 percent of the
respondents said “yes” in year two compared to 78 percent in year one. Those who said “yes”
were asked how many people could help them in an emergency. The largest proportion of
respondents in both years had two or three such people. In year two there were more
participants who said they have many (more than ten) people who could help them in an
8.13 The Average Study Household: A Year Later
The average study household came to Canada as refugees from the African continent. They
are a family of two parents, with two children under fifteen, and the parents are likely to be in
The household has employment income. The male adult in the household works and his
spouse attends school to improve her language skills. Employment he obtained is not in his
field of expertise and offers income that is not adequate to meet all the expenses of the
family. It requires working more than one job to try to make ends meet. He plans to take
some job training to obtain credential recognition in his field of expertise, which would allow
him to make more money, but taking additional courses is difficult when he has to work to
support the family.
The household has only one employment income and there have been times over the past
year when they had to rely on some government transfer payments including social
assistance. For the typical household the average monthly gross income is $2,450 compared
to $1,900 a year ago. Income from government transfers is $800 a month, or approximately
one third of their monthly income. The family income is still much lower than the average
income of $5,252 for all households in the city. This four-person household’s total income is
slightly above $29,000 a year, less than half the average annual income for Winnipeg
households of $63,025.
The family moved since the first interview and now rents a three-bedroom duplex outside of
the inner city. Lack of safety in the inner city, where they lived a year ago, was a main reason
for moving. Their rent of $600 a month is more affordable compared to last year’s. A year
ago they spent 34 percent of their gross monthly income on shelter while their shelter costs at
the time of the second interview are approximately one-quarter of their gross income.
Despite the improvement in their income, the household has difficulties meeting all of their
expenses every month and has a hard time saving money on a regular basis. Since the first
interview the household has tried to get a loan from a bank and they were successful.
Repayments on this loan, however, have added to their debt and increased their monthly
expenses. The family expects their expenses to grow in the future: the family plans to buy a
car, and the children’s costs will increase as they grow. They hope to earn more income, but
will also spend more. The household has started to sponsor relatives outside of Canada with
whom they are in regular contact. They have plans to buy their own home in the next few
As the family moved to a new area, they have fewer friends in their neighbourhood than they
had a year ago. At the same time they know their neighbours and have made new friends in
the city. They do not have relatives in the city or anywhere else in Canada other than those in
While characteristics of the household did not change, their life circumstances did change
significantly compared to the previous year. The circumstances of the average household in
year two illustrate improvements in income, housing suitability and affordability, levels of
satisfaction with their housing condition and safety, and neighbourhood environment
compared to the previous year. Other improvements include gaining more independence, an
improved ability to solve their own problems, and stronger social support networks. Despite
these improvements they are still struggling, particularly financially and they have still not
achieved the employment circumstances they would like. Time has resulted in improvements
but full integration has not been achieved.
Refugees face very difficult circumstances upon arrival in a new country. They have to cope
with adjustments to a new culture, often after years of marginalization and even life
threatening circumstances. In Winnipeg, they also struggle to find accommodation in a
market characterized by low vacancies and prices well beyond their ability to pay. Despite
these challenges, second year interviews in this study demonstrated overall improvements in
housing trajectories. Study findings highlight improved affordability and suitability, an
increase in the number of homeowners, and - for renters - a modest shift from apartments to
houses and single-family homes. Improved levels of satisfaction with their housing, the
number and size of rooms, the unit design and floor plans, and kitchen facilities were also
noted at the time of the second interview. A higher proportion of interviewees also felt their
housing was safe and contributed to their emotional and physical well-being. More of the
study participants also found the caretakers and landlords to be helpful in the second year as
compared to the first year.
The fact sheets at the end of this section highlight many of the differences between year one
and year two circumstances of the interviewee households.
A considerable improvement in other areas of refugees’ lives, including increases in income,
fewer problems with transportation and getting around the city, increased knowledge of the
city and housing market, greater independence in solving their own problems, and stronger
social networks also helped them improve their housing and life circumstances in general.
There were a number of specific changes in their socio-economic characteristics that helped
improve their housing and life circumstances. A modest shift toward Canadian-born
household models and slightly smaller household size made a difference. There were fewer
multiple-family and multiple person households and fewer households had other family
members or friends living with them. This contributed to an improved match between market
supply and household composition. With un-doubling of families and fewer households with
people other than the immediate family living with them, more households were able to meet
eligibility requirements for public housing. Combined with changing household structure,
there was also a shift from living in apartments to houses and the proportion of households
living in three-or-more bedroom units also increased. This provided households with more
space, reduced crowding and greater individual privacy.
Changes in employment circumstances certainly improved the interviewees’ situations
overall. The proportion of interviewees employed increased from 42 percent in year one to
66 percent in year two. A larger proportion was satisfied with their job, although only 37
percent indicated they worked in their field of expertise. Twenty-eight percent, however,
were working at more than one job to make ends meet.
The improved employment circumstances meant improvements in income. Average annual
income increased 31 percent from year one to year two, although the average income of
refugee households was still less than half the average income for all households in the city.
Improved incomes reduced poverty rates, with the percentage below the low-income cut-off
line falling from 92 percent in year one to 73 percent in year two. In the second year, there
was also a lower proportion of households receiving government transfer payments and a
lower proportion indicating they had difficulty meeting their expenses each month, although
54 percent of households indicated that meeting monthly expenses was still very difficult.
Participants also had fewer problems accessing loans and credit.
A positive change from the first year to the second was an increase in the number of
homeowners from one to six. Almost three-quarters of those still renting had plans to
purchase a home in the next few years, although 72 percent of them said they felt they did
not have enough information to be comfortable with purchasing a home.
In the second year, housing affordability improved for renters with the proportion paying 30
percent or more of their gross household income for housing falling from 51 percent in year
one to 22 percent in year two. The proportion paying fifty percent or more fell from 12
percent to two percent. Housing suitability also improved. The percentage of households that
did not meet National Occupancy Standards fell from 51 percent in year one to 36 percent in
The interviewees’ assessment of the condition of their housing presented a very different
picture. In year one, 25 percent felt their home was in poor condition but this proportion
increased to 42 percent in year two. There was also growing dissatisfaction with the
timeliness and quality of repairs. In the first year, 26 percent expressed concern that repairs
were not being done or were not done in a timely fashion. This increased to 42 percent in
year two. This may reflect an improved understanding of the standards they can expect and
perhaps less reluctance to express their concerns.
A greater proportion of interviewees found their caretakers and landlords to be helpful in
year two and there was also an improved understanding of tenant and landlord roles and
responsibilities. Refugees also had better knowledge on where they could go to get this sort
of information or help in dealing with tenant-landlord issues. Still, this is an area where there
is room for improvement and there was certainly evidence of some refugees being taken
advantage of by landlords and also reports of discrimination in the housing market.
In the second year a much higher proportion of refugee households were living in public
housing: 46 percent compared to 32 percent in the first year. Overall, public housing
residents felt more positive about their housing circumstances than did the private sector
renters: they had fewer suitability problems, plus they were more satisfied with management,
the safety of their home, the floor plan and design, and the condition of the units. However,
they were less positive about their neighbourhood and were more concerned with safety and
security: perhaps because most public housing is located in Winnipeg’s inner city. The
biggest advantage of living in public housing was affordability, as household rents are set at
27 percent of household income. On average, public housing tenants paid $150 per month
less for rent than did tenants in private housing, and even when considering their
responsibilities for some utilities in public housing, a much lower proportion of the public
versus the private housing tenants paid thirty percent or more of gross income for shelter.
Those who are able to access public housing have some distinct advantages. Public housing
seems to offer suitable and affordable housing that benefits the resettlement process.
Despite the advantages of living in public housing, several interviewees noted that public
housing eligibility guidelines made it difficult for them to qualify. For example, multiple
family households, expanded family households, and family households with adult children
found meeting the eligibility requirements difficult. It may be useful to review public housing
guidelines to see if they can be adapted to suit these household types more prevalent among
Many of the refugee interviewees found it hard to find adequate, affordable housing and it
was not always the tight market supply that created this difficulty. Often it was a lack of good
information on the characteristics of the market, the characteristics of the neighbourhoods,
and no single agency or source of accurate, current and comprehensive information that they
In the first year, those households looking for housing depended heavily on sponsors and
settlement agencies. However, it was often reported that settlement counsellors were too busy
to help or did not provide a great deal of assistance in finding places. Private sponsors were
helpful but were also busy with their own lives. In the second year, an expanding social
support network of friends, more contact with real estate and property management agencies
but also their own improved knowledge of the city and the characteristics of neighbourhoods
improved their search skills. With a higher proportion with access to a vehicle, their
improved capacity to get around the city also helped. However, the absence of an agency that
provides good housing information that newcomers need remains a problem.
Refugee households had considerably expanded social support networks in year two. This
network included more friends and neighbours. This network is a very valuable resource for
newcomers as it expands the number of people they can call on to help solve their housing
problems, tenant/landlord issues, emotional health issues, and expand their knowledge of the
city and the services available. It was obvious from the second year interviews that refugees
were making extensive use of this network to help improve their housing circumstances but
also their life circumstances in general.
Overall, the interviewees had a greater level of satisfaction with their housing in year two.
Approximately three-quarters of the households indicated they were more satisfied with their
residences at the time of the second interview compared to the first place they lived that was
not temporary housing. A greater proportion were happy with their place, proud of it and
looked forward to going home at the end of the day.
Although home is the central hub of people’s lives, the neighbourhood is a geographical
extension of home, reaching into the public sphere. Neighbourhood is a place that offers
regular opportunities to interact with others. Newcomers’ perceptions of their
neighbourhoods, and their neighbours, influence their sense of belonging and the extent to
which they feel settled.
The majority of the refugees in this study lived in Winnipeg’s inner city – the location of the
most affordable accommodation, but an area characterized by neighbourhood decline. In year
one, 78 percent of the interviewees were inner city residents. This proportion fell slightly to
64 percent in year two. Safety and security are issues of concern for many inner city
residents, refugees included. Twenty-six percent of the refugee households did not feel safe
in their neighbourhood the first year, although this number fell to seventeen percent in the
second year. Although most interviewees liked their neighbourhoods and those in the inner
city particularly appreciated the proximity to services, public transportation, friends, and
family, sixty to seventy percent in both years said they would like to live in a different
neighbourhood and 85 percent in both years would have preferred to live in non-inner city
areas. Despite the convenience of the location and greater affordability of the housing, many
households are looking for safer neighbourhoods with less crime. The perceptions of
neighbourhood and the desire to move do not contribute to stability and positive resettlement
Housing trajectories for refugees are positive, particularly housing affordability because of
improving employment and income circumstances. However, many challenges remain and if
successful resettlement and integration are defined as achieving circumstances similar to
those of the host population, the refugees in this research still have to experience
considerable change and improvement.
This study illustrates the importance of good housing in the integration process. It also
illustrates that, although the housing trajectories of refugees are positive overall in Winnipeg
and contribute to the resettlement process, many challenges remain and many refugee
households have not yet achieved the housing circumstances they desire or the circumstances
required for successful integration. However, the study also clearly identifies that housing is
only part of a complex set of factors that contribute to successful resettlement including
language skills, labour force success, cultural differences and discrimination, lack of
adequate information and support, neighbourhood characteristics and a host of other issues.
Adequate, affordable and suitable housing with security of tenure cannot address all these
issues but it can provide a stable base from which the refugees can deal more easily with
Selected Year One Indicators (includes all 75 households interviewed)
Indicator # %
# of people interviewed 75
From Africa and the Middle East 52 69.3
Household and Demographic Characteristics
Non-family households 25 33.3
Single person 13 17.3
Multiple persons 12 16.0
Family Households 49 65.3
Nuclear families 40 53.3
Expanded families 6 8.0
Multiple families 3 4.0
Persons per household (average) 3.6
Age (All members of all households)
Under 15 35.4
15 to 24 22.2
25 to 44 32.0
45 to 64 9.4
65 + 1.1
Gender 49% females
Employment and Household Income
Not employed 43 57
Employed 32 43
Happy with job (of those working) 20 62
Working more than one job (of those working) 7 22
Average monthly gross household income $1,735
Average annual household gross income $20,819
Households receiving some or all income from government transfers 52 69
Incidence of low income (households) 91
Had used a food bank at least once since arrival 41
Average shelter cost/mo $530
Average food costs/mo $410
Average debt repayment/month (hhlds who paid debt) $169
Average remittances $167
Average $ remaining after housing, food, debt and remittances $671
Average Shelter-to-income ratio 34
Paid 30% or more of income for shelter 53
Selected Year One Indicators (includes all 75 households interviewed)
Indicator # %
Paid 50% or more of income for shelter 15
Lived in more than one place since arriving in Winnipeg 93
Lived in three or more places since arriving in Winnipeg 25
The average length of tenancy 12 weeks per place
Did not expect to live in residence at time of interview for a long time 57
Had no problem getting to services or appointments 45 60
Owned a car 12 16
Bus - type of transportation used most often 50 73
Lived in Inner City 59 79
Liked their neighbourhood at time of interview 56 75
Did not feel safe in their neighbourhood 19 25
Would move to another area of the city if they had the opportunity 45 60
Renters 72 96
Rented apartments 61 81
Rented a house or a unit in a house 11 15
Owners 1 1
Lived in public housing 33
Lived in privately owned and managed buildings 67
Place was suitable for all those living there 63
Place did not meet NOS (National Occupancy Standards) 47
Liked the size of their place 60
Liked the floor plan and design of their place 80
Had only one bathroom 88
Place was in good condition overall 75
Housing was not safe for them and their children 22
Housing contributed to health problems 25
Proud of their place 75
Overall happy with their place 68
Looked forward to going to their place at the end of a long day 84
Repairs were not made when necessary 31
Past or present landlords/caretakers helpful 50
Past or present landlords/caretakers unhelpful 25
Rights and Responsibilities
Did not know their rights and responsibilities as a tenant 19
Did not know the rights and responsibilities of the landlord 40
Selected Year Two Indicators
Year One Year Two Change
# % # % %
# of people interviewed (Compares year two households with
the same households from the year one)
Study Retention Rate 73
Household and Demographic Characteristics
Non-family households 13 24 14 26
Single person 6 11 9 16
Multiple persons 7 13 5 9
Family Households 42 76 41 75
One family households 35 64 35 64
Couples with children 26 47 25 46
Couples without children 2 4 1 2
Lone parent 7 13 9 16
Expanded Family Households 6 11 4 7
Multiple Family Households 1 2 2 4
Persons per household (average) 3.91 3.85
Employment and Household Income
Employed 42 66
Satisfied with job 58 61
Worked in their field of expertise 37
Had difficulties finding a job since the first interview 35
Working more than one job 25 28
Happy with employment income 57 67
Average monthly gross household income $1,865 $2,446 +31
Average annual gross household income $22,374 $29,357 +31
Households receiving income from govt. transfers 78 71 -6.5
Incidence of low income (households) 92 73 -19
Average shelter cost/mo $566 $626 +11
Average food costs/mo $456 $618 +36
Average debt repayment/mo $179 $197 +10
Average Money Sent Home (remittances) $168 $311 +85
Average $ remaining after housing, food, debt and $ sent
$690 $979 +42
Difficulties meeting expenses every month 60 54
Not able to save some money on a regular basis 66 53
Selected Year Two Indicators
Year One Year Two Change
# % # % %
Shelter-to-income ratio 34 25 -7
Pay 30% or more for shelter 51 22
Pay 50% or more for shelter 12 2
Mobility and Location
Moved since first interview 19 35
Inner City 43 78 35 64 - 14.6
Non-Inner City 12 22 20 36 + 14.6
Had problems getting to services or appointments not nearby 44 13
Owned a car 16 40
Bus - type of transportation used most often 70 55
Liked their neighbourhood at time of interview 80 78 - 1.4
Did not feel safe in their neighbourhood 14 26 8 17 -9
Would move to another area of the city if they could 67 57
Renters 53 96 48 88
Rented apartments 44 83 36 75
Rented a house or a unit in a house 9 17 12 25
Owners 1 2 6 11
Lived in public housing 32 46
Lived in privately owned and managed buildings 68 54
Had difficulties finding housing since the last interview 65
Unit met NOS (National Occupancy Standards) 49 64
Liked the size of their place 60 69
Liked the floor plan and design of their place 81 90
Had only one bathroom 85 80
Place was in good condition overall 75 58
Indicated repair problems 26 42
Housing was not safe for them and their children 22 16
Housing contributed to health problems 24 13
Proud of their place 80 83
Overall happy with their place 67 80
Looked forward to going to their place at the end of a long day 84 96
Landlords/caretakers helpful 54 81
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List of Acronyms
CMHC Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
LICO Low Income Cut-Off
PSRs Privately sponsored refugees
GARs Government-assisted refugees
SPCW Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
IRCOM Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba
ESL English as a Second Language Program
EAL English as an Additional Language Program
CIC Citizenship and Immigration Canada
CMA Census Metropolitan Area
L.E.E.P. Life Employability Enhancement Program for War Affected Youth
RAP Resettlement Assistance Program
N.E.E.D.S. Inc. Needs Centre For War Affected Families
MLS Multiple Listing Service
CREA Canadian Real Estate Association
NOS National Occupancy Standards
Map 7.1: Geographic Distribution of Year One Study Households
Map 7.2: Household Perception of Safety of Winnipeg Neighbourhoods
Map 7.3: Household Perception of Safety of the Inner-city Neighbourhoods
Map 7.4: Distribution of Private and Public Housing Units
Map 8.1: Geographic Distribution of Year Two Study Households
Map 8.2: Mobility from Time of Year One Interview to Year Two Interview