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Immigration drives housing sector, economy

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The number of households in Canada has been going up at a rate of 1.4% per year over the past 20 years. One factor is smaller households. In 1961, half of all Canadian households had four or more people living in them. By 2011, two-thirds of all Canadian households had two or fewer people.

The second major factor, of course, is immigration, especially in the 20 - 44 age group, the one most critical for household formation. This age demographic grew by 147,000 last year; without immigration, it would have shrunk, like most of the developed world. In fact, this age group accounts for 55% of all immigrants to Canada, boding well for growth, development and a stronger economy.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, a million jobs are expected to go unfilled across Canada between now and 2021. It asserted that we need to radically boost immigration numbers in order to be an innovative world power or risk draining away our potential. It cited Steinbach as the perfect example of a community that has been growing and thriving due, in large part, to an aggressive immigration strategy.

The CMHC studied housing patterns of immigrants in both large and medium sized Canadian centres. It looked at those in search of affordable housing in order to get started in a new country, but also those who brought wealth and a capacity to generate wealth through entrepreneurship. The study broke down housing patterns and preferences, including those who prefer suburban settlement and nationality trends towards home ownership versus rental. The housing patterns of immigrants did not differ radically from those of Canadian born households, perhaps explaining why they chose to live in particular cities.

The Our Winnipeg plan calls for a population growth of 180,000 people over a 20 year period. This will only happen if our recent immigration successes continue over that time period. For Winnipeg to be a truly great city, we must embrace this international way of thinking and take full advantage of the skills and attributes that our new residents bring. As it relates to housing, we must encourage new growth and development while also bolstering our existing housing stock. This mobility in housing choice and affordability will keep our doors open to a new and vibrant population. To do anything to discourage or stifle people from moving to and living in the city would be a huge disservice to our future growth and greatness.

Mike Moore is president of the Manitoba Home Builders' Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 F6

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