Nadine Badets, Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams
July 21, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families and family life across Canada, with economic lockdowns and physical distancing measures affecting the social, economic and environmental contexts associated with family well-being. Housing is no exception: prospective homebuyers are seeing a real estate cooling down in the face of uncertainty, while physical distancing measures are not easily actionable for many families living in crowded or unsuitable housing.
The COVID-19 lockdown has considerably slowed Canada’s real estate market
Most major cities in Canada (16 of 27) had little or no change to new housing prices in April 2020. However, sales of new homes and resales of older homes across Canada all declined significantly during the height of the pandemic. Builders surveyed by Statistics Canada in April 2020 reported a decline of almost two-thirds (64%) in sales of new homes when compared with the same month in 2019. The Canadian Real Estate Association reported a 58% decline in home resales in April, year over year.1
In light of the closure of economies and significant loss of jobs, the provinces and territories have issued eviction bans and payment suspensions to support renters. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) has also urged all landlords, including those with CMHC insurance or financing, to abstain from evicting renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.2 However, as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift, many people and families in Canada could be faced with evictions and/or owing large amounts of money for missed rent.
Demand for homeless shelters increased dramatically during lockdown
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges with housing accessibility and affordability was unequally and excessively prevalent among certain groups within Canada, including newcomers and refugees, racialized groups, LGBTQ2S people, seniors, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities and/or mental health conditions.3
Homelessness4 is particularly concerning during the pandemic, as it exposes people to unsafe living conditions with severe consequences for physical and mental health, and makes it challenging to abide by new public health orders such as physical distancing.
Whether people are moving from home to home (often referred to as “hidden homelessness”), spending time in shelters,5 living transiently and sleeping in various places, or a combination of these, those experiencing homelessness are often in close proximity with multiple people and with little to no access to the necessary resources for recommended hygiene practices.6
In 2014, it was estimated that at least 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in a given year and around 35,000 are homeless on a given night. Individuals usually spend an average of 10 days in shelters, and families usually spend twice that amount of time.7 Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, shelters in Canadian cities have reported increased use by new and familiar clients;8 however, due to physical distancing restrictions, shelters have had to drastically reduce the number of beds and spaces they offer, which has left many without a place to stay.9, 10
Increases in reports of domestic violence,11 abuse12 and mental health concerns13 have also left many individuals and families with no place to stay. Many shelters have increased support to the homeless by creating spaces in community centres, hotels and permanent housing, though they lack the financial capacity to meet the increased demand for shelter services.14, 15
Housing issues in First Nations and Inuit communities are related to increased COVID-19 risk
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Indigenous leaders and peoples have been calling attention to the continuing devastation from tuberculosis in First Nations and Inuit and communities, reminding Canada that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic they are facing.16, 17
In 2017, Inuit had a rate of 205.8 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people, and First Nations (on reserve) had 21.7 cases per 100,000. Tuberculosis was also high among immigrants, with a rate of 14.7 among those born outside of Canada, whereas for Canadian-born non-Indigenous people the rate was 0.5 per 100,000.18 As of April 19, 2020, the only Inuit region to report COVID-19 cases is Nunavik, with 14 cases (5 recovered and 9 active).19 Among First Nations, data collected through communities show that, as of May 10, 2020, there were 465 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths.20
In 2016, Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat21 (the Inuit homeland) were more likely to live in crowded households22 (52%) and in homes in need of major repairs23 (32%).24 Unsuitable housing is also prevalent in some First Nations, where issues such as household crowding (27%)25, 26 and homes in need of major repairs (24%)27 are much higher than for non-Indigenous people in Canada (9% and 6%).28
Household crowding aggravates the risk of catching infectious respiratory diseases like tuberculosis and COVID-19, the latter of which is considered to be even more contagious than tuberculosis.29 Poor housing conditions have been directly associated to quality of health and well-being, with studies showing increased risk of the spread of infectious and respiratory diseases, chronic illness, injuries, poor nutrition, violence and mental disorders.30 Household crowding also complicates – and potentially negates – physical distancing and the isolation of sick people within a household. Homes in need of major repairs can pose health hazards in a variety of ways. In particular, the ongoing lack of sufficient access to water infrastructure in some First Nations poses additional risks of infection and transmission.
Multigenerational households face more obstacles to physical distancing
Multigenerational households are an important part of many families in Canada, as they can facilitate care and support between generations and allow some parents to save money on child care, and facilitate intergenerational learning.31 Between 2001 and 2016, multigenerational households were the fastest-growing household type in Canada, increasing by 38% to reach nearly 404,000 homes.32
These types of households may face unique barriers to social distancing, taking into account the seniors within the home who are considered among the populations most vulnerable to the virus.33
In 2016, 11% of immigrants lived in multigenerational households,34 as did 5% of non-immigrants.35 Indigenous children aged 0 to 14 years were often more likely to live in multigenerational households36 with 13% of First Nations children, 13% of Inuit children and 7% of Métis children, than non-Indigenous children (8%).37
Sustainable Development is intertwined with housing
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of housing in Canada, and intensified pre-existing inequalities among marginalized communities across the country. As Canada has committed to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address factors such as poverty (SDG 1), health and well-being (SDG 3) and reduced inequalities (SDG 10), housing will be an important component of policy responses and conversations on this topic, which is of particular importance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.
Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.
- Statistics Canada, “New Housing Price Index, April 2020,” The Daily (May 21, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3d5as2O.
- Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, “COVID-19: Eviction Bans and Suspensions to Support Renters: The Latest Updates on Eviction Moratoriums Related to COVID-19” (March 25, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3i3ak7R.
- Homeless Hub, “Racialized Communities” (n.d.). Link: https://bit.ly/32b50JX.
- Homelessness can be described as being very short-term (being unhoused for a night or so), episodic (moving in and out of homelessness) or chronic (long-term). For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link: https://bit.ly/2CuWgDK.
- Shelters include emergency homeless shelters, violence against women shelters and temporary institutional accommodations. For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link: https://bit.ly/2CuWgDK.
- Jennifer Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless,” CTV News (May 22, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2N7AcB8.
- Stephen Gaetz, Erin Dej, Tim Richter and Melanie Redman, “The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016,” Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (2016). Link: https://bit.ly/2zKUsW1 (PDF).
- Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
- Nicole Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally,” CBC News (April 17, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2NcOQao.
- Matthew Bingley, “Coronavirus: Toronto Officials Call for Provincial Pandemic Plan for Shelters to Avoid ‘Mass Outbreaks,’” Global News (April 20, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3dhnWII.
- Cec Haire, “Increase in Domestic Violence Calls Persists Throughout Pandemic, Says Non-Profit,” CBC News (July 2, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/32eJp3p.
- Public Health Ontario, “Rapid Review: Negative Impacts of Community-Based Public Health Measures During a Pandemic (e.g., COVID‑19) on Children and Families” (2020). Link: https://bit.ly/307gxY8 (PDF).
- Aisha Malik, “CAMH Expands Virtual Mental Health Services Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” MobileSyrup (May 4, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3gVt73i.
- Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally.”
- Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
- Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say,” CBC News (April 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3doVTr3.
- John Borrows and Constance MacIntosh, “Indigenous Communities Are Vulnerable in Times of Pandemic. We Must Not Ignore Them,” The Globe and Mail (updated March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2YYhTDY.
- M. LaFreniere, H. Hussain, N. He and M. McGuire, “Tuberculosis in Canada, 2017,” Canada Communicable Disease Report (February 7, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2CrvRq9.
- Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, “COVID-19: 14th CONFIRMED CASE IN NUNAVIK,” News Release (April 19, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2OnScIb (PDF).
- Courtney Skye, “Colonialism of the Curve: Indigenous Communities and Bad Covid Data,” Yellowhead Institute (May 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/37W5kgi.
- Inuit Nunangat is composed of four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northern Northwest Territories). Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “Inuit Nunangat Map” (updated April 4, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2WgN4de.
- Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) calculates crowded households as an indicator of the level of crowding in a private dwelling. It is calculated by dividing the number of persons in the household by the number of rooms in the dwelling, and dwellings with more than one person per room are considered to be crowded. Statistics Canada, “Persons per Room,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2AZDJyT.
- Major repairs are defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as including defective plumbing or electrical wiring, and dwellings needing structural repairs to walls, floors or ceilings. Statistics Canada, “Dwelling Condition,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3erBnam.
- Thomas Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada,” Census in Brief (October 25, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/316qpmR.
- Statistics Canada, “Housing Conditions,” Aboriginal Statistics at a Glance: 2nd Edition (December 24, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/37Ue8ne.
- Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada.”
- Vanier Institute of the Family, “Indigenous Families in Canada,” Facts and Stats (June 2018).
- Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say.”
- Housing as a Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health” (2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2DoQ3JV (PDF).
- Asfia Yassir, “Having Grandparents at Home Is a Blessing,” South Asian Post (March 4, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2WhlrR5.
- The Vanier Institute, “2016 Census Release Highlights Family Diversity in Canada” (October 25, 2017).
- Caroline Alphonso and Xiao Xu, “Multigenerational Households Face Unique Challenges in Battling Spread of Coronavirus,” The Globe and Mail (March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2O9ss24.
- Defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as households where there is at least one person living with a child and a grandchild.
- Statistics Canada, “Admission Category and Applicant Type (47), Immigrant Status and Period of Immigration (11B), Age (7A), Sex (3) and Selected Demographic, Cultural, Labour Force and Educational Characteristics (825) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories and Census Metropolitan Areas, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/312VGHv.
- Defined as living in a household with at least one parent and one grandparent.
- Statistics Canada, “Family Characteristics of Children Including Presence of Grandparents (10), Aboriginal Identity (9), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3), Age (4B) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 0 to 14 Years in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/3184yvh.