My partner and I moved to Toronto 10 years ago, back when it was just the two of us, without kids. Our hunt for housing was not too terrible. Initially, we settled into University of Toronto Family Housing for our first apartment. Later on, we moved to another apartment building where we spent the next seven years. We even changed apartments within that building when our first child arrived.

Now, imagine what it is like to make the move here in 2024 – only this time, with a family and kids in tow.

In today's Toronto, newcomer families are up against significant challenges when searching for an appropriate place to live. These challenges include the difficulty of finding a 3-bedroom apartment, the lack of 4-bedroom options, and the struggle to access quality schools and daycare facilities.

Many immigrants are used to apartment living in their home countries, and that is what they search for here as well. Many even prefer it. Speaking for my own preference, and from talking to many first-generation Canadians, I can tell you this was, and continues to be, the case for many newcomers. But let me tell you, finding a 3-bedroom apartment here? It's no walk in the park. They are few and far between, with only a small fraction of listings fitting the bill. And as for 4-bedroom units? They are simply non-existent in the market. With the exception of some older apartment buildings, most of which don't come with laundry facilities, a washer, or a dishwasher. Call me spoiled, but with young kids, these things feel like basic necessities.

Where can you find 3-bedroom units with all the modern in-suite amenities then? Typically, only in the newer developments. And if you are an immigrant hoping to be near public transit to cut down on the expenses of owning a car, your choices are limited. You might find a few options along Eglinton or in City Place, but they are quite scarce.

Like any other family, newcomer families prioritize family-friendly neighbourhoods with good schools and daycare options. However, top-rated schools are often located in more expensive areas, making housing options there unaffordable for newcomers. Daycare centres also have long waiting lists, with many already completely full, making it incredibly tough for families to secure a spot.

Juggling factors like commute times, living expenses, and access to essential services isn't unique to newcomer families when selecting a neighbourhood. However, they face additional challenges: namely, navigating a city and housing market they are completely unfamiliar with. When you move without children, you have the luxury of relocating again after the first year if necessary – no sweat! But when you move to a new city with a child who has just settled into a new school, in a new country, with a new language to adapt to, the idea of moving again within a year becomes much less likely. So, it is crucial to figure everything out upfront, even before making the move to the new country you will call home.

In addition to the practical challenges newcomer families are facing in today’s market, there is a troubling trend of anti-immigration sentiments in Canada that are unfairly blaming immigrants for the housing crisis. No doubt that immigration contributes to increased demand for housing, further straining the already limited supply, but this argument oversimplifies a multifaceted issue and ignores the contributions that immigrants make to the economy and society as a whole. Instead of focusing on more restrictive immigration policies, it is time to stop standing in our own way of building more housing.

So, to all newcomers, past and present, Happy Newcomer Day!

And to you, Toronto, you are home to millions of determined and courageous dreamers arriving here from every corner of the world. Now that you've had a glimpse of what it's like for immigrant families landing here today, I encourage you to summon all the determination, courage, and imagination that defines you. Take a good look at where you are going wrong and strive to become the wonderful city you are meant to be. We will all be here to lend a hand along the way!

The City of Toronto is presenting its tenth annual Toronto Newcomer Day today, Thursday, May 23, from 10am to 3pm at Nathan Phillips Square. All are welcome to attend.

Urbanity Fair