York Immigration Boom Comes With A Cost


York immigration boom comes with a cost
Per-capita settlement funds cut in half
Report highlights regional disparity

May 31, 2006. 06:10 AM

Immigration has played a huge role in York Region's 27 per cent growth over the past five years, yet the region is getting less than half the settlement funding it used to receive per-person, raising concerns about the future of some of Canada's fastest growing communities.

That finding was part of a report released by York Region yesterday that documents the demographic changes and major challenges facing what was once a fairly homogeneous suburban region.

“You'd have to be a freewheeling hermit in York Region not to realize how dramatically the population has evolved (in) any of our schools, sport fields, libraries or hospitals,” Markham's Frank Scarpitti said at yesterday's launch of the report, Community Snapshots: Recent Immigrants Living in York Region.

“Some people moved out because they liked their community to be more homogeneous, but they didn't run very far,” the regional councillor added. “The reality is we've had immigrants landing on our doorstep, not just on Toronto's doorstep, and we need to address the opportunities and challenges we face.”

Once, new immigrants tended to move to the suburbs only after they were more established. But the report points out a dramatic change in that pattern, with many now settling directly in York Region. By 2001, more than 46 per cent of the region's new immigrants were making the region their first home in Canada.

Yet federal and provincial funding for settlement services hasn't kept pace. York's settlement funding effectively declined from $416.72 per person in 2001 to just $179.26 in 2004.

The region's population is expected to grow from the current 923,000 to 1.4 million by 2026.

Shortfalls in federal and provincial settlement funding are widespread across the GTA. But York was the first to order such a detailed report to monitor the progress of immigration at a municipal level, in an effort to guide its community planning and program development.

According to the report, more than 95,000 immigrants moved into Canada's fastest growing census division in the decade 1991-2001 accounting for 42 per cent of the region's growth.

Some 71 per cent were from visible minorities, with Chinese the largest group.

And nearly all of the recent immigrants those in Canada less than five years have moved to Aurora, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.

Based on census data, the 88-page Community Snapshots covers the region's demographics, employment, income, education, language, housing, transit use and religion.

Contrary to the perception that York's newcomers are generally affluent, the report found that average income for recent immigrants is $14,449, compared with $30,212 for their Canadian-born counterparts.

Across the GTA, only Toronto immigrants fare worse by income. New arrivals in York are three times as likely as non-immigrants to be living in poverty.

More than 10,000 newcomers to York about 11 per cent said they have “no knowledge” of either official language, the highest proportion in the GTA. Almost 3,300 recent immigrant children in the region don't know English or French, either. The figures highlight the need for multilingual services.

“The information will put York Region and community services and organizations in a better position to service, plan and advocate for equitable funding,” explained Newmarket Mayor Tom Taylor, co-chair of the Community Reference Group, which directed and delivered the report.

The immigration agreement signed by the federal government and its Ontario counterparts last November, which would jack up existing settlement funding from $800 to $3,400 per immigrant, would open new doors for the region, Taylor added. The deal will also give municipalities a stronger voice on immigration matters.

Rahul Bhardwaj, head of the United Way of York Region and the group's co-chair, said the report marks the beginning of a dialogue among community groups, service providers and governments, to prepare to serve emerging needs.

“Some established immigrants occasionally would say, `When we came, we didn't get this kind of support,'” he noted.

“The point is, we shouldn't look back at what we didn't have, but look at the reality of what's in front of us with the issues that have to be dealt with now.”

The report is available at http://www.region.york.on.ca. It will be translated later into the region's most-spoken languages.