Expert welcomes Canada’s hotel-buying pitch for refugee claimants

By Palak Mangat July 8, 2024
Minister of Immigration Marc Miller wears a suit and stands at a podium with a logo that says "Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal."

Minister of Immigration Marc Miller speaks at the Conseil des relations Internationales de Montréal in April 2024. (Photo from X/@MarcMillerVM)

As Ottawa mulls buying and converting hotels to help house asylum seekers, one expert says an unprecedented migration crisis is behind the move that could “substantially” help groups like hers cut costs.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller recently teased the government is considering purchasing hotels to help provinces house refugee claimants.

Federal figures show the feds have covered expenses for 4,000 hotel rooms this year for 7,300 asylum seekers, most of whom came from overcrowded provincial shelters or churches.

But Miller has stressed the need for a more sustainable approach, as the current hotelling model costs over $115 million last year, according to figures obtained by the Globe and Mail.

That could include stationing government officials in converted hotels to offer settlement services or more reception centres like the one in the Peel Region.

But Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Umar cautioned against short-term fixes because the migration crisis is not an “acute” issue.

“Gone are the days where you can have a house or large building that can be a reception centre,” Umar told Parliament Today.

“We’re really looking at a much larger number and being able to accommodate people very quickly.”

An uptick in asylum seekers paired with a lack of available housing is catching up to governments. That’s why Umar is welcoming the government’s push to have a “much more thought-out plan.”

“I’m not married to this idea, I’m just married to the idea that we need to do something to house asylum seekers,” she added.

“It’s one of those things where you need to just kind of keep trying and trying and trying, and you’ll get that perfect storm eventually. We’ve just never been in a situation like this before in our history.”

Umar predicted there will be little pushback from hotels, especially from those in smaller cities that struggle to fill rooms. She expects Ottawa to focus on not the Fairmonts and Marriotts, but sites that “are basically on their last breath” already.

“We’re reinvigorating the economy and recycling infrastructure,” she said.

Options remain a work in progress

So far, the department is mum on “a number of other” options it is considering.

In a statement, Immigration said any “decisions and new developments would be communicated in due course.”

But it noted $960 million was funnelled to provinces and cities between 2017 and 2023 under the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while this year’s budget set aside another $1.1 billion over three years. That extension begins in 2024-25.

However two years later, IHAP funding will become conditional on provinces and cities pitching in for “permanent transitional housing solutions for asylum claimants,” the department added.