A housing solution for new immigrants who may not meet the traditional rental criteria, connecting them with flexible landlords who are willing to work with their unique circumstances. It also includes the option of pairing users up with potential housemates, who meet the standard rental requirements, allowing them to apply for housing jointly.
"How might we connect new immigrants who may not meet traditional rental criteria to flexible landlords or potential housemates so as to simplify and expedite their rental process?"
Between 2016 and 2021, over 1.3 million new immigrants settled permanently in Canada with that number increasing yearly. This substantial influx coupled with the pre-existing housing shortage in Canada, has compounded the problem, particularly impacting new immigrants.
New immigrants' lack of credit history, jobs, or access to guarantors at the time of rental applications makes it especially difficult to secure housing. Additionally, landlords often request housing history and impose additional requirements that new immigrants may be unable to provide. This, coupled with their lack of familiarity with the Canadian housing market, often has them making extreme compromises that Canadian landlords do not usually require from their local counterparts. This situation leaves them vulnerable to potential exploitation due to the desperation of needing housing.
This challenge adds to the already complex process of moving to a new country and impacts their ability to find secure, stable, and sustainable housing options. It is clear that access to housing is essential for rapid integration and success in their new Canadian home.
“It's hard to feel welcome into a country when I can’t find where to live” is how one of the respondents puts it.
Beyond the immediate impact on immigrants, landlords also miss out on responsible tenants due to these rigid application processes. Addressing this issue urgently is not just about housing; it is a fundamental step toward creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for those embarking on a new chapter in Canada.
User Pain Points
To gain insights into the challenges faced by new Canadian immigrants, we conducted 12 user interviews, focusing specifically on their experiences in the search for accommodation upon arrival in Canada.
The predominant thing raised by most respondents was the recurrent issue of facing multiple rejections because they didn’t meet the standard housing requirements. Despite their willingness and ability to pay rent, their new status in the country posed challenges in securing jobs and building credit. This created a frustrating cycle, as finding suitable housing is a crucial initial step that often precedes all other things required to settle down in a new country.
A notable finding from our interviews was that 43% of respondents, even when meeting standard rental criteria such as employment, credit history, and/or having a guarantor, encountered additional demands. These extra requirements included rental history, proof of funds, and additional references, creating an hurdle that their Canadian counterparts were not subjected to.
Furthermore, a significant 69% of respondents felt compelled to make compromises to secure housing, expressing dissatisfaction with the extent of these concessions.
Our preliminary user research highlights the severity of this issue for new immigrants arriving in Canada, particularly for those who lack the support of family or friends with available accommodations. Among the respondents who rated their rental experience as very good (41%), a common factor was the availability of temporary residence with family or friends upon arrival.
This period allowed them to focus on finding jobs, building credit, and securing guarantors from their network. However, it's crucial to highlight that this favorable scenario is not the norm for the majority of immigrants, as a significant percentage arrive without the advantageous soft landing leading them to pay exorbitant short term rental fees (AirBnB’s) for long periods or make other uncomfortable compromises.
Additionally, half of the respondents, some of who met all rental requirements, believed they were racially discriminated against.
Landing on the Solution
Our respondents expressed a willingness to compromise to enhance their chances of securing a rental and offering reassurance to landlords. However, they voiced frustration over the excessive compromises demanded.
Many faced numerous rejections and had to repeatedly explain their situations, only to encounter further rejection.
Recognizing the need for a solution, we sought to empower new immigrants to be upfront about their unique circumstances from the beginning of discussions, before making the first offer on a property.
Additionally, we envisioned a valuable platform where prospective tenants could browse houses owned by landlords willing to collaborate with new immigrants. These landlords would be open to accommodating individuals who may not meet standard rental requirements but are willing to find common ground and make mutually beneficial compromises.
This is why the cornerstone of our solution is to establish an environment dedicated to transparency, ensuring that both landlords and tenants have a clear understanding of what to expect before initiating any contact.
Prospective tenants gain access only to properties owned by landlords who express a willingness to accommodate new immigrants. Simultaneously, landlords are provided with upfront information about the unique circumstances of potential tenants.
By creating this transparent environment, we aim to foster positive and informed interactions from the outset. Tenants can focus their search exclusively on properties owned by landlords who are open to working with new immigrants, reducing the likelihood of facing unnecessary rejections.
Landlords, in turn, are equipped with upfront knowledge about the specific situations of potential tenants, allowing for a more empathetic and understanding approach in the rental process.
This approach not only streamlines the housing search but also cultivates a sense of trust and collaboration between landlords and tenants, addressing the challenges identified in our user interviews.
Our research also revealed that some users resorted to forming partnerships with fellow immigrants who had the requisite documentation in order to jointly apply for housing. Interestingly, a subset of respondents highlighted the long-term benefits of such collaborations. In response to these insights, we made the strategic decision to introduce a matching housemates feature. This feature will enable individuals open to shared living arrangements to connect with like-minded peers.
By creating a dynamic space that not only bridges the gap between immigrants and landlords but also fosters connections among potential housemates, our solution aims to offer a comprehensive and tailored approach to address the varied housing needs of new immigrants.
The initial phase of incLusIVE will be customized for new Nigerian immigrants due to the predominant participation of Nigerian immigrants in the current user research. Future iterations of the product will incorporate data from immigrants of diverse ethnic backgrounds to ensure a more representative sample and broaden the product's user base.
The Matching with Landlords feature is currently on hold as our research did not include landlords in the initial phase. In the interim, we will leverage the matching feature to pair prospective housemates together. This will involve matching individuals with traditional housing requirements with those without, enabling them to jointly apply for rental units.
Research including landlords would be conducted promptly so as to launch this key feature of incLusIVE.
Product Manager Learnings:
Oludara Egerton Shyngle
In just four weeks, I went from having limited knowledge about product management to a profound understanding of the role and process. The things that stood out for me the most were:
Emphasis on Problem-Focused Approach:
A key insight for me was the importance of focusing on the problem. Rather than hastily jumping to solutions, allowing time and patience to delve into the problem simplifies the path to an effective solution. Einstein's quote, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions” really does summerize it the best way
Visual Representation for Efficient Communication:
I discovered the power of utilizing images to convey research data. The simplicity and clarity of pie charts and graphs significantly enhance the products team's understanding of the research synthesis. This small yet profound practice not only streamlines communication but also facilitates quicker comprehension of the complex information that research data can sometimes be.
Communication is Key:
Effective communication is a key ingredient for successful product management. Being able to articulate thoughts, ideas, and solutions is crucial. Ensuring that the team comprehends and digests the information is equally important.
Clear and concise communication not only fosters collaboration but also accelerates the implementation of strategies.
My experience at Co.Lab was extremely well-rounded, equipping me with practical skills and a refined perspective on the intricacies of product management.