International students are a victim of the housing crisis, not the cause

Jan 29, 2024 | Campus News, Canadian News, News

International students struggle with many difficulties in Canada, and one of the biggest is housing.

Despite that, they are often accused of having a negative impact on the housing market.

“They’re not contributing. They’re an outcome. They are experiencing the effects of the financialization of housing,” said Salomeh Ahmadi, a Humber professor leading a three-year federally funded study on housing affordability and other issues.

They (students) look exhausted, they have to work more and so they don’t actually get to enjoy education, right?” she said.

Marc Miller, the minister for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship of Canada (IRCC), announced it would approve about 360,000 undergraduate study permits for 2024, which is 35 per cent less than last year.

Recently, the province announced it will help international students in response to federal legislation meant to improve their lives in Canada. According to the provincial government, there are issues with housing for students that need action right away, in addition to others.

“The challenges stemming from the recent spike in students coming to Canada, including predatory practices by bad-actor recruiters, misinformation regarding citizenship and permanent residency, false promises of guaranteed employment, and inadequate housing for students, require immediate attention and collaborative action,” said Jill Dunlop, minister of colleges and universities, in a press release.

Ahmadi said international students’ experiences in Canada, including with housing, can be difficult.

“The housing crisis for international students has been glaring in recent times, too, and also their experience, everything from mental health and other things and working, having to work because of the competition for housing — and landlords are exploiting them, right? And charging more.”

Ahmadi said the demand for colleges to ensure housing for international students is short and abrupt, and it’s hard to predict what may happen.

“Where the money comes from, it’s going to be maybe a collaborative approach, perhaps within the colleges. The colleges should take a more proactive approach and get involved in advocacy around housing and supporting housing,” she said. “But who knows where the colleges are going to get that money?”

“Housing doesn’t appear out of thin air,” said Mike Schreiner, Ontario’s Green party leader in a Jan. 26 press release. “Mandating housing without a funding commitment to help Ontario’s universities and colleges pay for it is little more than smoke and mirrors,” the statement said.

“Ford’s failure to responsibly fund colleges and universities is not only threatening the financial stability of post-secondary education, it is also making the housing crisis worse.”

Ahmadi said there are options for schools to improve international students’ quality of life.

“Colleges can look at their capital project and purchase and build housing or modular housing above their storefront.

She also said they could develop student housing cooperatives, and projects to design and develop the right kinds of housing for international students.

Ahmadi mentioned the HomeShare program, in which seniors with empty rooms rent them to students at lower-market rents. This is especially good, she said, since a report said there are more than five million empty rooms in Ontario.

“The approaches are many. There’s not just a singular solution. There needs to be a rent freeze. There’s no rent caps on new units. And that has a domino effect in creating the financialization of housing,” she said.

A map from RenovictionsTO, a volunteer-run tenant advocacy project, shows the incredibly high number of above-guideline rent evictions, “renovictions”, which is when a landlord evicts a tenant under the claim of making renovations, and “own use” evictions, meaning the landlord claims to be evicting the tenant to make space for loved ones, friends, and/or simply using the property for something they need or want to do.

She said the larger issue of the financialization of housing has broader implications, such as effects on health and well-being, and whether immigrants or international students will even want to move to Ontario.

In response to claims that international students have a detrimental effect on the housing market, Ahmadi said it’s not them, nor other immigrants, who control the housing market.

“It’s easy to scapegoat a small group of people when the root issue is being ignored,” she said. “Competition has always existed, that’s capitalism.”

She said the real problem is the ongoing housing market issues, such as international students being exploited through illegal rent increases and they are not aware they are illegal.

She also said the rent cap removal on newer housing was meant to incentivize developers to build more, but they haven’t.

Another change made was that students enrolled in Public College Private Programs (PCPPs), starting in Sep. 2024, will no longer be eligible for a work permit upon graduation.

Andrew Ness, the Dean of International Services at Humber, said during a Q&A session for international students on the policy changes, no programs at Humber are Public College-Private Partnerships (PCPP). Any program at Humber makes international students eligible for a work permit when they graduate, he said.