Canada is a popular destination for international students who seek quality education and a chance to immigrate. However, many of them face a serious challenge when it comes to finding affordable and decent housing in the country. The housing crisis in Canada is not only affecting the local population, but also the international students who contribute to the economy, society and culture of Canada.
The causes of the housing crisis
The housing crisis in Canada is a complex and multifaceted problem that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the main causes are:
• Lack of supply: Canada has not built enough housing units to meet the demand of its growing population, especially in urban areas. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, Canada needs to build 1.8 million new homes by 2025 to address the housing shortage.
• Speculation and foreign investment: Many investors, both domestic and foreign, have bought properties in Canada as a way to park their money or earn profits, driving up the prices and reducing the availability of housing for residents. A study by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation found that foreign ownership of condominiums was highest in Toronto and Vancouver, two of the most expensive and desirable cities for international students.
• Short-term rentals: Platforms like Airbnb have enabled homeowners to rent out their properties for short periods of time, often at higher rates than long-term leases. This has reduced the supply of rental housing and increased the competition among tenants. A report by the City of Toronto estimated that there were 21,000 entire-home listings on Airbnb in 2018, equivalent to 1.5 per cent of Toronto’s housing stock.
• Inadequate policies and regulations: The federal, provincial and municipal governments have not implemented effective policies and regulations to address the housing crisis. For example, there is no national housing strategy, no rent control or vacancy tax at the federal level, and no cap on the number of international students admitted to Canada. Moreover, some policies have unintended consequences, such as the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, which may increase the demand and prices of housing without increasing the supply.
The impacts on international students
International students are among the most vulnerable groups affected by the housing crisis. They face many challenges and risks when looking for housing in Canada, such as:
• High costs: International students pay much higher tuition fees than domestic students, and they also have to bear the costs of living in Canada, which can be very expensive. According to a survey by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the average annual cost of living for an international student in Canada was $15,496 in 2019. However, this amount may not be enough to cover the rent in some cities, where the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $2,132 in Toronto and $2,064 in Vancouver in August 2021.
• Limited options: International students have fewer options when it comes to finding housing in Canada, as they may face discrimination, language barriers, cultural differences, and lack of social networks. They may also have difficulty finding landlords who accept them as tenants, as some landlords may prefer local tenants who have a credit history, a steady income, and a long-term lease. Furthermore, international students may not be eligible for subsidized housing or social housing, as they are not permanent residents or citizens of Canada.
• Poor quality and safety: International students may have to settle for substandard or unsafe housing conditions, as they may not have the knowledge, resources, or rights to challenge their landlords or seek legal help. Some of the common issues that international students face are overcrowding, infestation, mould, lack of heating, ventilation, or fire safety, and violation of privacy. International students may also be exposed to harassment, abuse, or exploitation by their landlords or roommates, who may take advantage of their vulnerability or ignorance.
• Mental health and well-being: The housing crisis may have negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of international students, who may experience stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, or loneliness. The lack of affordable and decent housing may affect their academic performance, social integration, and career prospects. It may also discourage them from staying in Canada after graduation, or from recommending Canada as a study destination to others.
The solutions and recommendations
The housing crisis in Canada is a serious and urgent issue that requires the collaboration and cooperation of all stakeholders, including the governments, the educational institutions, the private sector, the civil society, and the international students themselves. Some of the possible solutions and recommendations are:
• Increase the supply and diversity of housing: The federal, provincial and municipal governments should invest more in building and maintaining affordable and accessible housing units, especially for low-income and marginalized groups. They should also encourage and support the development of diverse and innovative housing models, such as co-operative housing, co-living spaces, laneway houses, tiny homes, and modular housing.
• Regulate and tax the housing market: The federal, provincial and municipal governments should implement and enforce policies and regulations that curb speculation, foreign investment, and short-term rentals in the housing market. They should also impose taxes or fees on vacant or underused properties, luxury or second homes, and capital gains from property sales. These measures could generate revenue for housing programs and initiatives, as well as deter investors from driving up the prices and reducing the availability of housing for residents.
• Support and protect the renters: The federal, provincial and municipal governments should enact and revise laws and regulations that protect the rights and interests of renters, such as rent control, rent stabilization, eviction moratorium, tenant relocation assistance, and dispute resolution mechanisms. They should also provide information and education to renters and landlords about their rights and responsibilities, and offer legal aid and advocacy services to renters who face discrimination, harassment, or abuse.
• Cap and monitor the international student intake: The federal government should consider placing a cap on the number of international students admitted to Canada each year, or at least to certain regions or cities, to ease the pressure on the housing market and the public services. The federal government should also monitor and evaluate the impacts of international students on the housing situation, and consult with the provincial and municipal governments, the educational institutions, and the international student associations on how to balance the benefits and challenges of international student migration.
• Provide and expand the student housing: The educational institutions should provide and expand the on-campus or off-campus housing options for international students, such as dormitories, residences, or apartments. They should also ensure that the student housing is affordable, accessible, safe, and inclusive, and that it meets the standards and regulations of the local authorities. The educational institutions should also partner with the private sector or the civil society to create or support alternative or innovative housing solutions for international students, such as homestays, hostels, or student co-operatives.
• Empower and engage the international students: The international students should be empowered and engaged in finding and securing housing in Canada, as well as in advocating and participating in the housing issues and policies that affect them. The international students should be provided with information and guidance on how to search for, apply for, and maintain housing in Canada, as well as on how to deal with any problems or conflicts that may arise. The international students should also be encouraged and supported to join or form associations, networks, or groups that represent their voices and interests in the housing matters, and to collaborate and communicate with other stakeholders, such as the governments, the educational institutions, the landlords, or the local communities.
The housing crisis in Canada is a complex and multifaceted problem that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not only affecting the local population, but also the international students who contribute to the economy, society and culture of Canada. The housing crisis poses many challenges and risks for international students, such as high costs, limited options, poor quality and safety, and mental health and well-being. The housing crisis also undermines the attractiveness and competitiveness of Canada as a study destination and a potential home for international students. Therefore, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together to find and implement solutions and recommendations that address the housing crisis and its implications for international students, as well as for the broader society and the future of Canada.