September 5th, 2023
International Students Shouldn’t be Blamed for Housing Crunch
The cost of basic shelter is a hot-button issue for many people these days, particularly for youth. Housing prices are at a peak never experienced in Canada before, and along with it, rent costs have exploded. The cost of a one bedroom in Toronto is over $2,500 a month. In Vancouver, it’s even higher at about $3,000 per month. Average rental costs for a one-bedroom apartment this past June were $1,780 across the country, up 10.2 percent from a year ago. It is a nightmare scenario for renters, especially for young people who are just trying to get ahead.
As prices continue to climb higher and higher, both Federal and Provincial governments have paid lip service to the housing crisis without providing concrete solutions to fix the problem. One of the more bizarre statements on this issue recently has come from the new Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister, who has suggested that one option for tackling the price of housing is to scale back on the number of international students admitted to Canada. While likely unintentional, his comments have started an unfortunate conversation about the impact international students have played in pushing housing costs higher.
Following the Minister’s comments, even the Prime Minister had to weigh in, stating “We have to be very careful. Over the past years, we’ve seen a lot of different people and a lot of different groups blamed for the housing crisis. At one point it was foreign homebuyers. At another point it was developers being super aggressive. Another point, it was under-investments by various orders of government. Now it’s people saying, ‘Oh, it’s international students.’ Yes, there’s a lot of different factors that go into this housing crisis. But it’s something that has been brewing and developing over the past number of decades.” While the Prime Minister, his government, and provincial governments have not done nearly enough to address the out-of-control costs and reckless financialization of housing, he is at least correct in stating that international students shouldn’t be bearing the brunt of the blame here.
In fact, one of the reasons that we admit as many international students as we do has a lot to do with how post-secondary institutions are funded. Statistics Canada examined these issues, and in a report from last year titled Trends in private and public funding in Canadian colleges, 2019/2020, they point to the fact that public funding of post-secondary education has “declined steadily since 2008/2009, from 67.0% to 54.7% in 2019/2020.” Those funding shortfalls have been made up primarily from colleges and universities increasing student fees, with international students paying a sixfold increase in student fees during that same time frame. In fact, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyck has stated that international students pay 68 percent of Ontario college tuition fees. So, while many provinces continue to underfund post-secondary education, colleges and universities must now rely on international students to cover those funding gaps. While students are trying to gain the skills they need to compete in the job market, they are now being saddled with a larger debt load than ever just to afford shelter.
While the Prime Minister has stated recently that affordable housing isn’t chiefly the responsibility of the Federal government, nobody who is struggling to find affordable housing is worried about the technicalities of jurisdiction. There are a number of things the Federal government can do to ensure that young Canadians and international students can find affordable shelter.
First, the Feds need to convene a roundtable with provincial and municipal governments, partners and stakeholders to develop coordinated short-, medium- and long-term housing plans to increase purpose-built affordable rentals and non-market community housing. Additionally, coordinating the allocation of study permits to post-secondary institutions that can demonstrate credible and affordable student housing plans would put the onus back on those institutions to ensure the international students they take in are housed.
We should also look into developing a cost-sharing initiative between the federal and provincial governments, and educational institutions to construct new affordable student housing to ensure that every post-secondary student has access to affordable living conditions that are not subject to the normal fluctuations of the housing market.
If we want to develop a strong economy that addresses the structural employment gaps left by the mass retiring of baby boomers, we need to make housing more affordable for those looking to fill those gaps.