Keshav Malhotra arrived from India on Aug. 24 to study at the University of Manitoba, but he’s struggled to find a place to rent since then.
“I have been roaming on foot all day in search of a house. I have got 17,000 steps clocking all day and not yet found a decent place,” said Malhotra, 20.
He’s staying with a family friend temporarily. Malhotra started the process of searching for a home from India through Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, but he had to be in Winnipeg before he could sign a lease.
“Often, listings don’t match their photos. The rent can be high even for apartments with one bathroom shared by eight people,” he said.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a record 550,150 international student study permits were issued last year.
Malhotra, who’s part of this influx, set aside $600 for his rent. He has some savings through his funding, but finding a place within his budget is difficult.
“It’s not going to be easy with so much demand, and if you don’t have credit history or rental history then you might need someone who could guarantee you a place.”
Tracy Karuhogo, president of the University of Manitoba Students Union, says it’s a significant challenge for international students to find accessible and affordable housing.
“Many universities offer on-campus housing, but these options may be limited, some are far and the costs of those are very high,” she said.
Karuhogo says there’s an average of 1,100 residences on U of M’s campus, and they’re usually always full as more than 26,000 students bid for those spaces.
As they grapple with budget constraints, Karuhogo said many international students end up with multiple roommates in one or two-bedroom homes.
Satyam Bhanot, who’s been studying computer science at the University of Manitoba since 2021, has seen a big change in rental prices. Bhanot wants his own apartment now that he has a work-from-home job, but he’s been searching for a suitable place for three months.
“I am hearing the same things from leasing agents — ‘call me next week, call me at the end of next month,’ and everything is booked,” he said.
The average cost of a two-bedroom rental in Winnipeg is $1,350, according to a report from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“Even at that cost, you don’t get a fully-furnished, well-kept apartment,” Bhanot said. “Students usually end up sharing one apartment to save costs.”
Bhanot found a place near St. Vital just over a week ago, but there was a lot of paperwork as international students require a guarantor.
“While I was still doing my paperwork and was in the queue, the leasing agent called me and said it’s booked already for other tenants,” he said.
“I don’t know why they don’t trust us, I don’t know why they don’t want to give to us.”
Students caught in scams
UMSU’s Karuhogo came to the University as an international student from Uganda in 2019. She is studying psychology and is in her final year.
She says she faced a lot of racial discrimination during her housing search. “I have been refused to get a rental apartment as the landlord said I can’t afford it because of my country of origin,” she said.
She adds that finding off-campus housing can be tricky because of scams and fake advertisements.
“I have heard of instances where landlords have asked students to send a security deposit from their home countries and when the students arrive, the address does not exist.”
Jerry Jacob and Sanjeev Thakur faced a similar ordeal during their first few weeks of house search.
Jacob moved to Winnipeg from India in 2021 to study computer science at University of Manitoba, and Thakur started advanced business management at University of Winnipeg in September 2022.
They said when they tried to find houses online through Kijiji, most renters asked for deposits before even viewing.
“I learned the hard way as there were a lot of sponsored advertisements with fake listings. My friend got trapped into one, so I didn’t fall for any of those ads,” said Jacob.
Jacob said since he wasn’t aware of the average market rate, he got a tiny unfurnished room for $650. “From people smoking inside and fighting to loud music and unhygienic housing, I’ve seen it all,” he said.
The first place Thakur moved into was a small servant’s room that was shared by four people with bunk beds. He had to pay almost $650 a month.
“These scams seem very organized and look as close as real to you. Neither the landlady nor the agent provided any pictures before the deposit was paid,” he said.
Thakur says he saw rent prices climb when he arrived last year, an increase he links to the recent influx of students and the start of the school year.
“Everyone takes advantage of international students because they know first thing they need is a house, and students falls prey to all scams.”
Some of his friends who pre-booked housing with advance payment reached Winnipeg only to learn that the apartment did not exist, he said, or was already rented to someone else.
Thakur hopes that soon “the government, IRCC, and NGO work together to help international students find proper housing.”
Possible cap on international students
Earlier this month, federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser floated the idea of capping the number of international students to ease pressure on the housing market.
The lack of affordable housing for all Canadians, including students, was a major focus at the cabinet retreat in Charlottetown on August 21. Fraser plans to sit down with post-secondary institutions to find out what can be done to make it easier to find living space for those students in a tight rental market.
WATCH | Minister considering a cap on international students to ease housing pressure:
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations doesn’t support that approach. Karuhogo, who is also the secretary of CASA, says that more federal funding is needed to prioritize student housing for international students.
She says Canada is a popular destination for international students, who contribute to the economy by filling gaps in the workforce.
“I feel like the government should first of all do better in finding student housing data because this is how they will know if it’s the international students causing the housing crisis.”
She adds that “even if you took away the 800,000 students and put them aside, you will still find citizens and permanent residents still not affording the housing that we are talking about.”
She says there are bigger factors to keep in mind instead of blaming international students for the housing crisis.