International students facing housing problems is part of a bigger scandal

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Pradip Rodrigues

In recent times when a traditional news media outlet ‘breaks’ a story and puts it on its front page, you may not be wrong to assume it is an old story that has been around on social media for months if not years. One such example that comes to mind is the story about dozens of international students living in hostel-like settings in single-family houses in Brampton. The issue became a story after it was raised at council’s Aug. 7 meeting by two councillors who highlighted the housing problem faced by international students after they had personally been to homes with up to two dozen international students while canvassing during elections. The topic came up as part of a broader discussion about city funding for the expansion of a local college that caters to an unusually large number of international students.

This piece of ‘news’ pointed a finger at homeowners or landlords who are running lodging houses bang in single-family houses in direct contravention to laws and regulations.

There are thousands of homes across Brampton and Mississauga that have illegal basements housing new immigrants, refugees and increasingly international students.

Up until five years ago, these secondary units and rental properties were rented out to new immigrant families, but in recent years, many landlords have realized there is more money to be made by renting a basement to up to half a dozen international students and charge them individually rather than have one single-family. Other owners of second properties have found that cramming the house with up to two dozen students and running it like a hostel or rooming house is a sure way to quadruple their rental incomes. The result is that it is harder for new immigrant families to find decent housing at an affordable price range.

In recent years many players have gotten rich by catering to international students. Small businesses love to employ desperate and broke international students for $5 to $10 an hour. According to people in the know, many South Asian businessmen are making a fortune by employing cheap labour.

Many Brampton residents who would otherwise never have afforded their second or third home are happily renting their properties to international students who are paying off their mortgages. South Asian contractors are running flourishing businesses creating new basements and probably use international student workers. They now specialize in dividing and sub-dividing houses into compact single-person units. By creatively portioning portions of the house, more international students and other single renters can be housed.

Universities are making a killing by expanding their capacity to cater to ever larger number of international students and creating courses that give them adequate time to work.

The only people who aren’t benefiting from this are those Canadians who are playing by the rules.

A normal Canadian family of four or two, living in a single-family dwelling must feel awful to know that they pay the same property tax as their neighbours who rent out portions or all of their homes to two or more families or have up to 10 renters each paying the landlord $500.

It is highly unlikely cities like Brampton would ever be able to get homeowners to legalize their basements or to stop running hostels, so the next best solution would be to let the property tax reflect not the size of a home but rather the number of people living in it.

That way each homeowner pays a fair amount in taxes. Brampton could end up with millions of dollars more in their coffers which would allow for better services and infrastructure. The other alternative is ensuring enough student housing is built for international students, but that should be the responsibility of colleges and not the city. Canadian cities should be directing tax dollars toward housing for Canadian citizens and not international students. -CINEWS

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