International students struggle to find affordable and secure student housing
McMaster’s international student population faces struggles navigating the housing market, including housing scams, communication barriers and exploitative landlords.
For McMaster University students, navigating the Hamilton housing market can be a challenging experience. With a housing crisis on the rise and rent prices rapidly increasing, many McMaster students struggle to find affordable and accessible places to live.
International students in particular face unique struggles with finding housing. Fourth-year international computer science student Nisheet Kumar Sobti explained how communication barriers between international students and landlords complicate the already difficult process of finding student housing.
“First, you need to understand how difficult it is to find a house for an international student. Especially if you're coming from a different country and you speak a different language. A lot of students when they come to Canada don't even know how to speak English,” said Sobti.
In the 2022-2023 school year, approximately 6,500 of McMaster students were international, making up 17.5 per cent of the student body. Sobti explained that the struggles specific to this student population are real and ongoing, which became most apparent to him during his experience finding housing.
“Finding a house the first time was so difficult. There were a lot of scams going on. A lot of landlords, they didn't want to give a house to international students because we couldn’t meet in-person,” said Sobti.
Housing scams can include advertisements for houses that don’t exist or already-rented properties, suspicious requests for money or false lists of amenities. Many incoming international students are unable to attend in-person house showings prior to signing a lease, making them subject to misleading advertisements or housing scams.
Second-year software engineering student Aysu Özdal echoed Sobti’s sentiments. Özdal explained that despite feeling apprehensive to sign her lease, she was desperate to find somewhere to live for the upcoming school year.
“Until the day I moved into that house, I was so scared that it could be a scam. I paid first and last months’ rent and I was so scared that it would be a scam, because there's no getting the money back,” said Özdal.
Özdal explained that although her lease agreement ended up being legitimate, this is not the case for every student put in her position. Beyond language barriers and physical distance, international students aren’t always well informed on their rights as a tenant and navigating potentially exploitative landlords.
McMaster arts and science graduate and current CFMU community outreach coordinator Sharang Sharma spoke on this barrier, explaining that international students a prime target for exploitative landlords.
“Half the time [international students] don't know what the laws are, what our rights are … So those kinds of predatory practices are particularly effective,” said Sharma.
McMaster does have programs in place, such as International Student Services office, that aim to address these barriers and assist international students in their transition to Canada. However, many international students still face these struggles and are victims to scams and unlawful housing conditions.
Fourth-year international health science student Vitoria Murakami Olyntho shared her thoughts on this shared circumstance and suggested some potential avenues for McMaster to get involved.
“I wish McMaster could take more of an involved role in helping students find housing. Maybe having groups of McMaster accredited landlords or regions where there's kind of a partnership between the school and the housing market…It would be easier to navigate, it would be less confusing and [feel] more trusting,” said Murakami Olyntho.
Not only does this student population face specific barriers when navigating finding places to live close to campus, such as facing housing scams and communication difficulties, but they also are often scapegoated market.
This year, federal government officials stated that the growing number of international students entering Canada has put a strain on housing availability and as a result has driven up rent prices.
Rates of issued international student study permits in Canada have increased by 75 per cent over the last five years. and this increasing blame has resulted in the federal government considering an international student cap.
Conversations around an international student cap are ongoing, all the while incoming international students continue to struggle to find secure and affordable places to live. For more information on resources for international students, visit the International Student Services office.