Can you afford rent in Canada?
The nationwide rental crisis in Canada leaves many international students vulnerable, with many reporting difficulty in finding affordable housing. Source: Ed Jones/AFP

One of the world’s top study destinations is growing painfully exorbitant to live in. Across provinces, international students report an increasing number of horror stories of finding a livable place to rent in Canada due to a nationwide housing crisis.

“I came here in the middle of the COVID situation so [in] my case? I think it’s not normal,” Taehong Kim, a South Korean student from Nova Scotia Community College told CBC News. “It was kind of a journey to find a place without any network as an international student.”

Kim’s plight isn’t uncommon for newly arrived students in the Atlantic province. Like the rest of the country, the current housing crisis in Halifax has escalated rapidly, with the price of a single family home seeing a 33.5% increase in just a year, according to a separate report by CBC. The city’s vacancy rate for rental units is around one percent — among the lowest in the country.

“I tried to look for another house to move out from here, but almost every apartment that I reached out to, there has been no availability and there’s so many people on the waiting list,” said Kim. “It’s really hard to find another option and move out.”

Can you afford rent in Canada?

Rent in Canada has sharply increased across major cities, disproportionately affecting young people aged 15 to 29, a new study shows. Source: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Rent in Canada: Youth and international students can’t afford to live in cities 

In Ontario, the province’s affordability crisis has come under scrutiny as the issue grows more heated with an election looming on Thursday. With rent control only imposed on units built prior to 2018, this leaves the market wide open for unchecked rental hikes. Newcomers such as international students could easily fall prey to unscrupulous rental practices from landlords.

Such was the case of Chinmoy Kar Victor, a Bangladeshi student who was swindled by a landlord in Sudbury, a city in Northern Ontario. Victor landed in the city after midnight early this month to his rental unit, and was horrified to discover that it turned out nothing like the listing he saw online. The three-bedroom house he signed up for had been converted to seven bedrooms, with several occupants in each room.

“My first night was the most difficult night, because I had to stay in a room where there was no heater. I didn’t have a bed, I was cold. I wrapped up with my warm jacket, but it was still not enough,” the student was quoted saying. The place was crawling with bed bugs, roaches, and rats, which Victor had to endure as he had no extra money to go to a hotel.

The desperation felt by youth and students paints to find reasonably-priced housing a grim picture of urban life in Canada. A new study by Youthful Cities revealed that young people cannot afford to live in Canadian cities. Those aged 15 to 29 are living in a monthly deficit of 750 Canadian dollars. They will need to abstain from entertainment, transportation, and eating out to just break even. Two-thirds of the 27 cities studied still won’t be affordable for them to live in even with full-time work. 

For foreign students, the housing pinch is partly caused by a large influx of international students to cities with low vacancy rates, where developers aren’t meeting student demands. Landlords often require references and proof of finances before tenants are allowed to sign a lease, creating additional hurdles for newcomer students to handily afford rent in Canada. 

With limited working hours tied to their study permit, international students may not be able to keep up with skyrocketing living costs as inflation reaches an all-time high in Canada. Some are forced to live extremely frugal lifestyles while juggling work and study, and more are relying on food banks as they struggle to meet basic necessities to survive in the country.