High enrolment of international students creating housing crisis for some St. Clair students

Prayag Shah, an international student at St. Clair College, spent his first two weeks in Windsor struggling to find a place to live because of what he refers to as a "housing crisis."

St. Clair College has more than 3,000 international students enrolled for the summer semester

St. Clair College international student Prayag Shah stayed in three different homes before finally settling in his current house. In the second home, he had to share one bed with three other roommates. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Prayag Shah moved to Windsor less than two weeks ago from Gujarat, India. He is attending St. Clair College for the summer semester as an international student.

Shah is one of more than 3,000 international students currently attending the school — which means there is a competitive search to find adequate housing.

Shah is now renting a room near the University of Windsor that he calls "clean and safe" but in his first two weeks in Windsor, his living situation was anything but that.

First days in Windsor

St. Clair College permits international students to stay at the Super 8 motel for three days, free of charge. Shah said staying at the motel was like living "in a palace" compared to his home in India.

"Super 8 gave me full-fledged facilities, such as good blankets, no bed bugs, good toilets and faucets," he said.

Prayag Shah said he did not know it would be so difficult to find a place to live before he arrived in Windsor. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

But three days went by quickly. Shah was now in a panic to find a new place to live. He said St. Clair College was unsympathetic of his dire situation.

"I'm an international student. I don't know how to go ahead ... I mailed [St. Clair College asking], 'Could you please extend my stay for three or four more days?' They told me, 'No. You should pay [for] the motel and you can live over there for more days.' But the price of the motel was about $100 per day."

In just his third day in Canada, Shah — who pays $13,000 per year in tuition — was searching for a place to live. In the 10 days that followed, he ended up moving houses on three separate occasions.

"In the second house, there were only three students ... and only one mattress. We were sharing two comforters within four people. And in the third house, there were seven people sharing one washroom," he said.

This kitchen was shared by 20 students who all lived in the same house at once. The house is located near the University of Windsor and was predominantly rented out to international students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Not the only one

Real estate agent Preetinder Brar rents out houses in the downtown Windsor area. He said some landlords are having trouble renting to international students because of the many unknowns surrounding their financial situation.

"When landlords are renting a house, they are looking for credit. New students do not have any credit so how will the landlord allow them to have a house?" he said.

Real estate agent and landlord Preetinder Brar believes it is too difficult for international students to find adequate housing. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

"They also have no verifiable income, so that's why the tenants face problems from the landlords. Landlords hesitate to give them a house," Brar added.

While some landlords shy away from renting to international students, others see it as an opportunity for financial gain. Renting out a single-person room to multiple international students means increased revenue for landlords.

"I have seen, in a four-room house, there are 15 students living [there] ... They cannot get ready on time because there is just one washroom or two washrooms in the house," he said.

This photo submitted to CBC News shows a group of international students who all lived under one roof. There are three people absent from this photo. The house included just one kitchen and two washrooms for a total of 20 tenants. (Submitted)

The college's perspective

St. Clair College said they have responded to "very little actual cases" of overcrowding in rental houses.

Ron Seguin, vice president of International Relations, Training and Campus Development for the college said the three-day motel stay is minimally used and is not for people in dire need.

We saw record-amounts of students already have their accommodations arranged before they landed.- Ron Seguin, St. Clair College

"We saw record-amounts of students already have their accommodations arranged before they landed. So of the 3,000-plus students, only 300 have required the hotel accommodation — small percentage when you think of the large numbers," he said.

Seguin added there have not been any students who have needed an extension for the three-day motel stay.

When CBC News informed Seguin of Shah's situation, Seguin said there are "details around each situation" that must first be examined.

"If we have vacancies or there's a chance to move a student to the residence, there could be incidents," he said. "But certainly, we'd like to spread the word (for international students) to give us a call and we'll work through each individual case."

This bus stop at the corner of Campbell Avenue and Wyandotte Street is used by many international students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Next steps

Seguin said the school is working with city officials to meet increased needs for space, and have hired a housing coordinator who assists students in finding adequate accommodations.

He said he believes the influx of international students is being absorbed by the rental market.

"There may be a little bit of lag time in terms of how the market responds to the housing requirements but, so far, the rental house market has handled it."

St. Clair College is in the midst of constructing 500 new beds. Seguin said private landlords are always renovating 10 to 12 units to make them livable for students — both domestic and international.

Prayag Shah is still settling into his current rental unit. He is optimistic that his long road to get here will ultimately give him the strength to earn his college degree. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Fourth house is the charm

Shah is finally settling in to his new rental unit. He has his own mattress and said his landlords perform cleanliness audits to prevent beg bugs and mice from appearing in the home.

But while Shah has found a better place, he said 10 of his friends are experiencing the difficulties he recently overcame in finding a comfortable place to live.

"They are living in a temporary accommodation at my friend's house ... When they do [look at another place], there's bed bugs, mice, rats."

About the Author

Sanjay Maru

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.