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Conestoga College president addresses need for housing as international enrolment soars

Conestoga College has seen an astronomical increase in international students over the past decade, leading to an increased demand for housing in Waterloo Region.

John Tibbits, the president of the college, said no one predicted the growth that the school has experienced.

“We’ve grown much faster than we anticipated. We never planned to grow this quickly, but the demand is large and the needs are large,” Tibbits said in an interview with CTV News.

A report funded by Ontario’s Big City Mayors found international enrolment has been increasing across the province since 2014, but Conestoga College reported a growth of 1,579 per cent.

It’s one factor leading to a need for more student housing.

“No question, we’re putting pressure on the local housing. But I don’t think the answer is to stop the international students because it’s not just caused by them,” Tibbits said.

Darshin Shirwlkar, a second year Conestoga College student, said many students have been having a hard time finding an affordable place to live.

“For students coming this semester, it’s very difficult for them to find housing,” he said. “A lot of people are looking for housing and they’re not getting anything. If they are getting, then it’s very expensive for them.”

In the coming years, Conestoga College has plans to develop residence buildings in Waterloo, Doon and downtown Kitchener.

The school bought a building on Frederick Street which will be converted to student units, which Tibbits expects to open in 2025.

He said the school is assessing design plans for its new builds in hopes of keeping housing affordable. Tibbits said the school is in the process of interviewing hundreds of students to learn more about what they want.

“At this point in time, [students] are not rushing to the residences,” Tibbits said. “There are vacancies around the college. It’s not that there’s no housing.”

Some students might be looking for something bigger or something off campus.

“The international students are not 18 and 19,” Tibbits explained.

“They’re older. They have degrees. Some of them have families so a residence setting is not necessarily what they want.”

Some people in Waterloo Region would like to see more done to help students in a faster way.

Andrew Luis, who lives in a neighbourhood near the college’s Doon campus, said he and his neighbours have noticed a significant increase in traffic, noise, untidiness and overcrowded homes recently.

“Students and property owners can co-exist, but it’s just being done in a way right now that doesn’t foster and develop that relationship,” Luis said.

He said he’s noticed three-bedroom townhouses on his street that appear to have six or more people living in them.

Luis said he’d like some local landlords to do more to inform their tenants about residential expectations, and he’d like the college to do more to help.

“I’d like to see Conestoga College be a little bit accountable. Perhaps utilizing some of the vacant parking lots and the vacant space that they have to develop an area for students,” Luis said.

Tibbits said it will take joint cooperation with municipal, provincial and federal governments to build what’s needed.

“I do think this is an issue that’s beyond us,” Tibbits said.

The college president said the goal of accepting so many international students is not to make money, but instead to boost the local workforce and economy.

“We are helping the industry needs,” Tibbits said.

He said without international students, the community would be lacking.

“I think we’re better off to have a little bit of pressure than be in sort of a depression state. This college would have downsized,” Tibbits said.

“I think we’re doing a lot of good things and I’m proud of what we’re doing. I do know there are some issues, but we’re doing our best to build the housing and continue helping these students.”

This is part one of two-part series. Click here to read part two. Top Stories

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