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Regional councillor calls living situation 'inhumane' for Conestoga College's international students

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Waterloo Region Councillor Michael Harris is criticizing Conestoga College’s response to the housing crisis after an encounter with an international student.

There has been an astronomical increase in international students at the school over the past decade.

On Tuesday, Harris said he was driving in the Doon neighbourhood, where he lives, when he saw a young man carrying a chair over his head. He stopped to chat with the man and found out he was an international student, originally from India, living in a home with 13 other students.

“I think he said this was his only possession in the house that he had. I felt awfully sorry for the young man. He’s here probably with no family,” Harris explained.

He turned to social media to share the student’s story. Harris also said that the college is partly to blame for the lacking of available housing for international students. He feels no one should be forced to live like that – crammed in a house with that many people.

“It’s inhumane. It’s unsafe. More needs to be done and the college has a responsibility,” Harris said.

Waterloo Regional Councillor Michael Harris. (Heather Senoran/CTV Kitchener)

A report, funded by Ontario’s Big City Mayors, found international enrolment has increased across the province since 2014. Conestoga College, in particular, reported 1,579 per cent growth.

“There’s been tens of thousands of international students coming to Kitchener, to the Doon campus, and there’s been no new housing, created from a student housing perspective, with all that available land,” Harris explained.

He added that his post on the social media platform X has inspired others to share their experiences.

“People are renting spots in driveways so they can park their car and they can live in their car and use the washroom in the house.”

Harris also believes the landlords and homeowners should be held accountable.

“That is downright almost criminal. And I hope at some point that they’re dealt with,” he said.

Last month, the federal government announced a plan to decrease the number of new permits for international students.

But Harris worries that won't have an impact on the current situation.

“It may help three, four years from now when the cap is actually in place. But today where we have the problem,” Harris said.

The temporary-two year cap was announced by Immigration Minister Marc Miller and will cut the number of approved study permits in 2024 to 364,000. The 2025 limit will be reassessed at the end of this year.

Harris plans to write to Conestoga College’s president, John Tibbits, about his concerns.

“More housing needs to be provided. We’re doing our best in the region to access land that we own to build more affordable housing.”

No response from Conestoga College

CTV News asked Conestoga College to comment on this story and were told President Tibbits would not be available for an interview.

During a virtual livestream regarding a newly released report, Tibbits said the federal government moved too quickly by introducing the student permit limit.

“I understand why the federal government did what it did because there are problems. But I’m not sure – it was done in haste. There are a lot of students now in limbo,” Tibbits said, in part.

In an interview with CTV News in Sept. 2023, Tibbits explained that the school never planned to grow this quickly, adding that the demand is large and so are the needs.

Conestoga College spoke last year about plans to develop residence buildings in Waterloo, the Doon neighbourhood and downtown Kitchener.

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