December 21, 2023 – In response to the mounting challenges faced by international students in Brampton, Mayor Patrick Brown called a special meeting of City Council on December 20, 2023, where two crucial resolutions were passed to address the pressing issue of housing inadequacies for these students.

The meeting featured a keynote presentation by Dr. Mike Moffatt, Senior Director of Policy and Innovation at the Smart Prosperity Institute, shedding light on the urgent need for federal and provincial support for international students grappling with housing challenges.

Mayor Patrick Brown leading the charge

Dr. Moffatt spoke to Council on the invitation of Mayor Brown who has been working to raise the profile of this crisis for some time. Brown was moved to call this meeting after listening to Dr. Moffatt speak to the Ontario Big City Mayors, and the federal government’s recent attempt to address the issue.

Brown prefaced the meeting by discussing the current situation in Brampton: “A young person can’t even dream of owning a home. New families coming to our community who have sacrificed so much to come to Canada, it is a distant dream to own a home. And part of that Canadian dream – that has always been the case – is falling farther and farther away. It’s heartbreaking when you see examples of 12 students living in a basement apartment. This is taking advantage of their hopes and dreams. No international student should come to Canada with these dreams and then be living in conditions like that. It’s not fair to the communities where they’re overburdened in terms of there not being the housing infrastructure to support that.

But the Mayor finished his remarks on a hopeful note of future action: “There are solutions out there on an advocacy front where I think we could lead the discussion of what needs to be done to fix this.”

International Students, Population Growth, and Housing Starts

Dr. Moffatt, also an Assistant Professor at Ivey Business School, outlined the pressing challenges faced by international students, focusing on housing inadequacies. His report revealed that Ontario added 423,000 non-permanent residents in the last two years, primarily due to the influx of international students, a stark contrast to the 20 previous years’ addition of 417,000.

Dr. Moffatt’s presentation shed light on the rapid population growth in Ontario, which has quadrupled in the last 12 months compared to the traditional rate. He emphasized the lack of a target or cap for student visas, contributing to the increased pressure on housing infrastructure.

“If we look at historic population growth in Ontario going back to the 1950s, the provinice typically grows by about 140,000 people a year. In the last 12 months, we have grown by 460,000. Four times the population growth that we normally experience.”

– Dr. Mike Moffatt

All this growth, Dr. Moffatt noted, comes during a time when housing starts are not keeping up with demand: “So there’s a big disconnect here where our population is growing 2 to 3 times the traditional rate, but our housing starts are basically what they’ve been for the last 50 years. So you have more families and individuals chasing a relatively flat number of homes.”

Federal Government Advocacy

The first resolution from this meeting, moved by Mayor Patrick Brown and seconded by Regional Councillor Dennis Keenan, calls on the federal government to establish a direct link between student visas and suitable accommodation near post-secondary institutions. The motion advocates for a more restrictive visa policy and federal funding for housing infrastructure to support the growing population of international students.

Provincial Government Advocacy

The second resolution, put forward by Mayor Brown and seconded by Regional Councillor Rowena Santos, focuses on provincial intervention. “All orders of government need to be a part of the solution to the challenges with respect to housing for international students,” Councillor Santos echoed while speaking to the motion. This motion seeks to double the Heads and Beds Levy, which has remained unchanged since 1987, and strengthen regulations for post-secondary institutions. This levy plays a critical role in supporting municipal services that are heavily utilized by international students.

If the levy were simply indexed to inflation, it would result in $158 per student, which would equate to $117.2 million annually for Brampton. Even with that increase, Councillor Santos asked rhetorically: “is that enough given the statistics we saw today? And the answer is: definitely not.”

Councillor Santos, Chair of the Community Services Council Committee, highlighted the urgency of revising the Heads and Beds Levy, stating, “Our international students are a vital part of Brampton’s cultural mosaic, and it is our responsibility to ensure their welfare.”

Brampton Charter for Improving the International Student Experience

This decisive action follows the recent signing of the Brampton Charter for Improving the International Student Experience on December 18, 2023. Mayor Brown and Dr. Janet Morrison, President and Vice-Chancellor of Sheridan College, affirmed the city’s commitment to meaningful change for international students through collaborative efforts with local educational institutions.

Sheridan’s President and Vice Chancellor, Dr. Janet Morrison and Mayor Brown after the signing of the Charter on December 18, 2023

In his remarks at the special meeting, Mayor Brown referred to the Charter, and that there are responsibilities that come with signing it: “We’re the first city to have an international student charter. And one aspect of the charter was on housing. Now it’s one thing to pledge that we’re going to have housing, but there are tangible ways we can achieve this. And I believe today we can put forward some advocacy on how we can achieve that housing.”

Next Steps

Both resolutions will be shared with key stakeholders, including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), federal and provincial Members of Parliament, and the Region of Peel.

As the City Council leads the way on advocacy efforts, the community anticipates tangible outcomes from these resolutions, looking toward a brighter future where international students can pursue their education in Brampton without facing housing challenges that compromise their well-being. The resolutions mark a significant step in the city’s ongoing efforts to enhance support for international students and maintain its reputation as a leading educational hub.