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Could cap on international students free up housing in Barrie?

'While the cap may lead to a temporary increase in available rental units, we need to recognize that housing is a complex issue and inventory is only part of the solution,' says United Way official
A home for lease on Bradford Street in Barrie.

Many people who work in and around the housing sector are in wait-and-see mode.

Social housing agencies and municipal governments are eager to see what the impacts of the federal government’s international student cap will have on the numbers of students at Georgian College, and its effect on housing availability and pricing within Barrie.

The federal and provincial governments are hoping the two-year cap on student admissions will give them time to fix a system they say is taking advantage of high international student tuition while providing, in some cases, a poor education.

In the cap plan announced on Jan. 22, there will be a 35 per cent overall reduction in new student visas this year, though some provinces, including Ontario, will see a reduction of international students by 50 per cent or more.

Jennifer Roberts, Barrie's manager of strategic initiatives policy and analysis, issued a memo to city council Feb. 7 to provide members with responses to questions asked and additional information requested during a general committee meeting on Jan.10 regarding the city’s affordable housing strategy.

“Ontario, especially growing cities such as Barrie, have experienced significant population growth due to immigration and internal migration. This increased demand for housing can outpace the supply, leading to higher prices,” she wrote in the memo.

The report shows the number of non-permanent residents in Barrie has been increasing since 2016. In 2022, there were 2,766 non-permanent residents.

“This is likely due to an increase in international students attending Georgian College’s campus in Barrie,” Roberts wrote.

“Post-secondary enrolment pressures are putting a strain on the housing market. Many students require relatively affordable housing options and often must compete in the market with low- or moderate-income households, putting a further strain on this increasingly limited segment of the market,” she added.

A breakdown of population growth in the city of Barrie which was included in a memo sent to councillors after a recent council meeting. | Image supplied

The college has said international student enrolment grew 10-fold between the 2012-13 and 2022-23 school years. Georgian has 12,488 full-time students, including more than 6,300 international students.

Coun. Clare Riepma, whose ward includes the college area, believes the student cap's impact will start to affect the city this summer, and will depend on how many international students will not be attending Georgian College. 

Riepma says he has always been concerned about the housing pressures in his east-end ward.

“The college is in my ward, and there is a residential community around the college,” he told BarrieToday.

"I would imagine, if we had fewer international students, we will have fewer students living in those houses,” Riepma added. “The demand for housing around the college would certainly soften.”

Riepma says it’s too early to tell what the overall effect is going to be, but he believes it might relieve the pressure on some of the rental costs and some of the overcrowding he feels is going on there.

“If some of these houses were no longer needed for students, I would hope they would come available for either rent or purchase by families. That would be terrific,” he said.

“There are quite a few homes that are lived in by students," the councillor added. "A lot of them are owned by landlords that don’t live in the city, and use (the homes) as investments.”

Uttam Khadji, who's the operations manager with AMR Property Management, has been providing property services in Barrie and the surrounding area for more than 20 years. The company receives student referrals from Georgian College, and the majority of its business deals with international students, connecting them with landlords and homeowners.

“September is our high season,” Khadji told BarrieToday. “We place 150 to 200 students in rooms.”

Khadji says the cap on international students will at least stabilize, if not lower, the housing supply and demand in the region if the market has less demand for rooming houses “because most are international (students),” he said.

“We don’t know if domestic (students) will be paying for the same stuff — we’ll have to wait and see — but it will have a significant impact for sure, Khadji added.

“We need to make adjustments to everything, like we did with COVID-19," he said. 

Khadji says any lack of international students could also affect the entire economy in Barrie.

“We’ll have to wait and see how the college responds, and what their plans are, because that is what will set the tone for the entirety of Barrie, including the rental housing market as well as any other businesses," he said. 

Brian Shelley, chief executive and philanthropy officer with United Way Simcoe Muskoka, says the proposed cap on international students will have a far-reaching impact on the community.

“While the cap may lead to a temporary increase in available rental units, we need to recognize that housing is a complex issue and inventory is only part of the solution,” he told BarrieToday.

“It is also worth noting that Georgian College is one of the largest employers in our community," Shelley added. "If this cap on international students has a negative impact on the college financially, there will be ripple effects into our local economy that could lead to even more individuals unable to afford the housing available to them.”

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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