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International student in Toronto speaks out on 'nasty' housing conditions

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A Toronto-based international student is speaking out about the crowded and uncomfortable living conditions he’s been enduring for months in a Scarborough bungalow. A situation, now part of a city investigation.

“It’s not obviously a good thing, it’s kind of torture,” said Ashish Sharma in an interview with CTV News Toronto.

The 25-year-old also shared videos with CTV of the basement he’s been calling home which shows walls in disrepair, a small kitchen and small bedrooms with mattresses on the floor.

Sharma said more than a dozen people have slept in the basement at different times and more people live upstairs. He said there are five rooms in total in the basement, and the walls are not well insulated. He sleeps on a mattress on the floor next to another tenant.

“A referral was made to our Fire Prevention Inspection, Community Risk Reduction Division. This is currently an active inspection,” said a Toronto Fire Services spokesperson.

The City of Toronto said it received a complaint about 15 people in the home and commenced an investigation into this issue, adding it will be able to provide more information when the investigation is complete.

“Currently, multi-tenant houses are only permitted in certain parts of Toronto (where zoning permits) and not permitted in Scarborough,” a spokesperson said.

After receiving his civil engineering degree, Sharma came to Canada in January to study construction management at George Brown College. He said while he’s very happy with the education and program, he pays around $25,000 in tuition which doesn’t leave much extra money for housing and expenses. He pays around $500 dollars a month to live in the bungalow.

“Just for sleeping, it’s okay, but for studying it’s a terrible place,” he said. “First few months I shared a mattress with somebody because there was no mattress available at that time. After some time, the people, some friends, they collected a mattress from outside, maybe from the street and they placed it there.”

Ashish Sharma is seen in this image.

He said in January when he first arrived the conditions were “nasty”, but the house has since been cleaned. And at times there are so many people in the house, some go to the bathroom outside.

“If I leave this place I have to pay more than this, and that’s one fear, and nowadays for international students it’s really hard to get a job,” adding after his studies, he’ll receive a work permit.

With so many roommates, Sharma said his biggest problem is the noise and his inability to focus while trying to study. As a result, he spends a lot of time at his local library.

OWNERS INSIST ONLY 15 PEOPLE LIVING IN HOME

CTV News Toronto spoke with the two owners of the home in person. They said they agree moving to a new country and living in these conditions is terrible, and they don’t want to continue offering this type of housing.

The owners insist there are only 15 people in the entire house. They say they bought the home in December and monthly mortgage payments are over $5,000. After renting the home to one person, they said they gave that person the responsibility of collecting rent and were not aware some were being charged around $500 for rent.

The owners said they added a second bathroom in the basement, have fire alarms and upgraded the power supply.

They are also aware of the investigation and said they’ve now warned tenants they’ll have to move, but are most concerned with throwing them out before having somewhere else to go.

Images from a multi-tenant house in Scarborough are seen here.

CONDO OWNER STEPS UP TO HELP

Lynne Laframboise is a condo owner and attends the same church as Sharma. Outraged learning of his situation, this week she offered to rent him a bedroom in her condo.

“I want Canada to be welcoming [place] to people like him, we need people like him. We’ve opened up the colleges and universities to these people and now we’re saying, ‘you can fend for yourself?’ I don’t think so,” she said. “I think if most people knew what these immigrants had to deal with they would rise up.”

Sharma has accepted Laframboise’s offer and plans to move in soon.

“I can study better there, so I’m really excited about this and I’m very thankful to her,” said Sharma.

GEORGE BROWN COLLEGE RESPONDS

“We are deeply disturbed about the student's housing experience with a private landlord, and we will be following up directly with the student to provide additional supports,” said Ian Wigglesworth , Associate Vice-President, Student Success at George Brown College.

“We understand the urgent need to create more housing options. We currently have a dedicated residence for our students. We also provide comprehensive supports and services tailored to meet the unique needs of our international student community, including financial literacy workshops, pre-arrival and post-arrival orientation sessions, and bursaries and awards.”

The college also said it recently expanded its international team of student advisors, launched a housing task force and is committed to collaborating with all sectors to facilitate more housing solutions.

FEDS LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS

This week, the federal government said putting a cap on the number of international students coming to Canada is one solution it’s considering to address the housing crisis.

George Brown College did not specifically answer CTV’s question about its view on a potential cap.

Sharma believes a cap is good idea as surviving right now in the city is difficult. He hopes governments build more housing and schools offer more affordable options.

Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, speaks to reporters during the Liberal Cabinet retreat in Charlottetown, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

CITY OF TORONTO ON ROOMING HOUSES

“Multi-tenant houses (also known as rooming houses) are an important part of Toronto’s rental housing market and are home to a diverse array of residents, including newcomers, students and seniors,” said a City of Toronto spokesperson.

Currently, multi-tenant houses are only permitted in certain parts of Toronto (where zoning permits). Residents can contact 311 to report issues related to multi-tenant houses.

The spokesperson explained that in December 2022, Toronto City Council adopted a new regulatory framework, including amendments to the Zoning Bylaws to permit multi-tenant houses across Toronto.

“Council also adopted a new Multi-Tenant Houses Licensing Bylaw, which will introduce consistent standards, regulatory oversight and enforcement to help protect the safety of tenants and respond to neighbourhood concerns.”

“The new regulatory framework will expand affordable housing options in Toronto and also help support more complete and equitable communities by contributing to the range of housing options for people with low to moderate incomes.” 

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