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Ontario looks at counting student residences toward aim of building 1.5 million homes

TORONTO — Ontario is considering counting student residences toward its target of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years, a move opposition parties criticized as a new attempt to inflate the numbers as the province is not on track to meet the goal otherwise.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra wrote in a letter to Mississauga’s acting mayor last month that the ministry is tracking housing starts as defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in addition to counting long-term care beds, but it is also now looking at counting more types of units.

“We will continue to explore data sources for tracking the numbers of other institutional types of housing such as student residences and retirement homes for future program years and commit to engaging municipalities on the same,” he wrote.

More student housing is desperately needed, opposition leaders said, but it shouldn’t count toward the goal of building 1.5 million homes.

“At this rate, the government is going to start counting tents as housing,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said.

“This is getting ridiculous. They’re essentially trying to distract from the fact that they’re off track on meeting their goal of building 1.5 million homes.”

The purpose of the original goal was to increase availability and affordability of homes, Schreiner said.

“So if the government’s going to start changing what they count as housing, then they need to increase the goal because we know the purpose of the goal isn’t to meet a number,” he said.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she does agree that retirement homes should be counted, but not dorm rooms where students aren’t even allowed to have a microwave.

“This government’s attempt to pad the numbers by including dorms as part of the housing targets, I think Ontarians will see through that,” she said.

“People want to have affordable homes in the communities where they want to live and no amount of shell games that this government is playing is going to change that.”

Calandra said if Ontario is going to build sustainable communities where people want to live and invest, the province needs to be building homes of all types, including student housing — a lack of which is putting strain on rental housing stock.

“Obviously student housing is very important,” he said. “Every time we build new housing or a college or university builds new housing, that is more housing that is available in the community. I don’t think it’s a very difficult concept to follow.”

Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said counting student residences toward the 1.5 million homes is “false and disingenuous.”

“The point of building affordable homes is (having) a place where people can raise their families and you can’t do that in a dorm room and you can’t do that in a long-term care bed,” she said.

Ontario’s spring budget shows the pace of new home construction is picking up in Ontario, with 88,000 housing starts projected in 2024, but is still far off the levels needed to get to 1.5 million homes by 2031.

A previous letter from Calandra said Ontario needed to be building at least 125,000 homes this year, ramping up to at least 175,000 per year in the near future.

By the Progressive Conservative government’s own count, it actually met 99 per cent of last year’s target of building 110,000 homes, but that is only because they started counting long-term care beds as homes and nearly 10,000 of those were created last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect figure for 2024 housing starts projections.

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