Student dormitories as homes to meet the housing target, Stiles: “What’s next?!?”

TORONTO – After the bedrooms in retirement homes, here come the student dormitories as “houses”: Premier Doug Ford wants to include anything equipped with a bed in the “list” of homes under construction in Ontario to be able to reach the announced 10-year housing goal of building 1.5 million homes. 

The government confirmed this intention in a letter sent to the City of Mississauga in late March in response to a request to change the way housing is counted at the municipal level. In the letter, Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra said his office is considering whether to track “other institutional types of housing” as it works toward its housing target. And… “we will continue to explore data sources to monitor the number of other types of institutional housing such as student residences and retirement homes for future program years and will strive to engage municipalities on the same topic” Calandra wrote in the letter.

Why this “performance anxiety” when counting the houses under construction? Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives promised in their 2021 election campaign to build 1.5 million homes in Ontario over the next decade. Well: 88,000 new buildings are expected in 2024 and this number will slowly increase over the next three years, but it will be less than the over 100,000 homes needed each year to reach the goal. In 2023, in fact, “only” 109,011 new homes were created in Ontario and this figure also includes 9,835 beds in long-term care homes, which the provincial government also chose to count as housing, triggering a reaction from the political parties of opposition who accused Doug Ford of “inflating the numbers.”

The Premier in turn defended the inclusion of long-term care beds in the “list” of homes, stating that “when an elderly person living in a condominium moves in for long-term care, that is called a home. They have their own room. And they eat in a dining room with everyone else” Ford said a few weeks ago, in response to criticisms.

Using this same argument, it appears that the Ford government now wants to place student residences under the same “umbrella”. The CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), however, does not take into account homes that do not have their own entrance, kitchen or bathroom. And that includes care homes, student accommodation and hostels. Also not counted are mobile homes that are not permanently attached to a site and summer cottages that are not occupied year-round.

Today, during the Question Period at the Ontario Parliament, Marit Stiles’ reaction, leader of the Ontario NDP, to the “news” of student housing was very harsh. Stiles criticized the Ford government’s choice to include both long-term care beds and student residences in the housing count. “You can’t even have a microwave in a student dorm room” Stiles said today. “Those aren’t houses. What’s next?!?” And she concluded: “People want a decent place to live: if the Premier can’t get houses built, at least get out of the way so somebody else can do it”.