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

Ontario's ambitious plan to build 1.5 million homes within a decade may include counting student residences, a move stirring controversy among opposition parties. The proposal, floated by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra, aims to broaden the definition of housing starts to encompass various types of units, including those for students.

In a recent communication with Mississauga's acting mayor, Calandra revealed the province's intention to explore alternative data sources for tracking housing numbers. This would potentially involve incorporating student residences and retirement homes into the housing tally.

While acknowledging the pressing need for more student housing, opposition leaders have denounced the inclusion of such units in the housing target. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner criticized the move, warning that it might lead to absurdities like counting tents as homes. He argued that altering the criteria for counting homes could obscure the government's failure to meet its original goal of enhancing housing availability and affordability.

Similarly, NDP Leader Marit Stiles expressed skepticism about including dorm rooms in the housing count, emphasizing the importance of genuine affordable housing solutions. Stiles argued that simply adding dormitories to the tally wouldn't address the fundamental issue of housing accessibility in Ontario.

In defense of the proposal, Minister Calandra stressed the significance of diverse housing options in fostering sustainable communities. He highlighted the strain on rental housing stock due to insufficient student housing, underscoring the need to consider all types of housing in the broader strategy.

However, Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie dismissed the notion of including student residences in the housing target as misleading. Crombie emphasized that the essence of affordable housing lies in providing suitable spaces for families, which dormitories do not fulfill.

Ontario's spring budget indicates a gradual increase in new home construction, with projections estimating 88,000 housing starts for 2024. Despite this progress, the pace falls short of the levels required to achieve the 1.5 million homes target by 2031.

Critics have pointed out discrepancies in the government's housing achievements, citing the inclusion of long-term care beds in last year's count as artificially inflating the numbers. While the government claims to have met 99 percent of the previous year's target, skeptics argue that this success is misleading, given the unconventional inclusion of non-residential units.

As debates continue over the inclusion of student residences in the housing targets, the Ontario government faces mounting pressure to address the underlying challenges of housing affordability and availability in the province.



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