The Ford government failed to meet its own housing target in 2023, new figures reveal, putting the province further behind in its goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031.
According to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), there were a total of 85,770 housing starts in the province in 2023.
The number represented a seven-per cent drop from 91,885 the year before in 2022.
The data shows the government fell short of its goal of 110,000 new housing starts during the calendar year. The number of new home starts — just 78 per cent of that target — raises questions over how the Ford government plans to boost construction numbers in the years ahead.
A year of reversals
The sluggish 2023 numbers come at the end of a tumultuous year of land-use planning in Ontario.
The latter half of the year saw the Ford government forced to reverse a number of policy changes that would have opened new land for housing construction. The reversals came after Premier Doug Ford found himself mired in a scandal centred on Ontario’s Greenbelt.
The scandal has also seen his government become the subject of an RCMP investigation which, according to the Mounties, is actively looking into “allegations associated to the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development.”
One developer was forced to cancel a 30,000-unit project on former Greenbelt lands when the province reversed its deeply controversial plan in September.
The government also backtracked on expansions to the urban boundaries of Peel, Halton, York, Niagara, Waterloo, Barrie, Hamilton, Ottawa, Guelph, Peterborough, Bellville and Wellington County, further restricting how much land could be used for development.
'Need to do more'
As recently as November, Ontario’s Housing Minister Paul Calandra expressed confidence that housing starts “remain very, very strong” and suggested even the current levels are a result of actions taken by the Progressive Conservative government.
“Since 2018, we’ve brought in housing supply action plans each and every year of our mandate,” Calandra said in November. “Because of those positive builds, we have seen housing starts increase to their highest levels in over 15 years.”
A spokesperson for Calandra said the housing starts data for 2023 “highlights the need to do more” to increase the province’s housing supply.
“Last fall, we sought feedback from our municipal partners and are working to implement the remaining recommendations based on their feedback as we continue working toward our goal of building 1.5 million homes,” they said, referencing the Housing Affordability Task Force’s 2022 report.
The province has achieved 23 of its recommendations, with a further 14 “in progress.”
Ontario not alone in housing struggle
Ontario also isn’t alone in posting slower housing starts in 2023 compared to 2022.
Quebec posted a 33-per cent drop in year-over-year housing starts, Alberta saw virtually static numbers, while British Columbia saw an 11-per cent increase largely from multi-residential units.
The drop in construction starts can also be attributed to economic factors, with high interest rates and inflation suppressing demand for new homes in 2023.
“Volatility is not surprising as we’re now starting to see 2023’s challenging borrowing conditions and labour shortages in the housing starts numbers and we expect to see continued downward pressure in the coming months,” Bob Dugan, CMHC’s chief economist, said.
According to the province’s progress tracker, 11 municipalities have exceeded the construction targets laid out by Queen’s Park. The cities speeding ahead include Belleville, Chatham-Kent, Innisfil, Kingston, Pickering, Sarnia, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Welland, Whitchurch-Stouffville.
Another 33 municipalities — including Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville, Kitchener, London, Vaughan and Ottawa — failed to reach their individual 2023 targets.
Municipalities stress, however, that they are only responsible for the planning and approvals process while developers are responsible for acting on the construction permits once they’ve been greenlit.