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Veronica Green: How to solve the student housing crisis


Ontario is facing a housing crisis that extends to our university and college campuses. At the start of the school year, it seemed like every other day there was a headline in local or national media of a student struggling to find a home, sleeping in their car, or heading to a food bank because all their savings were going to rent. 

Our country is finally having the debate we’ve long needed about our housing shortage, but it is time that this is extended to our post-secondary sector as well. Thankfully, the solution to ensure all students—whether international or domestic—have an affordable and attainable roof over their heads does not need to be that complicated. 

Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) has the potential to be one of the best-performing asset classes in Canada. Despite grappling with the challenges of the pandemic, rising inflation, and interest rates, PBSA has shown remarkable resilience. 

The driving force behind the strong fundamentals is a constrained housing supply market: it is almost impossible for Ontario post-secondary institutions to build new housing fast enough to meet demand.

In Ontario, universities and colleges that receive more than $10M from the Government of Ontario are guided by Ontario’s Broader Public Sector Procurement Directive, which mandates lengthy Request for Proposal (RFP) processes for all construction and service contracts. What’s more, universities cannot take on debt as their balance sheets roll up to the province.

This means that it is incredibly difficult for universities to build on-campus housing on their own. They have to look to the private sector to support financing, development, and construction. 

Most often, a university will maintain day-to-day operations once the building is built. To execute these kinds of public-private agreements, universities must run an RFP process and then engage in contract negotiations; all before they can go through entitlements and build the residence. The RFP and negotiation process alone can take six years, and then tack on another five to build. That’s 11 years before a student accommodation for 100 undergraduates is realized.

The greatest difference between on-campus housing in Ontario and other markets like the United States and the United Kingdom is this red tape. For decades, the U.S. and the U.K. have been able to control their campus expansions and land bank real estate to enhance their built environment, attract new students, and grow. The more urban a university is, the more pronounced its real estate activities are.

Reviewing the BPS Procurement Directive to lessen restrictions and allow universities to proactively engage with the private sector to explore a variety of structured agreements to build housing on campus is something the government can proactively do to support the supply of new housing in the short term.

In comparison to on-campus student housing, there is also private purpose-built student accommodation: the developer owns the lands, assumes the finance and construction risk, and engages a third-party property manager, or the university, for day-to-day operations once built.

The private purpose-built student accommodation market in Canada is nascent compared to other markets. The country’s ratio of students to beds (also known as the provision rate) is 12 percent—among the lowest in the world. The U.K.’s provision rate of private PBSA beds is 34 percent; America’s is 16 percent.

Canada has a conservative lending environment that has historically concentrated debt capital in a select few commercial asset classes, namely office, retail, and industrial. Since COVID, and the return of students to campus, there has been real institutional interest in the private purpose-built student accommodation asset class due to the strong fundamentals of the Canadian market—the sustained and growing demand.

Developers who want to build off-campus purpose-built student accommodation still face numerous challenges. The biggest question they face today is, “What if interest rates do not decline?” The headwinds against developers are significant: escalating costs, extended approval timelines, sourcing equity capital, and navigating an illiquid debt environment. The uncertainty surrounding interest rates is closely tied to valuation risk. So, the dilemma is clear: how can we introduce new supply to the market while fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities as investors?

The government has made some important moves in recent weeks to make these projects easier to pencil in: the removal of the federal portion of the HST and the recent provincial announcement to remove their share is welcomed.

There is so much more the government can do to support Canadian developers to unlock the housing supply in our university markets: implementing continuous programs through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that promote high-density developments and streamline bureaucratic processes, fast-tracking applications for building permits, and encouraging the construction of energy-efficient buildings are three critical steps that can ease the PBSA development process.

Universities can form alliances to lobby provincial governments for change, supported by the private sector. Strengthening partnerships between the public and private sectors is essential for delivering best-in-class student residences.

Leaders in development, education, and governance can play a pivotal role in attracting international investors to the Canadian market. By hosting events, webinars, panels, and engaging in conversations with like-minded individuals, we can initiate a dialogue about the supply constraints and how to fix them.

As we navigate the challenges of today’s macroeconomic environment, developers maintain their inherent optimism about Canada’s student housing market, and it is essential that we recognize the untapped potential it holds. 

With the right combination of government support, private-sector partnerships, and individual efforts, Canada’s PBSA sector can thrive and continue to attract both domestic and international investors.

Patrick Luciani: Taking anticolonialist theory to its logical conclusion


In the latest Hub book review, Patrick Luciani revisits Orientalism by Edward W. Said (Pantheon Books, 1978) and highlights how his influential book and his activism helped lay the framework, intellectual and otherwise, for the unrest of our current moment.

After the initial shock of October 7, something snapped on Western campuses worldwide. Students who less than a decade ago were still in grade school, taking swimming lessons and going to each other’s birthday parties are now shouting the vilest antisemitic tropes. 

Who’s to blame? Most go to the morally confused professors who can’t tell right from wrong. But there is also the influence of the late Columbia University Professor Edward Said and his book Orientalism.

Professor Said,pronounced Sy-eed who died in 2003, was held in high honour not only by Palestinians, as an American of Palestinian heritage, but also by American and European intellectuals. He earned his reputation as a brilliant polemicist and deep zealotry in defence of Palestinian rights. 

In 1974, Edward Said wrote Yasser Arafat’s notorious speech to the National Assembly of the UN, where Arafat brandished a gun and olive branch, equating Zionism to racism. He also blamed Zionists for starting the 1948 war on the heels of a UN vote creating the State of Israel. Said continued to support Arafat until the Oslo Accords in 1995, furious that the PLO leader considered signing a peace agreement with Israel. Hamas sabotaged the Accords with a string of suicide bombings in Israel. This is what Said wanted: a war that would bring down the State of Israel and wreck forever the idea of a two-state solution. Now, Hamas hopes to destroy any rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country.

The publication of Orientalism in 1978 took Said to a higher level of fame and influence, winning the hearts and minds of the American Left. His thesis was that European and American scholars—called Orientalists—were to blame for the West’s misunderstanding and distortions of Arabs and Muslims as ignorant and backward. According to Said, every Westerner who studied the Middle East did so in bad faith. 

This mythology worked its way into today’s truism—taught in classrooms everywhere—that Europeans were vicious oppressors taking advantage of “virtuous victims.” Said claims this attitude also shows up in Western art and literature. In the film Lawrence of Arabia, Said believes that all Arabs are portrayed by T.E. Lawrence, who is played by Peter O’Toole, as “a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel.” As a scholar of comparative literature, he found imperialism everywhere, even in the novels of Jane Austen. 

On this point, Said was brutal in his accusation. “Every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, [and] an imperialist.” Westerners are to blame for all the misfortunes of the Middle East, even if most are self-inflicted. “Orientalist” now falls into the category of a slur and is essentially banished from common use.

These claims are a grotesque exaggeration and an outrageous libel on many renowned scholars. Orientalists were hardly the monsters portrayed in Said’s imagination or what he calls the European “narrative” of the East. Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis, one of the great scholars of the Middle East, and a prime target of Said’s venom, has pointed out that Said conveniently ignores the pure racist attitudes of Soviet scholars against the Muslim world. 

Edward Said had plenty of help in pushing his narrative, much in common with the likes of Sartre and Norman Mailer, who endorsed killing as the release to personal freedom from racism. Others on the sideline played along, including Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and Michael Moore—all determined to show the West in the worst possible light. 

But the real damage was in the universities starting in the late 60s and 70s, where the message of the corrupt West took hold among intellectual guilt-mongers who turned Said into their hero and champion. Said eagerly welcomed the return of theocrat Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran simply because it wasn’t Western. His thesis played well in humanities and social science, where scholars came of age after the tumultuous campus protests against the Vietnam War. They saw the world as a dichotomy between victims and victimizers nurtured by the teaching of French deconstruction thinkers who brought together the ideas of anti-colonialism and “critical thinking.” 

Tenured scholars, raised on postmodernism and postcolonial studies, now dominate the academy and have quickly passed this new prejudice to their students. If colonialism is a sin, then colonizers must wiped out. One can read it no other way. How else to explain the joy expressed by a Cornell University historian who felt “exhilarated” on hearing of Hamas’s butchery or the jubilation experienced at the murderous rampage by one University of Toronto professor

Since the publication of Orientalism, Edward Said’s “narrative” has been thoroughly discredited as “malignant charlatanry.” But the damage has been done. After 50 years of indoctrination of the evils of the West, Said’s work left the inevitable conclusion that violence is the only answer for Palestinians: a lesson not lost on young protestors throughout North America, Britain, and Australia. 

How is it that the antisemitism of some of our teachers and many of their students is such that they seem completely indifferent to the slaughter of infants and the innocent —or worse still believe that it never happened? They are Said’s legacy: their hatred, his gift to the future.