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Post-Secondary Student Housing Research Program

Subject Matter

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) wanted to develop and pilot test a methodology to capture detailed information about the state of student housing in Canada and the housing options available to students. Current information on student housing is very limited. The main purpose of this project was to develop and pilot test a comprehensive, actionable methodology that can be used to capture reliable and representative student housing data. CMHC expects that this information will make a significant contribution to the understanding of the nation’s total housing supply, including alternate, temporary, and permanent housing. The information is being used by CMHC in a manner similar to other Canadian housing information that is collected and distributed by CMHC’s Market Analysis Centre.


This comprehensive research design project consisted of a number of different elements – both quantitative and qualitative. As the ultimate goal was representative data on student housing in Canada, qualitative research activities (key informant interviews, in-depth interviews with students and staff in post-secondary institutions, and focus groups with students) were designed, largely but not exclusively, to support the development of quantitative tools and processes. The first stage of the design process was the development of a detailed working definition of student housing (one open to evolution as the research progressed).

Three qualitative techniques were used for this study:

  • A set of eight key informant interviews were conducted in order to help shape the methodological design of this research program and its different components. The focus was on increasing understanding of the ways in which post-secondary institutions operate in terms of providing and facilitating access to student housing. Interviews were conducted with individuals in a mix of positions, types of post-secondary institutions, different community sizes, and regions. Results helped determine the best way to proceed in terms of contacting institutions and enlisting their support for this initiative. The findings also provided valuable feedback to help design the research tools, including discussion guides for the in-depth interviews, and surveys for institutions and students.
  • A set of 25 in-depth interviews were conducted with a cross-section of stakeholders (students, student associations, institutional staff). This included a mix of students by age, level of study, foreign vs. domestic and other characteristics, and a mix of institutions by size, region, community size and private vs. public. These interviews collected robust qualitative data on a broad range of relevant issues (reported on separately), and helped with the design of the two surveys.
  • A set of four focus groups were conducted (Montreal and Toronto) immediately following the main design phase of this study, and before the pilot test of the surveys. Two groups were be held with students, two with institutional staff (one group per audience in each language). The purpose was to pre-test the surveys’ content, explore issues that emerge during the design phase, validate key design elements, and review the surveys’ data collection methods.

The quantitative elements include the design and implementation of two surveys:

  • A survey of post-secondary institutions designed to capture reliable data on student housing, including ‘measuring’ the available housing stock. The survey was conducted as a census of all eligible post-secondary institutions in the country. The data obtained was included in a comprehensive database of student housing-related information. Construction of this database began with an intensive Internet search of websites of post-secondary institutions.
  • A survey of students. Areas of investigation included housing selection criteria, the impact of accommodation issues on institution selection, perceived quality of the housing, how housing was actually found, including the degree of difficulty in finding it, and cost issues, among others. This survey was pilot-tested in Halifax and Toronto.
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