The City of Kingston has committed to building 8,000 new homes by 2031, as part of the provincial government’s Municipal Housing Targets for the city. At a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to approve the 2031 Municipal Housing Pledge, as requested by Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The targets, which have been imposed on 29 of the largest municipalities in southern Ontario with populations greater than 100,000, are part of the government’s larger goal to build 1,500,000 new homes across the province by 2031, as stated in Bill 23, or the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022.
In a letter to the City issued by Minister Clark, the province requested that the City of Kingston “demonstrate its commitment to accelerating housing supply by developing a Municipal Housing Pledge and [taking] the necessary steps to facilitate the construction of 8,000 new homes… by 2031.”
According to a staff report presented to councillors in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, the City is committed to “taking actions to help reduce costs and increase the supply of housing using all tools and resources that are available to municipalities.” However, like all other municipalities across Ontario, the City of Kingston lacks the ability to require private landowners to build new homes. The municipality also has “limited financial resources available to construct new municipally funded affordable housing,” the report states.
Despite these limitations, City staff were able to prepare a Municipal Housing Pledge that “focuses on matters within municipal control, mainly by encouraging new housing construction by reducing municipal barriers and creating incentives.” The pledge includes a number of different ways the City will support and encourage housing construction over the next eight years, including “1,631 potential new homes in pre-zoned subdivision areas, 6,940 potential new homes in up-zoned areas, 6,959 pending units, 4,371 committed units, and 191 affordable housing units funded by municipal capital funding contributions.”
With the new Kingston Zoning Bylaw (2022-62), which allows up to three residential units to be constructed on all urban residential lots, the City could potentially see up to 66,256 additional residential units constructed within the government’s timeframe. “Additional residential units are a desirable way to achieve the Municipal Housing Target, as they focus development on existing serviced lots with fewer long-term infrastructure and maintenance costs borne by taxpayers,” said the report.
The pledge also includes various considerations to further help the City meet its housing goal, such as strategies to use surplus municipal land for development, and plans to secure funding for affordable housing units from upper levels of government.
In total, the existing housing opportunities identified in the staff report represent 86,000 units, far exceeding the provincial target of 8,000 units by 2031. Considering the municipality’s historical five-year average of 1,000 new units per year, City staff expect to meet the province’s target if existing construction volumes continue at their usual pace.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Housing Pledge drew criticism from several councillors, with Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo calling the government’s request “redundant.”
“I find the letter from the Minister rather ironic, considering we’re already meeting, if not exceeding, what the housing pledge should be… This request for the municipality is absolutely redundant,” said Tozzo.
“It sounds to me that we’re being requested to [commit to] a pledge after getting some tools [from] our toolbox taken away… We’re dealing with a level of government that has stolen our lunch money and is now asking for a thank you note.” remarked Tozzo.
The councillor’s comments were in reference to the fact that Bill 23 significantly limits the municipality’s ability to impose development charges on new housing construction. Such charges help municipalities offset the cost of certain infrastructure activities related to development projects.
Portsmouth Councillor Don Amos, speaking against the pledge, echoed some of Tozzo’s sentiments.
“I have yet to see this government show a partnership to its municipalities… Generally, when someone makes a pledge, it’s done in good will; it’s not done under the premise of ‘You will do this and you will provide a pledge to say you’re going to do this,’” he said.
“[These are] bully tactics from our [provincial] partner, who is wanting us to [agree to] a pledge that I’m pretty sure we’re going to achieve… I find it very disturbing that our provincial government is still looking at us [from the perspective of] a dictatorship, to a certain degree. That’s not right. That’s not how you treat a partner.”
Not all representatives were against the Municipal Housing Pledge; Mayor Bryan Paterson portrayed it as an opportunity for the City to be seen as a leader in housing: “I think that we should be very up front that not only will we accept this pledge, but we will beat it… We actually have a lot of exciting and innovative things happening here in Kingston, and we have the potential to be a leader among the other 29-plus cities with a population of over 100,000.”
Paterson went on, “We will [tell] the province that they need to help us to meet this goal by… providing provincial surplus land that could be available for housing, or by providing provincial funding for affordable housing and supportive housing… We’re not rolling over by agreeing to this pledge; we’re actually standing right up to the province and saying ‘We agree with the goal… we can [meet] the goal, but we need your help to do it.’”
The 2031 Municipal Housing Pledge passed by a vote of 10-2, with Councillors Amos and Tozzo opposed. The City now has until March 22, 2023, to provide the provincial government with its official pledge.