Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced the provincial government was providing $200,000 and transferring one acre of land for the creation of a tiny home village in Kingston, Ontario. This village would include 20 tiny homes for homeless veterans, developed and run by the Homes for Heroes Foundation (H4HF).
The Homes for Heroes Foundation was started as a response to the increasing number of veterans who face difficultly returning home from service and are susceptible to becoming homeless. Its mission is “to integrate all homeless military veterans into the community through the provision of housing and support services across Canada.”
Estimates suggest that 3,000 to 5,000 veterans are homeless in a given year. The cost of homelessness has been estimated to be about $50,000 per person, with H4HF believing the figure is closer to $80,000 per person.
H4HF has been operating a tiny home village in Calgary since November 2019, while a village in Edmonton is currently under construction. H4HF has done research and consulted various social service agencies, Veteran Affairs Canada, and over 200 veterans living on the streets to come up with a holistic program to help veterans transition into their own home. One of the main messages H4HF heard from veterans is that they want “a community of peers working together.”
Kingston’s planned veteran’s village will be built on one-acre of land near the lakeshore on the new Providence Care hospital site south of King Street, directly east of Lake Ontario Park (which is owned by the City of Kingston). The area currently consists of institutional and office space for provincial government ministries, not close to other residential areas. The closest small retail outlets are in Portsmouth Village and larger grocery stores are accessible by transit. The village will be made up of modular homes, assembled offsite in a warehouse before they are moved onto the village site. Homes are approximately 300 square feet, and all have their own full kitchen, bathroom, and queen-size bed/couch. H4HF also provides services using a case-management, rehabilitation model where each resident is assigned a case manager who facilitates counselling and other individualized support services.
Veterans living in the village pay a monthly rent that covers their housing and support services. In the Calgary village, for example, the rents are $640/month, covering the costs of on-site support services (counselling, education, etc.) and the operating costs of the housing (heat, water, electricity, internet, and security). Most funding to build the homes comes privately through donations/sponsorships, grants, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) funds from the National Housing Strategy. Projects have also received provincial or municipal support through monetary or land contributions.
The H4HF villages provides more affordable and supportive housing options and are meant to be transitional (each resident is expected to stay approximately 1-3 years with no exact deadline to leave). Residents are expected to access the services needed to rehabilitate themselves and then to transition from the village into a permanent housing solution. These villages provide a dignified housing solution that creates a healthy environment for residents to rehabilitate themselves. Housing is more than just a physical structure; it can provide assistance on a more holistic level and be a vehicle for homeless residents to address their personal issues and create pathways for success.
.In the first 18 months of operation in Calgary, six veterans transitioned successfully out of the village. They have full-time employment, found permanent housing, and are now mentoring current residence.
H4HF not only wants to provide housing for homeless veterans, but also the opportunity to build relationships and a sense of community within the village that may have been missing for homeless veterans. Residents can access support services through the central resource centre and counseling office. Along with the support of case managers, each resident receives peer mentorship from a fellow resident who can relate to their circumstances and provide extra guidance.
The village has the potential to positively impact a prominent veterans’ community in Kingston with the Canadian Forces Base in the east end of the city being one of the city’s largest employers. There are also active Legion’s branches in the north end of Kingston and in the west end in the Collin’s Bay community.
Tiny homes can be an option to provide affordable housing beyond the Homes for Heroes project. Kingston rents have continued to increase recently, while increasing vacancy rates can be mostly attributed to new, high market rent buildings. Kingston rental prices increased by 7.9 per cent in 2019, the highest yearly increase in Kingston since the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHHC) began collecting data. Rental affordability has continued to decline considerably for low-income residents, as roughly 25 per cent of renter households in Kingston are in core housing need (paying over 30 per cent of their gross income for rent).
Tiny homes are typically more financially and environmentally sustainable, as they usually take up less space, cost less to construct compared to studio apartments, and are flexible as they can be moved to different sites. Tiny homes could also be an option for other people, such as students and seniors. They provide an option to trade space for lower costs, and a sense of community in a village-like setting.
Kingston’s veterans village has a site with donated land and an experienced developer to make it a reality The project is currently in the fund-raising phase to cover a major share of the building costs so that the zoning and servicing on site can make the village ready for the tiny homes to open their doors for veterans in Kingston.
The Social Planning Council Kingston & District (SPCK&D) is hosting a webinar on tiny homes on Tuesday, Jun. 1, 2021, to talk about H4HF’s Kingston village and other examples. If you would like any more information, please contact Patricia Streich, Chair of the SPCK&D at [email protected].
Kevin Beauchamp, Social Planning Council Kingston and District Board Member
To submit a letter to the editor or op-ed piece, please email us at [email protected].