Letter on the City of Kingston’s Official Plan and the current housing crisis
Editorial note: The following is a submitted public letter from SPEAKingston regarding Kingston’s Official Plan. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
The Official Plan is a pillar of the community, providing a framework for how our community will progress. This important tool has the power, through thoughtful and insightful policies, to create resilient communities. As such, it should apply long-term planning principles that support the public interest. It can be challenging to define the public interest; however, “housing for all” is unquestionably a goal that is in the public interest. Kingston has defined the climate crisis as its top priority, but this cannot overshadow, or work against, the dire need for housing.
Housing across Ontario is in short supply. It is important for Kingston to define its own approach to smart growth based on the unmet needs of our community, beyond provincial strategies. Smart growth demands affordable and attainable housing, as well as a diverse, market-based range of housing. This must be a central focus of the strategic plan and the Official Plan. The climate crisis affects us all, and Kingston’s focus should be on a housing-first approach, as this also supports Kingston’s goal of creating a resilient community. Prioritizing the creation of homes will have benefits across the affordability spectrum.
Kingston’s vacancy rate has consistently been among the lowest in the province for years. When a new building is occupied, we see a short-lived spike in vacancy rates followed by a drop. This instability clearly indicates that there is a housing supply shortage in our community. Lack of housing is a critical need that must be addressed now, as the issue will only worsen over time if the policy and regulatory framework does not respond to this need.
Developable land inside the urban boundary is in short supply. Much of that land is publicly- or privately owned. Owners are often unwilling to sell or develop their land, nor should they be forced to do either. Increasing the supply of land available for development is therefore a very logical and reasonable solution that will incentivize the creation of new homes. Reducing barriers to the creation of housing is necessary to increase the supply and provide a greater range of options and opportunities. This will have long term benefits, as the housing built today will be the affordable and attainable housing of the future, just as the homes and apartment buildings that were built decades ago provide a critical supply of affordable and attainable homes today.
People working in Kingston should not have to commute from nearby municipalities because they cannot afford to live here. The idea that if a typical housing option is not affordable for someone in Kingston, that person should live elsewhere, is messaging our members have heard in the community, and it directly conflicts with Kingston’s desire to respond to the climate crisis effectively. Kingston has an opportunity to house those who wish to live, work, and play in the community by increasing the land available for housing.
Housing is a basic human right and need. Unmet housing needs across Kingston create intersectional social consequences that must be fought through smart growth principles that create a diverse housing supply.
Kingston continues to be a desirable place to live, as the number of relocating Canadians and immigrants increases. This population surge will continue and will compound the existing housing shortage. There is a very real risk that Kingston will be left behind if we cannot keep up with the demand for housing.
With the declaration of a climate emergency, Kingston has made it clear that it will prioritize housing. Building housing that is close to where people work and play is a way to combat fossil fuel usage, allowing residents to live where they desire to be and locate close to Kingston’s core employment areas, including Queen’s University, the downtown and commercial areas, CFB Kingston, the business parks, and other significant private-sector and institutional employers. For example, Queen’s University is expected to continue to grow, and this campus growth expands into the community at large. Students and employees desire to live within the community without displacing others who also wish to live there. CFB Kingston is also facing a critical housing supply shortage, which is affecting the ability of service members to relocate to Kingston.
The provincial government has declared a need to build 1.5 million homes by 2031. The opening of the Waaban Crossing promotes the expansion of the east side of Kingston, but there is only a small amount of development land left inside the urban boundary. The existing urban boundary is actually constraining smart growth.
The recent Housing Pledge suggests Kingston’s work in facilitating planning approvals is finished, and the number of units approved will be sufficient to provide enough housing for those that need it. In reality, we are far from finished. It is not acceptable for the City to step back now. The Pledge assumes a certain pace of development will continue, without establishing appropriate incentives. If approvals are in place but units aren’t being built, then there are other factors at play and there is more that must be done to incentivize the creation of homes, including expansion of the urban boundary in a considered and thoughtful fashion to provide more opportunities to meet the housing needs of our city.
The intent behind the forward-thinking policies of the next Official Plan must be toward the creation of new housing supply. Failure to proactively increase the supply will have major repercussions on the entire community and our climate. Climate change policies and housing policies must recognize the connection between their main goals and work together to build resilient communities. This process must be done with inclusive community consultation and a continued focus on housing for the public good. Smart growth demands we adapt our approaches by putting housing first, and it is apparent that expanding the urban boundary is the appropriate path forward.
Peter Kingston, Chair
Wanda Williams, Vice-ChairBoard members: Sandy Berg, Christine Ray Bratt, Patrick Murphy, Brian Cookman (Past Chair), Pete Sauerbrei, John Sheridan, Rob Wood, and John Wright.