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City approves recommendations on Rapid Housing Initiative funding

At the Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021, virtual meeting of  Kingston City Council, City Staff brought forward their recommendations with regard to allocation of the  $7,418,328 through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) that was awarded to the City at the end of last month.  

Speed is imperative as the City must have all project applications for the use of that funding submitted to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHA) by the end of this month, and those projects must be occupied within 12 months of signing an agreement.

Council approved the recommendations:

  • That Council authorize the Mayor and City Clerk to enter into an agreement with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to receive Kingston’s allocation under the Rapid Housing Initiative’s Cities Stream for the creation of new affordable housing units; and
  • That Council provide direction to City staff to report back to Council in the Fall of 2021 confirming the projects that have been submitted for review and approval by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for funding available under the Rapid Housing Initiative Cities Stream allocation; and
  • That Council authorize the Chief Administrative Officer or his/her delegate to review and approve all documents and agreements related to Rapid Housing Initiative outlined in Report Number 21-212; and
  • That Council authorize the Mayor and Clerk to execute all documents and agreements related to the Rapid Housing Initiative outlined in Report Number 21-212, in a form satisfactory to the Director of Legal Services.

The RHI program has specific criteria related to the target tenant population, affordable rent level, and project type. In the report, City Staff explained that the allocation of the RHI funding is required to create a minimum of 28 “new affordable units, and funded units must be affordable for a minimum 20-year period.” The City is able to appoint “intermediary organizations” to operate the units, however, “the City is responsible for the project meeting the program requirements for the 20-year term, including financial viability.”

Early in the evening, several delegates spoke to the report.

Chrystal Wilson advocates for City Council to allocate funds to a Tiny Home community. Photo screenshot of Tuesday’s City Council Meeting via Zoom.

Local housing advocate, Chrystal Wilson, spoke to Council about the success of “A better Tent City” in Kitchener which involves clustering tiny homes in small ”communities”, recommending that the City use some of the RHI funding for a similar project in Kingston. 

Wilson gave Council a “virtual tour” of the new Tiny Home that volunteer tradespeople have constructed for her initiative, “We have a physical model now of a home the people at Belle Park said they would like to live in, people who are in the woods and they would like to live in. And we have funding commitments. We have builders ready to build, we believe we can produce housing that meets the CMHC requirements.”

“What we’re asking tonight is for the City of Kingston to work with us to allocate a small portion of the funding that they just received, to work with us to build housing with the people who are experiencing homelessness,” explained Wilson. “So let them be part of the build process. Let them be part of the placement process, let them pick colours, anything that they can do to participate so that there’s ownership in the project.” 

“And what we need from the City of Kingston is land on which to place these homes,” Wilson said, explaining that her group of volunteers, “have identified potential land where these homes could be placed and what we’re asking Council to do tonight is ask staff to work with us to build housing with people experiencing homelessness so that we can successfully lead people away from homelessness.”

On invitation by Wilson, Jeff Wilmer from Kitchener’s “Better Tent City” explained the successes of that project and answered questions that Council had about the project in that city.

The topic of the RHI funding was not without controversy, however.  “There is a reason why even the neoliberal government in Ottawa has made all these stipulations about what to do with the housing money they’re transferring to,” delegate Ivan Stoiljkovic told Council. ”You will see those stipulations in the report, most importantly, that the money needs to be spent on actual housing that is long term and rent geared to income. The reason they have those stipulations is that they know that the municipal governments, which, let’s not kid ourselves, have a lot of power over what is done with the housing money, have been handing over hundreds of millions of housing dollars to their friends, private and for-profit landlords and developers, thus exacerbating the housing homelessness crisis.”

Stoiljkovic is a member of Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants, a group of people dedicated to improving the state of housing and rental tenure in the Katarokwi (Kingston) region. He pointed to “a hectare of land that was handed over [by the City] to Ben Pilon [President of BPE Development] for $15,000 that has been sitting idle for five years. All the guy ever did with this was kick people off who had built their little shacks there. It’s time for this land to be taken back into public ownership and turned into social housing.”

“My estimate of the cost of Chrystal Wilson’s initiative is about $1 million,” said Stoiljkovic . “It sounds like it might be a way to save some lives immediately in the short term if you cannot figure out a better way to provide emergency housing for the 200 or so people that are under threat of freezing to death this winter. This is a great idea that you should support.”

He continued, “There is an even better way in my opinion to accomplish just that. It would be to put people up in apartments retrofitted out of existing hotel rooms at $1500 per room, which is the going rate based on double occupancy. All of Kingston’s estimated 200 currently, homeless individuals could be put up in motels over the four months of winter for $600,000.” 

As well he said, “There are two other buildings downtown: the royal tavern, which has eight apartments upstairs and the Plaza Hotel which has 30 residential units, that are available both for 5 million or so, or less. These places are already housing people in various situations, who could use their tenure to be stabilized and services could be available in the spaces where the nightclubs were.”

113 Lower Union Street (left) and the former Fairfield Manor West building on Ridley Crescent (right) are two of the three options being presented to Kingston City Council as possible projects for the allocation of the recently-announced Rapid Housing Funding from the federal government. Kingston City Staff note in the report before Council that more projects may be added before the applications are submitted to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for approval. Photos by Cris Vilela.

Next, Council discussed the three potential projects on Lower Union Street, Ridley Drive and Curtis Crescent, the details of which City Staff had provided in their submitted report and Kingstonist has previously summarized.

Chief Administrative Officer, Lanie Hurdle, pointed out during the discussion that once projects are approved to receive the RHI funding, it would open up previously allocated funding for those projects for more opportunities. “It frees up other dollars that we have our own reserve funds that we can use for other things where we have more flexibility with our own reserves than with some of the federal funding,” she said.

For example, with regards to the Tiny Home initiative, “I do want to indicate to Council that we want to encourage Miss Wilson and are trying to work with her. I don’t have all the details of her project but even if the project doesn’t currently meet the rapid housing initiative criteria we would continue to work with her and try to find a solution that could enable something to be implemented.”

More details and a link to watch the City Council meeting online are available here.

Ted Hsu for MPP
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