Kingston City Council voted on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 to approve the demolition of a heritage building at the corner of Albert and Princess Streets. The removal will make way for a new Youth Services Hub, operated by Home Base Housing (HBH).
“It is a loss,” Mayor Bryan Paterson said to Council, “but the gain far outweighs the loss.”
HBH purchased the property at 484 Albert Street and 620 Princess Street, the site of Princess Street United Church, in the fall of 2019. While they will redevelop the site, their plans will preserve church building and allow for its continued use by the congregation. It is the older, adjacent manse building that needs to be torn down.
“The former manse presents challenges to adapt the building for the proposed use of a retail café and skills training centre due to its small size, configuration, and location on the lot,” said a report from City of Kingston staff.
“Its height off the ground, numerous small rooms, and interior load bearing walls present accessibility concerns that would be difficult or prohibitively expensive to remedy for accessibility considerations. The current size is also insufficient for all programmed uses.”
In its place, HBH will build a 48-unit supportive housing complex for Kingston’s homeless youth, part of a continuum of youth services they plan to offer at the site.
Lack of youth services ‘a nightmare’
HBH’s Executive Director Tom Greening told council Tuesday night about the strain on housing and social services currently available for youth in Kingston.
“Lily’s Place shelter for families is at capacity. The In From The Cold shelter is full tonight. The Integrated Care Hub (ICH) is at or near capacity. And the Kingston Youth Shelter is full almost every night,” he said.
The Kingston Youth Services Hub will build on an HBH’s existing One Roof program, which offers counselling, employment services, housing intake services, harm reduction, and nursing.
“One building at 484 Albert Street is currently undergoing significant renovations and will be the new home of One Roof moving forward from January 2021,” Greening said.
HBH also plans to convert the existing church into a youth arts and culture centre, including a banquet facility, theatre and event venue “organized by and focused on the talents of Kingston youth,” he said.
“Members of the church were excited that the property will be repurposed for social good, and aid the future youth in the City of Kingston,” he added.
Finally, HBH plans to create a Princess Street cafe on site, to serve the local neighbourhood. It will offer job training to at-risk youth, and operate as a social enterprise that funnels resources back into the arts and culture centre. Greening also noted that all programming will be developed through the lens of Indigenous Programs and Services.
Councillor Wayne Hill urged his fellow councillors to support the project.
“My understanding is that there is a lot of inventory of this style of architecture in the City,” he said. “For almost 15 years, I was a high school principal in the city. I’ve got to tell you there were very few days that went by where we weren’t dealing with a kid that was in real crisis.
“This is not an issue for a particular neighbourhood, not by a long shot… But it was the greatest gap in our community for all my time in education — the fact we could not provide services, one-stop services, for kids who were at real risk.”
Hill said that he witnessed youth workers attempt to guide young people through a network of different facilities, counsellors and agencies to assist them with housing. “It was just a nightmare,” he said.
“Every one of those years that I was in high school administration, I wished for something like this because it was so critical to the needs of the community, and the needs of these kids. Kids that weren’t just in a little bit of crisis. These are kids that didn’t have a place to go, didn’t have a place to sleep. Serious drug and mental health issues. All sorts of concerns, and very varied concerns.
“None of them we could address with the resources that we had because they were so distributed, or they didn’t exist at that time at all,” he said.
Today, Hill said, the City is in a position to see all the services come together “in an amazing facility.”
“I implore my fellow councillors: We just have to build it. Let’s build it and we can answer the other questions later.”
Relocation off the table
Councillor Gary Oosterhoff and Mayor Paterson also spoke in support of the development, at the expense of the manse.
“I think we can all agree over the past few months that supportive transitional housing, especially for youth, is an enormous need,” the Mayor said, “probably one of our top priorities.”
HBH has received a federal five-year grant for approximately $4.8 million dollars to put towards the project, which has a $10-million dollar overall budget. Some funding is contingent on demonstrated progress in the development, however, putting extra pressure on speedy approval from council.
Council had already deferred the approval for demolition from their meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, so that City staff could investigate the feasibility of moving rather than demolishing the manse.
City staff reported back that relocation would not be feasible, with the preliminary estimated cost to relocate and renovate ranging from $500,000 to $600,000.
“The removal of the former manse and its replacement with a new two-storey building that addresses the street and parkette… yield the strongest public realm outcome while providing the most logical and cost-effective way to bring in services,” the report said.
“Being able to see this project go forward is very important,” Mayor Paterson said.
Council agreed that the demolition of the manse will not proceed until a heritage easement agreement has been approved by Council and added to the title of the land.