Council votes to move forward with ‘affordable housing’ project

1316-1318 Princess Street, the former site of the Goodwill store, will be home to Kingston’s newest affordable housing development after Council voted in favour of the proposed project on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Lucas Mulder.

At their meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, Kingston City Council voted unanimously in favour of an affording housing proposal brought forward by City Staff – but not without a good dose of debate beforehand.

The proposal asked that Council support the development on the City-owned site at 1316-1318 Princess Street, the former site of a Goodwill store. The development will include 90 units.

“The City has received pro formas estimating the development costs for both buildings. Based on these the development cost of the project is expected to be up to $32.13 M including the cost of the land that was previously acquired by the City for the purpose of affordable housing,” the report reads.

“This affordable housing project requires a municipal grant contribution of $10M in addition to the land acquisition cost of $1.4M. This represents a total City grant contribution of $11.4M. An application will be submitted to the Federal government through the CMHC National Housing Co-Investment Fund for a grant of $11M and a low interest loan of $8.5M. In order to submit this federal CMHC funding request, the property has to be owned by the long-term owners of the buildings that will be constructed at 1316-1318 Princess Street. This means that the City has to sever and dispose of the property to the two not-for-profit housing providers who will apply for a zoning by-law amendment and for the CMHC seed funding and Co-Investment programs. The City cannot be the applicant as it will not be the long-term owner of the properties. This housing project and the forthcoming federal CMHC funding application have been discussed with the local MP Mark Gerretsen.”

The proposal also asked that Council:

  • Provide direction for Kingston Co-Operative Homes Inc. and the Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation to submit a zoning by-law amendment application for the site. Upon the successful rezoning of the property, the City would sever the lands and transfer the properties to the respective non-profit housing project partners at a cost of $1.4 million, which would be funded from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund.
  • Authorize Kingston Co-Operative Homes Inc. and the Kingston & Frontenac Housing Corporation to apply for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Seed Funding Co-Investment program funding for projects on lands currently owned by the City, but for that funding to be transferred to the non-profit housing project partners following the successful rezoning of the site.
  • Approve a contribution of up to $100,000 from the Social Housing Seed Funding Capital budget to the partnership of Kingston Co-Operative Homes Inc. and the Kingston & Frontenac Housing Corporation to support costs of obtaining the reports and studies required to submit a complete Zoning By-Law Amendment application.
  • approve a total of up to $10 million to be funded from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund to be allocated to Kingston Frontenac Housing Corporation and Kingston Co-Operative Homes Inc. to support the development of 90 affordable housing units at the 1316-1318 Princess Street site.

The topic of affordable housing was discussed right from the beginning of the meeting, with Council’s second delegation speaking to the proposal before them. Ivan Stoiljkovic addressed Council in a delegation that actually took place at an affordable housing rally outside City Hall. Councillor Simon Chapelle voted not to allow Stoiljkovic’s delegation, but the reasoning for that was not explained.

Ivan Stoiljkovic gave a delegation to Kingston City Council regarding affordable housing from a housing rally out front of City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Hunter Cadue.

Stoiljkovic, who is no stranger to Council Chambers, spoke passionately about the lack of real affordable housing in Kingston. By that, he said, he meant Rent-Geared-To-Income (RGI) housing – “not this so-called affordable housing that is simply not affordable.”

As those at the rally cheered him on, Stoiljkovic spoke for his full allotted five minutes, taking issue with the ratio of the pricing for the units of the proposed development. The City and its partner agencies (KFHC and Kingston Co-op) are proposing to build 128 residential units as part of the project, with 90 of those units being “affordable” and 38 units at market rent. Of the 90 affordable units:

  • 40 will rent at 80 per cent of CMHC average market rent
  • 40 will rent at 60 per cent of CMHC average market rent
  • And 10 units will be RGI

Stoiljkovic asserted that, if the City has the money to build housing, then that housing ought to be actually affordable, RGI units. He also took issue with the City tearing down smaller, older housing projects while building projects such as this, which he deemed to be unaffordable for the majority of renters.

Those points were echoed by some Councillors, with Peter Stroud and Deputy Mayor Jim Neill pushing for more RGI units – or at least an understanding of how much it would cost the City if more of the units were RGI. Assuming the 80 and 60 per cent market rent units would turn a profit for the not-for profit organizations running them, Stroud asked CAO Lanie Hurdle how much it would cost the City if, say, all 90 of the affordable units were RGI. Hurdle indicated that she did not have those numbers off hand, but also said that the not-for-profit agencies wouldn’t actually be making a profit as much as staying afloat based on the money coming in.

“They have to pay their mortgages,” she said, adding that rental supplements can be added to units going for 80 per cent market rate. “The City has applied rental supplements to such units before.

Stroud suggested the proposal be deferred until Staff could provide figures on what different ratios of the proposed units would cost the City. He did not, however, move for a deferral. Neill also suggested it might be best to defer, but he also did not move for one. Additionally, Neill asked how many people are currently on the waiting list for affordable house, and was told that number is 1,169. He then asked how many of the renters that would take up these units would come from that list, and how many would be transferred from other housing projects that had ended (such as those in Rideau Heights). Ruth Noordegraaf, Director of Housing and Social Services indicated she did not have that number with her, but that the large number of those being transferred from the former housing site on Daly Street had already been moved.

Councillor Bridget Doherty also questioned the ratio of unit pricing.

“Where did we come up with this ratio? What is the reason for it?” she asked.

City Staff indicated that the ratio was developed based on Council direction and Council’s strategic priorities for the 2019-2022 term. Staff also said that they would be happy to supply numbers based on different ratios, and that those options could still be discussed if the proposal was approved by Council that night.

Councillor Rob Hutchison then spoke sternly about the need to move forward with the development of 1316-1318 Princess Street.

“We have an absolute lack of affordable housing in this city,” he said. “We have a plan, and it’s not enough, but that shouldn’t impair this proposal… Council already agreed to this plan.”

After Hutchison implored his fellow councillors to vote in favour of the proposal, Councillor Mary Rita Holland spoke to Staff, Council, and those watching via livestream both candidly and honestly.

“For anyone who needs further information, I understand, it’s super complex, but we’ve done this research – I would point you to the direction of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing where we looked at these costing models and, after spending a year doing that work, what I know for sure is that people in this city want housing built immediately, and they want this model of housing, and the number of units that we’ve managed to develop through this proposal is something that, a year ago, we wouldn’t even have dreamt of,” she began. Holland is the co-chair of the Mayors Task Force on Housing, as well as a member of the City’s Housing and Homelessness Committee.

She went on to say that she knows the proposal isn’t a perfect solution to the affordable housing situation in Kingston, and noted that there are financial implications to the City if Council decides to subsidize more units in the build. But, like Hutchison, she said that doesn’t mean Council shouldn’t support the proposal.

“Rather than defer this tonight, I really insist that we move forward,” she said, noting that if council wants more information on the different costings for different ratio breakdowns of the units, then that can happen while moving forward on the proposal before them.

Holland then addressed the idea of 90 RGI units in one development from an angle that had not yet been discussed.

“Even if that could be, even if we had the money to do that, I also would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Rideau Heights Regeneration Strategy was designed for a reason. One hundred per cent RGI in one part of the City is something we’ve been working 40 years to move beyond,” she said, prompting emphatic nods of agreement from some of her fellow councillors.

“That creates an environment in Rideau Heights in particular, an area I represent, where some people really just don’t want to live there. They don’t feel connected to that community, they don’t feel safe, and they want to see the poverty cluster broken up,” she said.

“So, yes, let’s build on the affordability, let’s create lots of RGI units, let’s do it all over the city, and let’s get these ones built, because we told everyone that that was a priority. And there’s no need to put that on hold any longer.”

Mayor Bryan Paterson took the floor and voiced agreement with everything Holland had just said, also urging councillors to vote in favour of supporting the proposal. That vote passed unanimously, meaning the project will move forward – and that the vacant land at 1316-1318 Princess Street will eventually be home to one of Kingston’s newest affordable housing developments.

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