Activists and leaders from a wide spectrum of sectors and local groups were represented at a Housing Action Forum at St. Luke’s Anglican Church on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The event was sponsored and organized by the Social Planning Council of Kingston and had over 70 attendees, including government housing analysts, city housing administrators and planners, tenants, property managers, builders, community leaders, social services, faith groups, clergy, and some former and current city councillors.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) analyst Olga Golozub gave a presentation on affordability and the Kingston housing market. Golozub noted that Kingston was composed of 40 per cent renters and 60 per cent homeowners, which she cited as the highest renter/owner ratio out of all the surrounding communities. According to Golozub, the amount of available rental units in Kingston would need to triple to reach the provincial unit vacancy average of 1.6 per cent. While Golozub ended her presentation with an optimistic statement that Kingston had 648 units under construction as of April 2019, City Councillor Jim Neill expressed concern that many of the new units Golozub referenced would be student housing, and that the student population had not been included in the presentation’s figures and calculations.
The following presentation was by Vivian Chih, an affordable housing consultant from CMHC housing solutions. Chih described the CHMC National Housing Strategy initiatives in creating new housing supply and modernizing existing housing, such as the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, which will provide $13.2 billion in low-cost loans and/or capital contributions over 10 years to create new or repair existing affordable housing that covers a broad range of housing needs.
Victoria Huehn of Victory Consulting started her presentation by detailing her “decades of concern about affordable housing,” and said that “lack of housing is the biggest contributor to addiction and mental health issues.” Huehn stated that housing with supports had been incredibly successful in Kingston, citing both her own personal experiences working with non-profit housing groups and the people that accessed those services, as well as data and acknowledgements from the provincial government.
A local mother spoke about her own experiences with accessing housing in Kingston. After becoming pregnant at 15, she was spending 80 per cent of her income on rent, and fell into poverty. The waitlist for social housing was 10 years long. After waiting a decade for housing, she said that it ended up being even less affordable than her previous situation, and suggested that the city start “supplying rent supplements to those on the housing waitlist.”
The presentations were followed with several facilitated discussion groups on building partnerships, building on existing strengths, keeping rents affordable, and innovations and local opportunities.
Former Mayor and MPP John Gerretsen was in attendance, and stated that what he “really enjoyed about today’s activities” was “the cooperation between CHMC, between the housing providers, between the nonprofit groups, between the social activists and what have you. I think that’s great, and hopefully something will come out of it — primarily, new built housing.”
“The one question that I had is how many projects in the Kingston area are currently being given some seed funding or are in the process of getting some seed funding?” said Gerretsen, “I’d like to know the answer to that.”