Kingston Council approves use of land for co-operative housing project

The vacant lot at 900 Division Street (the southwest corner at the intersection of Division Street and Elliot Avenue) will be home to Limestone City Co-Operative Housing after a decision of Kingston City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

The City of Kingston has agreed to commit a vacant plot of land on Division Street to Limestone City Co-Operative Housing (LCCH) for up to one year, as the local organization seeks additional funding sources for a potential co-operative housing development in the Rideau Heights neighbourhood. 

At its Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 meeting, Kingston City Council voted to approve the recommendations of a staff report, which called on the City to commit the land at 900 Division Street to LCCH so the organization can begin applying for grants and other funding opportunities. The staff report also included a separate item, which will see the City partner with Brauer Homes to explore a potential modular housing pilot project at 367 Gore Road. 

Before the report was brought forward for debate, councillors heard from a single delegation related to the project from LCCH executive director Ashley Perna.

“We firmly believe that everyone deserves a home and that housing should not be a for-profit industry,” Perna said in her introductory remarks. “LCCH will offer a solution that traditional rental situations simply can’t: [a] member-led organization where people not only live but thrive.”

Perna also took time to address some “misconceptions” about co-operative housing, emphasizing, “By law, all housing co-operatives must be not-for-profit. This means housing co-operatives can never turn a profit, giving us drastically different goals than traditional rental arrangements.” During her presentation, Perna also explained the co-op model means the majority of units will be kept “at or below average market rents.” 

She added, “Housing charges can never exceed what it takes to safely maintain the building and pay off our debts and other obligations… Any earnings that we gain on top of what it costs to maintain the building have to go back into the building.” 

Unlike traditional rental arrangements, Perna noted, residents within housing co-ops are seen as “members,” meaning they have “so much more control over their living space than renters have.” Co-operative housing can also help alleviate concerns related to housing insecurity, she said. For example, co-op members are protected against unreasonable rent increase and do not need to worry about ‘renoviction’ (having their tenancy ended by a landlord because major renovations are required) or being evicted so a landlord’s family members can move in.

Perna also noted some community benefits of the project, such as “community access” to green space and other amenities.

“We also plan on having community gardens, giving members of the co-op and residents of the area the ability to more fully enjoy the space that has sat vacant for years,” she added. 

The executive director explained tha,t at a previous town hall event, area residents were able to offer suggestions for potential community benefits. She noted, “Some of those ideas included a nice walkable pathway so we can traverse from one end of the land to another, community gardens where community members and co-op members can work together at growing their own food, growing flowers, any kind of produce they wish to grow.” It is unclear where and when this town hall event occurred, though LCCH hosted an information session at City Hall the prior to the February 6 Council meeting.

Asked by Meadowbrook-Strathcona Councillor Jeff McLaren “where the money will be coming from” to fund the project, Perna explained the organization has already secured several “grant writers… who are just itching to get started on those grant applications, but who need to have a more solid idea of the specific land before we can really start drafting.”

Perna also noted that internal investigations have revealed several potential funding sources, including “the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, the National [Housing] Co-Investment Fund, the Canadian Co-operative Investment Fund, the Green Municipal Fund, and quite a few others.” 

McLaren, a City Council appointee to the LCCH board, recently spoke with Kingstonist about the project and the need for the organization to have the official rights to develop the land at 900 Division Street in order to apply for the relevant grants. 

Asked the day after the meeting why he didn’t recuse himself from the debate on the LCCH item at the meeting given his relationship to Perna and involvement in spearheading the LCCH project initially, Councillor McLaren was frank.

“My relationship with the presenter, Ashley Perna, has transitioned to strictly professional and we still collaborate on many projects that benefit the City,” said McLaren, inferring that he and Perna are no longer in a personal relationship.

“Since council put me on the LCCH board I am, just like on any other board, a representative of Council: I wear two hats one Councillor hat at council and one board member hat when working for the benefit of the board, just like any other member of council on any other board,” McLaren concluded.

Considering the costs of the project are estimated at $170 to $180 million, as noted in the staff report, King’s Town Councillor Greg Ridge asked Perna, “Do you have an estimate for the number of grants you will be applying to, initially?” 

Perna responded, “Without land set aside for us, our architects can’t even tell us how many units we can have at maximum [or] the size of those units. We won’t know how many [rent-geared-to-income] units we’re able to offer. We need to have some space set aside for our architects to prepare these reports.”

She added that the organization hopes to return to Council later this year with a more comprehensive report on the project. 

When the item was brought forward for discussion later in the meeting, Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo asked staff what would happen a year from now if LCCH is unable to secure the necessary funding to complete the project. 

In response, City of Kingston Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle said, “We would report back to Council on the progress that [LCCH] has been able to make in the year. Then it would be up to Council to decide, based on the progress that has been made, whether or not Council wants to extend the time frame or, at that point, proceed with putting the property [up for] sale for another potential purchaser.” 

Asked about the nature of updates from staff throughout the next 12 months, Hurdle replied that staff would be able to provide Council an update on the LCCH project within the next six months, at the same time as staff report back with information about the Gore Road modular homes pilot. 

The staff report, as recommended, passed with unanimous support from City Council. The land at 900 Division Street will now be committed to LCCH for the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, staff will also begin working with Brauer Homes to establish plans for a modular home partnership “that will include affordable ownership, to be built on the City-owned property located at 367 Gore Road.”

The agenda from the Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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