Kingston Council receives report on provincial Housing Affordability Task Force recommendations

Kingstonist file photo.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, Kingston City Council received an information report from City staff outlining staff’s top five provincial housing affordability task force recommendations. The report noted that these top five recommendations came after the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force released its final report in February of 2022, outlining “74 recommendations aimed at tackling the housing supply crisis.”

According to staff, on September 15, 2023, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson received communication from the Honourable Paul Calandra, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, asking the municipality to prioritize its top five supported recommendations for additional consideration. In advance of Tuesday’s meeting, staff provided Council with an information report containing their top five supported recommendations, for Mayor Paterson to consider in his response to the minister.

The information report highlighted the following five recommendations:

  1. “Simplify planning legislation and policy documents,”
  2. “Enable municipalities… to withdraw infrastructure allocations from any permitted projects where construction has not been initiated within three years of build permits being issued,”
  3. “Improve funding for colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships, [and] encourage and incentivize municipalities, unions and employers to provide more on-the-job training,”
  4. “The Ontario government should establish a large ‘Ontario Housing Delivery Fund’ and encourage the federal government to match funding,”
  5. “Review surplus lands and accelerate the sale and development through RFP [request for proposals] of surplus government land and surrounding land by provincially pre-zoning for density, affordable housing, and mixed or residential use.”

According to staff, in regard to the first recommendation, the provincial government should “simplify planning legislation in a way that gives municipalities new tools to truly streamline the development approvals process.” As for specific requests, the report explained that by providing municipalities with the ability to “conditionally zone and approve zoning by-law amendments,” the province would help the City streamline the development process.

Regarding the second recommendation, staff said that allowing the City to withdraw infrastructure allocations within three years of an issued permit would help improve municipal services, such as water and gas, to ensure they meet the demands of increased development. While staff support this specific recommendation, the report noted the three-year timeline should begin once the zoning by-law amendment is approved, not upon the issuance of a building permit.

In terms of the recommendation to improve funding for colleges and trade schools, staff noted that such a move could address the labour shortage currently impacting the construction of new homes in the city. “City staff strongly support the prioritization of this recommendation to ensure provincial actions that would fundamentally address the shortage of skilled trades to help support the provincial housing goal of 1.5 million new homes,” added the report.

Staff explained the fourth recommendation, establishing an “Ontario Housing Delivery Fund,” by saying the municipality would be able to “accelerate the construction of deeply affordable and supportive housing units.” The report noted such a fund “should not be dependent on the number of new homes or the total approval timelines, as municipalities do not have the ability to require the construction of new homes and are not the only participants in the development review process.”

The final recommendation addressed the number of provincially and federally owned lands in the City of Kingston which could be used for housing in the region. “City staff strongly support the prioritization of this recommendation requesting the federal and provincial governments to review and accelerate the sale of surplus lands and the process of pre-zoning for density, affordable housing and mixed or residential uses,” stated the report.

During Tuesday’s Council meeting, the report was presented for information only, but councillors were able to ask staff to elaborate on the five recommendations. While comments on this specific item were rather light, Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves asked whether any other municipalities in Ontario were offering conditional zoning approvals, to which staff replied that such an approach is not yet widely used throughout the province.

Commissioner of Community Services Paige Agnew addresses Council on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Screen captured image.

Paige Agnew, Commissioner of Community Services, elaborated, “Typically speaking, conditional zoning hasn’t been enabled yet by the province. Although it’s been in the planning legislation… they haven’t yet enacted the legislation through a regulation. That’s been part of staff recommendations to the province for probably 18 months now, as one of the key pieces the province has to unlock so that municipalities can use [it].”

As for how such a change would impact existing municipal planning procedures, Agnew explained, “We would have to… make sure Council is comfortable with the approach because it would be something that, in the spirit of trying to expedite the process… may look different from the process that’s followed now.”

In terms of specific changes, Agnew noted some information provided to Council would likely come later on through a site plan process, as opposed to the existing zoning processes.

The recommendations from staff will help influence Mayor Paterson’s response to Minister Calandra, which is due to the province by Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.

Members of the public can view the full agenda from the meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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