At its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, Kingston City Council will decide whether or not to commit City-owned land on Division Street to Limestone City Co-Operative Housing (LCCH) as part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to create a housing co-op in the City. According to a report circulating ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, staff are recommending that Council commit the City-owned property at 900 Division Street to the organization for up to one year.
The report explains the one-year period would allow LCCH “to develop architectural designs as well as a business and financing plan that could support a future residential development.” Staff cite a “high demand for much-needed housing” in the area, while noting a need to ensure “vacant City-owned properties are not encumbered on an ongoing basis.” City Council voted to sell the municipally-owned property in March 2023.
The City of Kingston previously provided financial support to the project after Council voted last June to provide LCCH $50,000 in seed funding to allow the organization to secure consulting experts for its ongoing project. The report notes that preliminary findings indicate the project could cost up to $180 million to complete; however, “LCCH does not intend to request funding from the City in addition to the property contribution,” underscoring the need for additional grant support.
According to Meadowbrook-Strathcona District Councillor Jeff McLaren, who serves on the board of LCCH by appointment of City Council, the organization has retained a consultant and now requires the “rights” to a specific property to begin securing grant money.
“Most of the grants require that the entity that’s going to get [the funding] have building rights over a particular [plot of land]. The City needs to set this in a way that’s legally acceptable to those grants in order for us to actually qualify,” McLaren said in an interview with Kingstonist.
“If we don’t have the land, and we don’t have the rights to the land, then everything is for nothing. [If the City puts] the land aside for one year, there’s going to be some legal stuff that goes with it that satisfies those conditions.”
As for what happens to the land if the organization is unable to secure the necessary funding, McLaren said the property will revert back to the City of Kingston’s control.
“But we are very optimistic that with this vote of Council, we will start to qualify for what the grants are willing to give us,” he noted.
According to McLaren, the location at 900 Division Street was chosen over another potential site on Gore Road.
“[The Division Street] site was going to be a fire hall, but the city has expanded in different ways than were originally planned when that was done back in the 70s. So they declared a surplus, and it was about the same time we were looking for a piece of land. Another place was Gore Road… After looking at both of those two, the board and I decided we preferred 900 Division Street,” McLaren explained.
If successful, the project should eventually be able to house 300 units, with five to six planned as “rent-geared-to-income” units, while other units will be kept at or below market value. According to the staff report, “as an incorporated not-for-profit housing co-operative, LCCH cannot charge more in housing costs than what is reasonably necessary to maintain the building and pay off debts and obligations.”
As an original champion of the project, McLaren said he has been intrigued by the prospect of co-operative housing since he saw a successful example of it in his own district.
“There’s a co-op in my district called ‘Kingston Co-Operative Homes.’ It was run by a colleague of mine, Rob Hutchison, for a while. As I canvassed that area, almost everybody loved it there; they found it to be a very good way of living. They have to donate a certain amount of hours to keep the co-op operational,” he shared.
McLaren believes co-operative housing will help alleviate some of the city’s housing issues.
“We have a housing crisis,” he said, “[and] this is a good model. One of the things that I heard a lot… was that some of the long-term residents there… may lose their jobs for a few months. They were dropped down to rent-geared-to-income until they got a new job. So it wasn’t a catastrophe for their family; [they] had sort of an internal safety net. I wanted to take that model and make it bigger.”
As for how he expects Tuesday’s vote to go at Council, McLaren said, “Assuming everybody’s still serious about finding and building more housing here, they’ll pass it… I’ll be very surprised and disappointed if it doesn’t get passed. It will essentially kill the project, because we can’t get grants if we don’t have the rights to build.”
If all goes according to plan on Tuesday, and LCCH is able to gain the necessary rights to apply for funding grants for the 900 Division Street property, McLaren is hopeful construction will begin as soon as possible.
“I’m aspirationally hoping that it’s later this year, but from what I’ve [heard] from the building department and planning department, I should be thinking probably the year after,” he admitted.
The report appearing before Council on Tuesday night includes another housing-related item: staff are recommending the City enter into a partnership with Brauer Homes of Belleville to implement a “modular home pilot project” at 367 Gore Road. According to the report, the City and Brauer Homes would have six months to develop a plan and partnership for the property, which was the other of the two sites initially considered by LCCH.
The report goes on to explain the pilot would include a mix of “studios and one-bedroom homes,” providing residents with an option for “affordable ownership,” with market units expected to cost between $150,000 to $200,000.
Staff add, “This range would make ownership of these modular homes affordable for many residents [who] may not be able to attain home ownership at market rates for traditional single, semi-detached, row housing, or condos.”
If approved, staff will return to Council in the next six months with a more detailed report.
The staff report will be presented to Council during its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers. Full meeting agendas are available on the City of Kingston website. Meetings are open to the public and can be streamed live (or viewed after) on the Kingston City Council YouTube page.