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The Ongoing Expansion of the Student Housing Area in Kingston

Real Estate, KingstonAccording to Canadian Real Estate Wealth (CREW) magazine, the area northwest of Queen’s University is one of the top 100 Canadian neighbourhoods to invest in. This lucrative slice of the Limestone City was listed alongside 41 other locales throughout Ontario, while the average price for a home in this coveted neighborhood is a whopping $412K. Taking into consideration factors such as the proximity to Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and local area employers, vacancy and crime rates, as well as increasing property values, the fact that this prosperous precinct made the cut comes as no surprise to many. Confidence in the area’s housing market is clearly visible with the number of large new rental complexes being constructed; totaling 368 last year, as well as a surge in significant renter-friendly renovations in the student ghetto, village, or whatever we’re pretending to call it this year.  CREW’s proclamation reinforces the widely recognized fact that post-secondary student rentals are continuing to expand into areas traditionally inhabited by families, driving up resale values and the prevalence of abandoned couches on front porches.  Accordingly, this week’s poll asks:

Is the expansion of student rental properties a problem in Kingston?

  • Yes. (78%, 95 Votes)
  • No. (15%, 18 Votes)
  • Something Else Entirely. (7%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 122

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When we bought our first home just over 4 years ago, my wife and I were likely the youngest owners on a block of residents who ranged from retirees to middle-aged families.  What a difference a few years can make.  In recent times we’ve seen 3 neighbours sell to investors who were quick to chop up decent homes into pricey student rentals.  As is the case with any neighbour, some student tenants have been better than others, while the worst were guilty of a few raucous parties, failing to cut the grass and making on-street parking hard to come by.  The slow creep of condos and young scholars into my downtown neighbourhood, which is northeast of Queen’s campus, is somewhat concerning, chiefly because I moved away from Queen’s to distance myself from late night antics, and residents who did not have any pride in ownership.  That said, my block’s current composition is entirely palatable, and let’s face it, the few student rentals haven’t hurt property values – quite the opposite.  Even so, there does not appear to be an end in sight for the expansion of the student housing area, which makes me worry what downtown Kingston and its surrounding neighborhoods might resemble in years to come.

Are you concerned with the ongoing expansion of student rentals in your neighbourhood?  As a renter, homeowner, landlord or real estate professional, how have you been affected by the increased presence of students interspersed in and around your home?  What, if anything, would you ask Kingston and local post-secondary institutions do to address your concerns?

Thanks and credit to Images of Money for today’s photo.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

13 thoughts on “The Ongoing Expansion of the Student Housing Area in Kingston

  • November 5, 2012 at 10:08 am
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    A big problem with students (and rentals) is the fact that they do not support businesses over the whole year, as most of them leave between the months of May to September.
    Projects such as the one proposed for Princess street at Victoria looks good on paper (and would be nicer than a brownfield area). It would simply create a bigger hole in the neighbourhood.
    Do you know many families that need a five bedroom apartment?

    • November 5, 2012 at 11:25 am
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      It's true that a vast majority of the students aren't here year round, and that local businesses suffer. Anecdotal conversations I've had with cabbies, my barber and bartenders reinforce the loss of business during the Summer term. That said, a lot of the businesses situated downtown are there primarily because of the students. Shops like Urban Outfitters and Jump Plus as well as the long list of dining establishments (8 x sushi places, 5 x Thai places, ? x bars/pubs, Smokes, The Works, Five Guys, Menchies etc…) would not be there if not for the students.

      The housing project that is being proposed at Victoria and Princess is an interesting one. On one hand it gets rid of a longstanding brownfield left by the old Toyota dealership and it provides ground-level retail space that will likely cater to renters (ie students). On the other hand, it means more students moving into Williamsville, an area where residents are somewhat divided re: students taking over the neighborhood. At least this project might slow the rate of students moving into homes traditionally occupied by students.

  • November 5, 2012 at 1:42 pm
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    We, as a city, need to look at developments like the one proposed for Princess & Victoria from a bigger perspective. This city needs increased density (to keep our downtown economy strong and to prevent sprawl) and a great way to do so is to focus development along transportation corridors (take advantage of public transit and no need to construct new roads to service residents). The physical size of this development isn't out of line with others in the neighbourhood (seniors building next door, medical building up the block). We aren't tearing down single-family homes to build it. There is nothing wrong with this development, it's exactly what we need so let's embrace it and help our city thrive!

  • November 5, 2012 at 2:07 pm
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    My concern with student housing is based on what I have seen happen in my hometown, Hamilton. There are lovely neighbourhoods surrounding McMaster University and over the years many of these homes have been ruined by landlords buying them and turning them into student apartments. A friend of the family owned a home there and worked tirelessly to create a gorgeous living space and garden. The following year they had had such a hard time with the noise and poor care of the houses around them that they decided to leave the neighbourhood after all that work. Now some students are living in their house, enjoying a beautiful garden that they probably rarely see and likely don't appreciate.

    I encourage the building more apartments downtown to help curb this trend. Perhaps instead of saying "no students!", the city needs to be more disciplined when it comes to landlords caring for their properties. A building such as the one being proposed for this area could be a great addition with proper maintenance and maybe even a flower pot or two outside. I would much rather see new buildings go up than watch old, beautiful homes deteriorate.

  • November 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm
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    Does anyone know exactly why landlords are not held more accountable for poor upkeep? Yes, some students suck, but I feel that if landlords were actively fined and then put pressure on tenants, there might be some improvement?

    • November 6, 2012 at 11:47 am
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      In many cases it comes down to apathy on the part of tenants, or perhaps a lack of information. When I was a Queen's student, Town and Gown, AMS offered various resources to answer tenant question. Even so, my experience found these services to be rather slow. Generally my landlords were good at addressing to our concerns, even going above and beyond what was required by law. For those who want to get a Property Standards Inspector involved in resolving issues, I would encourage a look at this page re: tenant responsibilities offered up by the City.

  • November 5, 2012 at 7:27 pm
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    Apartments should be limited to 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom per unit.

  • November 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm
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    Expanding student housing is a problem, but not an unsolvable problem. Queen's will continue to accept increasing numbers of students, that's a fact driven by the provincial funding model. This recent blog post by the AMS amused me: . Apparently the AMS blogger hasn't taken Economics 101- rent prices are a very simple supply and demand problem.

    As someone who receives complaints about student behaviours, I can confirm that I've never received a complaint about an apartment building. This isn't to say there hasn't been problems in apartment buildings, just that no one has called me in the wee hours to complain about an apartment building. Students need to be in high density apartments where the property manager is obvious, and is responsible for common and outdoor areas. The city of Kingston should not be allowing gigantic additions to homes that were originally designed for families – it's those types of dwellings that promote the behaviours that cause the greatest amount of grief for the community.

    I would also caution that I've noticed a fair bit of 'behaviour washing' (like green washing) from AMS and Principal Woolf regarding inappropriate student behaviours. After 'fauxcoming', they both declared it a successful weekend: http://myams.org/news/a-good-weekend-for-queen&rs… and are endorsing a return of Homecoming. Anyone living near the area around Queen's can tell you that the inappropriate behaviours by some students are still a problem, and are actually more of a problem because they're spreading to a wider area. Not having a car flipped is a terrible metric to cheer about.

    I think if we make smart choices as a community and encourage more high density housing for students we have a better chance of also getting better behaviours as well, and heck even rent prices may drop – or at least rise less quickly. Johnson Street is already set to become a recipient of more high density housing, perhaps if we also encourage a few more similar developments along Earl by the athletic centre (between Aberdeen and Division) we can say yes to more housing without disrupting the lives of other community members.

  • November 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm
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    We should be greatly concerned about the lack of high density zoning in Kingston to accommodate the ever increasing number of graduates and undergraduates that are accepted each year to Queen’s University.

    We are so very lucky to have such a great institution to anchor our city and we need to support it and encourage its growth. However, when our school creates 1 new seat in a program over a period of 4 years demand for 4 new bedrooms close to campus is created. The increase demand for rental accomodations is tipping the balance of rental vs. owner-occupied properties on more and more streets in downtown Kingston.

    It is simple economics which is preventing new families from buying homes in down town. Young families, who typically would be purchasers of older homes, simply aren’t able to complete financially with deep pocketed investors and their deep pocketed rental customers.

    Consider this. When a family saves for their child’s education for 18-years, then teams up with a 2-5 more families who have also saved for as long and they decide to spend those lifelong savings on rent in a period of just 3-4 years, there is no possible way that a Kingston family with just 1 or 2 incomes has any chance to compete with that kind of real estate spending power.

    The result, as demand for rentals grows in the downtown core; the out-going families rightfully maximize the value of their former family house and sell to investors. You can’t fault the family that leaves, the family that can’t afford to buy or the investor that see a need for rental housing and fills it.

    What I do fault is out dated zoning abutting the area directly to the north of our city’s second largest economic driver. There proposed as appropriate for tall, high density residential buildings is bordered by Alfred to the west, Earl to the south, Barrie to the east and Queen Street to the north.

    • November 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm
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      Here are 10 reasons why Kingston desperately needs an up-zoned area to connect Queen’s Main Campus to Princess Street along Division:

      1. By giving developers zoning encouragement to build beautiful buildings (restricted through site plan control for aesthetics, etc.) in a confined focused area directly to the north of campus, they will in turn give the ever increasing number of Queen’s University students a higher quality product, in the location they want, at a lower price. New tall buildings are less expensive for occupants to heat and cool than old 19th century homes with out-dated mechanical and insulation systems.

      2. By encouraging high density development close to campus there will be decreased rental demand from students for rent older lower quality former single family homes.

      3. The area suggested for up-zone is currently 100% owned by investors and occupied by tenants. There is zero chance of the old homes becoming owner occupied by families ever again. One or two family incomes simply can’t complete with the spending power created when eight to twelve incomes have been saving up to spend for eighteen years.

      4. Students, many who don’t have cars, want to live close enough to walk from home to campus, to grocery, to stores. Even if they do have cars, parking is extremely limited and expensive on campus. With our city’s commitment to become the most sustainable in Canada, up zoning this area will affirm publicly that we believe it is better for students to walk than to drive or take the bus. By providing a place for decades of housing supply to be built, we’ll be telling our visiting citizens to leave your car at home. You won’t need it in Kingston.

      5. New world class accommodation will enable Queen’s university to compete for the best students by showcasing both on and off campus facilities. While the community is great, currently the product the community lives in has significant defer maintenance issues. There is little motivation of absentee investors to keep up these properties that are in his 11 block area.

      6. Owners of up zoned property will finally have an incentive to sell or join together to create larger parcels of land, required for taller buildings. Currently there is very little reason to ever sell a property within this area, as the rent keeps on coming in with little worry of it stopping. If suddenly there are better alternatives built to compete with old rental stock, there would be a financial incentive for absentee investors to redevelop their properties on their own or in joint ventures to win back renters.

      7. By encouraging thousands of bedrooms to built off campus in the restricted high density zone there will be less incentive to attempt large backyard development proposals for “A” zone single family, owner occupied off of main arteries.

      8. Economies of scale take effect to maintain the area as something the city can be proud of and show off to others! With large buildings comes the ability to provide dedicated 24/7 professional security, fast maintenance, diligent garbage disposal, proper snow removal and lawn care. Absentee investors in single family homes can’t afford the same high quality property care team that a large apartment complex can afford.

      9. With new construction come opportunities for a proportion of each new building to be eligible for rent subsidies to make some suites affordable housing. Not every student that attends Queen’s is rich, and there need to be more quality options at a lower price. New development provides that opportunity.

      10. By giving a place for high density housing, our single family neighbourhoods will be protected meaning the elementary and high school enrollment levels of down town schools can be retained. Provincial funding to the Limestone District School Board is based on head count. Downtown is at risk of losing schools as university student renters continue to take over neighbourhoods that have predominantly been owner occupied by families with school aged young children. The issue of school closures is interconnected with the decreasing number of owner occupied homes in the downtown core.

      • November 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm
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        I write this while eating breakfast on Gibson Avenue with my 1 and 3 year old boys. I hope they will be able to attend a school close to our home and have other children on the street to play with. Currently on our street 5% of homes are investor owned, and student rented. I am OK with this. However, when we purchased on this street just 5 years ago it was zero percent.

        Full disclosure, I spend every working day as the President of Varsity Properties. Our firm designs, develops, builds and manages premium quality residential developments for Ontario students, faculty and staff. We would jump at the chance to make a positive impact on our city by redeveloping properties in a high density zone close to campus. However, this idea is risky, as a number of our current properties are outside of the zone I’ve proposed. Therefore, we would have to compete and could lose renters to new buildings in the proposed high density zone. As a parent and lifelong Kingstonian I’ve made the decision that the integrity of downtown owner occupied communities is worth the possible financial risk of proposing this idea.

        I hope you will consider what I have written and ask your councillor to protect our owner occupied downtown side streets from investors sprawl by designating an appropriate location for substantially increased housing density north of Queen’s University’s main campus.

  • December 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm
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    You are only saying this because you think you can hugely profit off this restricted high density zone. Saying you have kids and lobbying for support on this forum is pretty weak, but that being said you're a total snake and I expect nothing less. I assume, due to your excellent business knowledge acquired as a commerce student at Queen's, you will have no problem exploiting this town for profit, through this zone which you wish to be created.

    Any argument can sound good for our city when twisted properly.

    Sincerely,
    A long standing Kingston resident.

    • December 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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      Actually A.J. has hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately too many influential people in kingston have their hands in the student housing pot so that nothing has even happened and the downtown neighbourhoods continue to degrade. The city should do as other university towns and zone for high density towers ajacent to campus to take the pressure off the surrouding single-detached neighbourhoods. The area in and around aberdeen and Johnson across from the new gym facility should have well designed apartement towers with amenities for students. Until this happens the ghetto will continue to creep – soon to Victoria street then all the way to sir john a blvd. It's already happening, just look and see where the new viynl additions are occuring…

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