A second-term Kingston city councillor has stepped away from the mayor’s plan on housing in a recent opinion piece.
In a column published in the Kingston Whig Standard this week, Meadowbrook-Strathcona Coun. Jeff McLaren pinpointed what he believes to be a glaring omission in the city’s vacancy rate solutions.
Kingston’s vacancy rate currently sits at 0.6 per cent — the lowest in Ontario and the second lowest in Canada. Although the mayor has supported more development as a solution to Kingston’s housing issues, McLaren believes the city’s housing problems lie with student enrolment at its post-secondary institutions.
According to the councillor, Kingston has an “unbalanced growth problem.”
He claims Canadian census numbers don’t adequately track growth rates of student populations in the city, as he says these surveys are done in the summer while most students are away.
“Councillors have recently been informed that the growth rate of the student population not covered by the census is just over seven times the growth rate of the general permanent population,” McLaren writes in his opinion piece.
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This influx of students causes demand for short-term rental accommodations close to the university, and McLaren says it has resulted in the “ghetto-ization” of the downtown area.
Kingston has been plagued with debates over the place of developments in its downtown, resulting in halted development within the city’s core. The most recent struggle over the Capitol Condo project, which was meant to bring 223 units to downtown Princess Street, was shot down after several years of fighting over the project.
Mayor Bryan Paterson is well aware of the problem, and his campaign for the 2018 municipal election centred mainly on growth and development.
“Growth is absolutely the right path to our community,” Paterson told Global Kingston.
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But McLaren claims that growth won’t bring the vacancy rates up because he believes international students eager to come to Canada will simply scoop up new developments near the university.
“It seems to be that there is going to be an unlimited number of students who want to come here from China, from India, from the rest of the world,” McLaren said.
According McLaren and the Council of Ontario Universities, there is no cap on the enrolment of international students at Canadian universities. This differs for Canadian citizens, whose numbers are regulated by provincial funding.
Despite believing that a greater number of international students is a boon to the city, McLaren says that universities and developers have incentives to bring in students from other countries in high numbers, who bring with them enough money to pay for higher tuition and bloated rental rates.
The mayor took issue with McLaren’s projection about international students.
“It’s absolutely not true,” Paterson said.
The mayor added that he doesn’t believe students are the main cause of Kingston’s housing woes.
“I’ve talked to mayors from all across Ontario, and housing is their No. 1 issue,” Paterson explained. He said the province is facing larger housing issues than just student demand.
But it is true that Queen’s is looking to bring in more internationals students. Their 2017-18 enrolment report says that “increasing the number of international students at Queen’s is an institutional priority.”
For the 2017/2018 school year, international students made up just over 11 per cent of the overall Queen’s student population, but the number of international students that year increased by 18 per cent from 2017.
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When asked if the university had considered more housing to accommodate the possible increase in international students, Queen’s provided a statement to Global News.
“The university is committed to ongoing engagement with the city, community, developers and other stakeholders to help find solutions to the city’s low vacancy rate,” the statement read. “The low vacancy rate is a multi-faceted issue with a number of contributing factors, and it affects all areas of the city, not only neighborhoods where students traditionally live.”
For his part, McLaren listed several ways that he believes the city should plan for this supposed influx of people.
First, he explained the city should put forward an inclusionary zoning bylaw.
“The idea is that we want to create diversity within communities so we do not want a unique mono-culture in any one neighbourhood. The idea is that we allow affordable housing to be pretty much everywhere, especially in new developments,” McLaren explained.
He also suggested that the city add more co-operative housing and reinstate a land bank that would allow for more affordable accommodation to be peppered around the city so that communities would be diverse.
But Paterson believes Kingston’s housing issues can’t be fixed by council by itself.
“Housing is obviously a priority,” he said. “This is a community issue so it cannot be solved by city hall alone.”
This is why, Paterson explained, next month he’ll be launching a task force on housing.
“The entire goal of this exercise is to bring the community together — the development community, social services community, our post-secondary institutions — get all those perspectives around the table and have the community work together to come up with the right solutions to address housing,” he said.
When asked for his personal solutions to Kingston’s housing issues, Paterson said he had plenty of ideas but would let the task force come up with ways to move forward.
“I think there’s a lot of creative solutions that are available to us. Certainly, there’s a couple that have been offered by certain members of council, but quite frankly, there’s a lot of other options out there as well,” he said.