Housing could be the foundation of Kingston mayoral race

The candidates running in Kingston's 2022 mayoral election. From left to right: Tina Fraser, Skyler McArthur-O’Blenes, Bryan Paterson and Ivan Stoiljkovic.  (Photos submitted by candidates - image credit)
The candidates running in Kingston's 2022 mayoral election. From left to right: Tina Fraser, Skyler McArthur-O’Blenes, Bryan Paterson and Ivan Stoiljkovic. (Photos submitted by candidates - image credit)
Photos submitted by candidates
Photos submitted by candidates

Like most Ontario cities, housing is one of the key building blocks for candidate conversations in the race for Kingston's next mayor.

CBC spoke with the four candidates about what they're hoping to accomplish, if elected, as residents vote on Oct. 24.

Paterson aims to increase housing supply

Incumbent Bryan Paterson, an assistant professor at the Royal Military College, has served as mayor since 2014. He said he plans to focus on increasing housing supply.

Paterson said more than 3,500 new housing starts were approved during his last three years as mayor. This is about double the yearly amount approved during his first term.

In terms of affordable housing, Paterson said "there's a huge need for it, but it's expensive and it's difficult."

"There's no way that [the City of Kingston] could do that on our own," said Paterson, adding the city would need "private sector development."

The three other candidates vying for mayor each self-identify as tenants who have experienced the squeeze of the rental market.

Stoiljkovic pledges to create rent geared to income housing

Candidate Ivan Stoiljkovic, who works as a city bus driver, said the city needs to move past just boosting housing supply. He said he wants to focus on creating publicly owned rental units where people pay based on their income.

This would include both new builds and re-purposing existing buildings. If elected, he said he would work to hold back public money when property developers build with only a fraction of the units designated as affordable.

Stoiljkovic said he's seen the number of people experiencing homelessness increase during his 20 years as a local tenant union organizer.

"The only way that people who are on the street, people who are on the social housing registry, can afford housing is if it is rent geared to income."

Fraser wants to cap rent, impose affordability criteria

Candidate Tina Fraser said there is "enough housing" and shelter, but the rent is too high.

Fraser, who works as a digital marketer, food delivery driver and taxi driver, said if elected she plans to ensure all new developments downtown meet a minimum standard of affordable units.

"I've seen all these beautiful units, we can make 25 per cent of them affordable."

She said she would seek to increase affordability by re-purposing existing buildings into affordable units owned by the city.

Fraser also said as mayor she would work to cap rent so tenants don't have to worry about being priced out of their homes.

McArthur-O'Blenes seeks new approaches to housing development

Candidate Skyler McArthur-O'Blenes, a recent Queen's University graduate who works for the provincial government, said he is also "priced out of the current market."

McArthur-O'Blenes said people experiencing the brunt of the housing crisis are underrepresented in municipal politics, and those fresh voices and ideas are needed if Kingston wants to sustainably boost the housing supply

"We need to think outside the standard box of, 'OK, well, let's get commercial development,'" said McArthur-O'Blenes.

He said changing zoning laws can allow for more types of housing to be freely built, such as expanding the areas where mixed-use residential buildings can be built, or by allowing secondary units to be built on existing detached home lots.

Low vacancy rate and rising home prices

Kingston's longstanding housing woes became even more acute during the pandemic. Last year, Kingston had the second lowest vacancy rate in the province.

Home prices in the city rose at a higher rate than anywhere in Canada in 2021, said the Royal LePage House Price Survey released earlier this year, as detached homes almost doubled in price year-to-year.

News was a little better in July with increased supply, but the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Kingston was reported as $1,406 in the latest Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Rental Market Survey in October 2021.

While lower than Toronto and Ottawa, it still puts Kingston at ninth most expensive out of the 62 Ontario cities and census areas for which data was available.