The increasing post-secondary student population in Kingston is one of the main causes of the lack of affordable housing in the Kingston area.
When I first heard the above statement over a year ago, I was surprised to say the least. I was listening to a Kingston man who had frequented several Kingston shelters talk about his experiences using those services. He managed to shed light on a part of the issue I had never even considered. When I thought of homelessness, I thought of things like unemployment, lack of transitional support services for incarcerated individuals, and issues with the welfare system in Ontario. I didn’t think about university students.
It makes sense when you think about it, though. Kingston has two post-secondary institutions where the majority of students live off-campus, and students have taken over most rental housing in the downtown core. Besides that, as enrolment increases, the University District expands and students take over more and more of Kingston. Housing prices inflate to match what students are willing to pay. Thus, housing that used to be affordable for low-income individuals or families to rent becomes too expensive, because it is instead being targeted towards the student market.
I volunteered with several homeless shelters in the Toronto area in high school and had several eye-opening conversations with people who had been homeless for years. I thought I understood the issues that surround affordable housing and social support systems for those who are homeless. But I had never considered my role as a student living in the University District in a house that was probably once low-income housing. Failure to do so has prevented me from fully understanding the problem or beginning to properly address it.
So what now? Where was I supposed to go from here?
I started looking into existing programs and services in Kingston.
Currently, Kingston’s housing vacancy rate is around 1.7%. A “healthy vacancy rate”, evaluated by the province of Ontario, is 3%.
The average rate per month for a 1-bedroom apartment in Kingston is the 4th highest in the province (behind Toronto, Ottawa, and Barrie); it’s really no surprise that over 75% of homeless people in Kingston say that the main barrier to being housed is that the rent is too high.
Kingston needs affordable housing. It needs more of it, and it needs it now. Not to keep throwing stats at you, but the average wait time for social housing in Kingston is 54 months.
Affordable housing has been an ongoing project in Kingston since the early 2000s, but funding has been sporadic and progress slow. So far, the majority of new social housing units have been municipally funded or introduced by local non-profits such as Home Base Housing. While effective and targeted at specific age groups and their needs, there is still the overarching problem of too few homes for the number of people on the waiting list. The municipal government lacks sufficient funding to be able to expand these programs sufficiently. The provincial and federal governments need to be supporting the initiatives of municipalities like Kingston that are outside the reach of bigger cities like Toronto and Ottawa, to ensure that the needs of its citizens are being met.
While Kingston’s temporary and transition housing services have been dramatically enhanced over the past few years, from the Kingston Youth Shelter’s Transitions to Ryandale’s Transition House, these services are just that: temporary. The idea behind transition housing is to offer affordable accommodations to people for a period of approximately one year, during which time people are provided with life-skills training and support to help people identify and work to move beyond the barriers that have kept them homeless.
These kinds of services are increasing in Kingston, providing unique support for people who are in and out of shelters on a regular basis. But I don’t believe that long-term change is going to be able to occur if the next step is not present. Those in transition housing need something to transition into, and for that to happen Kingston is going to need many more units of stable, affordable, liveable housing.
-Lauren De Souza