I do not, not for housing in Kingston.
Our Mayor’s Task Force on Housing used the term, “A Housing Affordability Crisis” to describe where we were last year. Things have not gotten better.
Here are five points about housing in Kingston today:
1. The housing situation is not improving. One indicator is the fact that this summer, after the initial shock of the pandemic hit, average prices of residences have increased about 15% from a year ago while residential inventory on the market is at a low. This is partly because of the lack of supply and increased demand, and partly because of lower interest rates. This indicator does not directly reflect the situation for lower income households, but it doesn't offer any hope either.
The following figures apear on the Kingston and Area Real Estate Association website:
2. Visible tent communities should be a political wake-up call. The tent community at Belle park this summer was a visible reminder of the harsh housing market as well as the need to improve social support structures, but we should not be surprised by it. Tent communities have popped up in other cities in the region. And, with very little effort while I was doing research for the Task Force, I was able to hear about Kingstonians living in tents in Woodhaven, Montreal Street near the train tracks, John Machin Park, deeper within Belle Park and even a backyard near Princess and MacDonnell. These are real people who need homes in their price range, and social supports, whatever they may be.
3. Building enough affordable housing requires public funding. This conclusion is not a political statement -- it is based on looking at numbers behind the economics of building housing in Kingston today. This is what the Mayor’s Task Force did through a study of an actual affordable development in Kingston and a separate consultant’s financial viability analysis for different parts of the City. In the longer term, land use policy changes are needed to increase housing supply. For affordable housing, right now, public funding is needed.
4. Recovering means innovating. To recover from the pandemic, rebuilding our economy and our society, will require us to invent and innovate - we can’t just go backwards, right? One innovative way of building housing quickly is to use modular, factory-built, housing. The Housing Task Force noted that modular affordable housing was quickly built by an Alberta company, Horizon North, for flood victims in Grand Forks, B.C. Another company which built modular factory-built housing in London, England produced housing 20-40% below market prices. In Vancouver, a plan to build 98 units of temporary modular housing to address their homeless crisis was announced in August.
5. We need to be able to act as quickly as possible. The City of Victoria, considering the use of temporary modular housing, says in its housing strategy that Victoria should, “streamline development processes so they can be operational as soon as possible.” Separate from this modular housing idea, there was word in the news recently of a new federal program to help cities acquire distressed properties for affordable housing. A crucial aspect of this program is how to roll it out and provide shelter before winter comes.
School starts in two weeks. If you are like our family, you are both very excited to have the kids out of the house and back to learning, and at the same time very nervous about what the fall will bring. Will students and teachers be safe inside schools? Will there be another outbreak as kids mix and mingle beyond the bubbles we have become accustomed to? Will school close again in another month? There are some families who simply don’t have a choice about sending their kids back to school, and must do so. There are other families who, after weighing the risks, have decided that their kids need to stay home and learn online.
I think everybody agrees that for the sake of our kids’ development, mental health, for their families’ work and financial situation, and for safe workplaces, back-to-school has to work for everybody -- kids, families, teachers and other staff.
Since March, our local Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, has led an effort which has successfully contained outbreaks of COVID-19. Dr. Moore has said publicly that KFL&A public health has the resources (testing, contact tracing and, of course, public cooperation) to cope with the expected increases in COVID-19 cases after schools re-open. Public Health is working with the school boards and post-secondary institutions on plans for school re-opening. This is worth keeping in mind.
The bottom line is that we’re still in the middle of the pandemic. Since schooling is an essential activity, it has to be protected in the same way we have tried to protect the rest of our society and economy -- by deploying one-time, substantial government resources to facilitate physical distancing and to limit the extent of social circles.
Two Week Time Bubble
Whatever the final plans are for re-opening, and we all realize there are not limitless resources, there are steps each of us can take to help, starting now. The charts attached are taken from our local KFL&A Public Health website. Note the peaks for the initial outbreak in April and the “nail salon” outbreak in July. With isolation, contact tracing and community cooperation, both peaks were flattened out in about two weeks.
It seems to me that the ultimate backstop for any back-to-school plan in Kingston, which would give me confidence as a parent, is to have a low incidence of COVID-19 to start off the school year.
What we all can do to help
This year, the back-to-school to-do list will include extra items to address the pandemic, but let’s all try to make the very first item a renewed focus on social distancing during the two week bubble before school starts. We can try our best to stamp out any embers of COVID-19 by careful social and physical distancing starting now, two weeks before the doors open.
What better way for the whole community to contribute to the safest possible back-to-school season?