Federal policy on affordable housing affects Kingston municipal election
The recently announced closure of The Gathering Place, a drop-in centre operated by the Salvation Army, was a hot topic of discussion at a recent all-candidates meeting in Kingston’s mayoral race. I want to point out that there is a connection with a federal issue that I have been bringing up in the House of Commons.[note: the City of Kingston has a 10-year Municipal Housing and Homelessness Plan. If it had extra resources, they might go towards, say, more case-management activities, so The Gathering Place may or may not represent where the next dollar would be spent. But the point is, the execution of the Plan is affected by total funds available, and federal policy is affecting funds available to the City of Kingston. Please read on!]
Last November I wrote about how decreased federal funding for affordable housing would place a financial burden on municipalities across the country, pushing city officials to raise property taxes or make difficult choices on the allocation of funds for local social services.
On Feb 25, 2014 I said in the House,
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question about the what the budget did not do for affordable housing, which is an important issue in my riding, Kingston and the Islands.
Mortgage subsidies and operating agreements will expire in the coming years, yet the budget offers nothing to replace them. Obviously, the City of Kingston does not want to reduce the number of affordable housing units. By doing nothing, the Conservatives are essentially making cuts.”
Here are the numbers that I presented in my last blog post on this subject, which summarize the financial implications of these cuts for the City of Kingston:
A) Federal funding for affordable housing was $3.58 million in 2008, $3.34 million in 2012, and is budgeted to drop to $3.15 million in 2017.
B) Total subsidy costs to Kingston were $11.93 million in 2008, $12.84 million in 2012 and are budgeted to rise to $14.18 million in 2017.
C) As a result, the City of Kingston taxpayer contribution was $8.35 million in 2008, $9.50 million in 2012, and budgeted to rise to $11.04 million in 2017
To see that this is of concern across the country, here is a recent statement on what the Federation of Canadian Municipalities calls “The Housing Crunch”
The Gathering Place will close its doors effective December 31st 2014 due to the loss of a $115,000 annual grant from the City . To be fair the City is re-allocating resources to best deal with housing and homelessness. But this drop-in centre serves some of Kingston’s most vulnerable citizens. It fills an important role in the community as it is open during the day when most other related programs and shelters are closed. With the help of committed volunteers and staff, the shelter provides relief from harsh and inclement weather, light nutritious meals, social space, accessible services and relevant programming for those in need.
The affordable housing policy of the federal government is not unrelated to the decision to cut funding for The Gathering Place. As I showed above, the erosion in federal government support directly impacts the City’s budget. In response it must raise property taxes or cut services. I recognize that there is a limit to how much property taxes can be reasonably increased. This reality, along with the legal and moral requirement for the City of Kingston to provide a certain amount of rent-geared-to-income housing, puts pressure on the City to cut other city services. City budgeting decisions are made all the more difficult by federal policy and, unfortunately, The Gathering Place lost its funding.