‘Homes for people’: KUT rallies for affordable housing

Mayor says Kingston is committed to addressing homelessness  

KUT rally saw 70 people in attendance. 
“Homes for people, not for profit.” 
A crowd of around 70 people gathered at Market Square on Apr. 5 to demand rent rollbacks, investment in rent-geared-to-income housing, and affordable units. All during a City Council meeting. 
The rally was held by the Katarokwi Union of Tenants (KUT), a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the state of housing and rental tenure in Kingston. 
“We see the housing crisis as a political problem—it really touches every level of society,” Kyle Fillo, KUT community organizer, said in an interview with The Journal.
According to Fillo, KUT hoped not only to raise awareness of “skyrocketing” home prices but also the increase in rents across the country and the lack of housing. 
“We don’t see those problems getting fixed by the current measures in place, so we’re here to advocate both for the large-scale political changes that need to be made, as well as the grassroots organizing and support that are needed to help people facing homelessness, […] landlords, and [people] having a rough time in the housing market.” 
The event saw several audience members speak about their personal experiences with housing in Kingston.
Doug Yearwood, former Vice President of Community Relations at PSAC 901, believes Queen’s isn’t doing enough to support graduate students in Kingston’s housing market. According to him, the average graduate student isn’t paid nearly enough to keep up with rising rent.
“For graduate students, it’s really difficult for a lot of us to make ends meet. Only about one-third of our students live in any form of rent-controlled housing—community housing in either An Clachlan or John Orr Tower—but the rest of us are left bearing the cost of the market,” Yearwood said in an interview with The Journal.
“A lot of the housing as we know in Kingston is depleted stock. It’s really rundown. I think [a survey PSAC 901 conducted] indicated something like 50 to 60 per cent [of union members], maybe even higher, experienced real financial stress as a result of the housing crisis.”
Although PSAC 901 had hoped to convince Queen’s to build more affordable community housing in their most recent bargaining agreement, Yearwood said it “wasn’t possible to get that dealt with” due to pushback from the Ford government. He insists, however, that the University’s support is vital.
“This is a situation where Queen’s is de facto recognizing that our housing rights are being violated,” Yearwood said. “It’s an issue that absolutely needs to be resolved, and we’re in no position for indebted students, low-paid workers, to actually do this on our own.”
Vic Sahai, former NDP federal candidate for Kingston and the Islands, was an attendee. 
“Housing is a human right, and the market cannot philosophically provide that. Either you can afford it, or you can’t afford it—and if you can’t afford it, you’re homeless. If this is a human right, then the government has to get involved for those people who can’t afford it,” Sahai said in an interview with The Journal.
“The policies that are set up are usually created by upper-middle-class people, for upper-middle-class people. They don’t think of how those policies will influence and affect people who are going to be vulnerable to homelessness.”
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson said the City is committed to providing affordable housing and addressing homelessness.
“We’re putting more money into housing and homelessness than we have ever in the city’s history over the last few years,” Paterson said in a post-rally interview with The Journal.
Two years ago, City Council voted to defer planned capital projects to free up $18 million to build at least 90 affordable housing units during this term of council. 
“We’ve dedicated to new affordable housing, supportive and transitional housing towards the services like the Integrated Care Hub, and to homelessness in general,” Paterson said.
Currently, Kingston aims to increase the overall supply of housing while forming a partnership with developers in a “strategic investment” to provide housing units below market rent. Despite these efforts, Paterson said the City needs more funding from the provincial and federal governments. 
“As a City, we put in a lot of dollars, and the more that the province and the federal government put in, that just means more housing can be offered at a lower rental rate for people that can’t afford the market rate,” he said.
“We’ve doubled the amount of new housing that’s being constructed in the city, and we’ve also invested far more in affordable housing than we have ever before—it’s a huge challenge, there’s a lot of work to do, and we’re doing what we can.”
In a statement sent to The Journal, the City of Kingston Housing and Social Services Department said they appreciate housing advocacy from both individuals and organized groups. 
“We are aware that the Katarokwi Union of Tenants may sometimes disagree with our approach and methods, but ultimately, they serve the same vulnerable individuals and families we serve,” Rob Hosier, City of Kingston’s communications officer, wrote in an email to The Journal. 
“We understand their holding a rally on this vital community need and sincerely hope it results in productive, actionable, and sustainable solutions for those who need them most.” 
—With files from Rida Chaudhry


May 3, 2022

A previous version of this article indicated that Doug Yearwood is the current VP of Community Relations for PSAC 901. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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