Original Article: https://www.thewhig.com/news/local-news/kingstons-2020-housing-data-an-anomaly-city-staff-say
KINGSTON — A downtown city councillor said city staff are discounting housing data from last year that showed the rental vacancy rate was approaching a healthy state.
After years of below-average rental availability, and planning policies and decisions made to help alleviate it, city staff said last year’s data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that showed the rental vacant rate for the Kingston area had reached 3.2 per cent was an “anomaly.”
Kingston’s 2020 housing data an ‘anomaly,’ city staff say
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has had an impact overall on housing in multiple different ways,” Lanie Hurdle, the city’s chief administrative officer, said.
The information was presented in an update report on the city’s population, housing and labour force.
By forcing the move to online learning for post-secondary schools, the pandemic reduced demand for student housing in the downtown (Zone 1), which increased the availability of rental units.
The vacant rate downtown was 5.6 per cent in 2020, leading some councillors to suggest the need for additional developments downtown, is not as strong as it was.
“Without full details, it is difficult to come to any definitive conclusion on the impact of students not returning to on-campus learning and the degree of other market factors for the Zone 1 vacancy rate, which may be a one-time anomaly,” the report to council stated.
It was that sentence that caught the attention of Sydenham District Coun. Peter Stroud, who said city staff were adding their opinion to the report to downplay the data.
Stroud said the low rate in previous years was used to support developments that may have added to the housing stock but may not have been the best for the community.
With the rate now at a healthy level, Stroud asked why the reverse was not the case, with the vacancy rate being used as evidence against additional development.
“This was a rate that was at 0.9 per cent at one point and that was quoted many times as justification for breaking the rules on the official plan and pushing for more development and being lenient on development,” Stroud said.
“I’m wondering why it is that we are seeing that number rise above the threshold of three per cent and equalling both the provincial and national rate for the first time in many years, why it is we are being told it is an outlier, an anomaly, in the report, and why this data is no longer as solid as it was when the number was low?”
Commissioner of community services Paige Agnew said the media “created a buzz” by reporting about the vacant rate as it steadily dropped during the course of several years, eventually reaching a provincial low of 0.6 per cent in 2018.
“We don’t base planning decisions or major policy direction on one year of CMHC data,” Agnew said. “There are limitations to the data and it represents a snapshot in time of that year.”
Hurdle said the lasting impact of the pandemic and how many students will return to in-person classes is still in question.