Which way forward for KUT?

This is a summary of our meeting on August 19. There was quite of a bit of ‘homework’ that we realized we needed to do, so if you are able to contribute to any of the following in any way, please let me know and respond with links, etc.

We began our meeting with a land recognition. I mentioned how I had nerves at our ‘Push’ film screening and panel discussion, which caused me to move past a proper introduction and land recognition which I had planned out. I felt really bad about it. But, as I mentioned in the meeting, I think that it would be great to develop an official recognition of land that  incorporates housing. In the limited reading that I’ve done, I’ve learned how the Haudenosaunee in and around Katarokwi lived in longhouses. These housing arrangements were communal in nature, with no rents or anything like that (there’s still tons of readings I know I should be doing; feel free to provide us with resources and articles that would help by emailing katarokwitenants@gmail.com). I think that this is important to remember: it shows how colonial constructs and capitalism has changed our social relationships on the very ground we occupy in modern day Kingston. In this light, I would like to encourage everyone to do a little research on housing in Katarokwi prior to its settlement and occupation. I want to solicit contributions from anyone who is willing to create a unique, motivating, and important land recognition. Please send links to articles, opinions from people with knowledge about the subject, etc.  At our meeting, we also discussed inviting people who might have knowledge about this important history to our meetings to share their perspectives and offer insight about how we can meaningfully change housing relations in Kingston today. 

Organizational Form

The next important discussion we had was relating to our organizational form and program development. Without getting into the weeds too much, we wondered about our current structure (or lack thereof). I said that I was not comfortable with an ad hoc approach to resolutions, and it might be wise to firm up a committee of sorts to deal with different issues. No firm decision was arrived at, but I did propose we think about this for our next meeting. While I have more to say about this issue (below and in the future), I encourage everyone to think about how we might establish best practices and a constitution of sorts in the near future. 

Relatedly, I also mentioned how—if we could get everyone to participate a little bit more—having different committees might be useful. It would allow our organization to manage the workload more effectively. For instance, having a committee (or committees) committed to media engagement, agenda-creation, and tenant recruitment would allow us to cover more ground than we currently are. Right now I feel as though a lot of the workload is shouldered by a few people, so making our organization more official would require more buy-in from people. At the same time, committees relating to tenant recruitment would indicate that we are potentially interested in formalizing membership.

Though I think more research and consideration needs to be done in order for us to come to something official, I am wondering if we should try to organize a small workshop and hear from union and tenant organizers about how they manage their affairs. My thought is that we should create an infrastructure composed of a dedicated executive committee and well-planned sub-committees. Essentially, by being a grassroots-, tenant-chosen movement, this would ensure that this movement doesn’t live and die with only a few of us; if we had a committed group that was chosen by the tenants in our organization, it will be as strong as we allow it to be, so long as it supported tenants. We could choose our leaders democratically, which would hopefully give incentive for tenants to want to join, knowing that they could change the direction of leadership with an already established infrastructure in the future.

Personally, I don’t want to be an organization limited to talking to bourgeois politicians and hosting discussions; while I see those types of things as useful in some ways, I would like to actually build tenant power and organize communities and buildings. But that takes real work, and mass engagement. At the very least, this is something to think about. I mocked a very rough draft of how our committee system might work, and I hope you critique it and offer your thoughts about how to move forward with this. That image is attached below. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask! It’s really based in a wish to represent Kingston and organize buildings, so I tried to synthesize that thought and came up with this. Its a starting point, so I don’t suspect it to be without its flaws, and I really hope you can provide feedback. 


Program Development

After we discussed our organizational form, we briefly discussed our program development. Our program should help inform us about the shape of our organization. So what should our organization be aiming to do? In my mind, we need to be rooted in both theory and practice. Without theory, we are rudderless. Loosely, I think our program needs to be rooted in decolonization and working-class democracy. We should be fighting for reforms and taking direct action, but also have a longer-term goal in mind, one that actually allows tenants—who are exploited at work and extorted at home—to live as equals. Our program should also contain an educational element. One of our members at the meeting wondered if we should start a reading group; I think this would be a great idea, if done right. I’ve been in many reading groups that have failed, but there’s also a few I’ve been in that have been really helpful and wonderful experiences. We also talked about future events, like door-knocking and trying to organize buildings and renting communities. Our next meeting will focus on this.  

There’s obviously a lot to think about here, and I don’t expect people to have all the answers right away. For those who are already organizing with us, this post is redundant, and I’ve included more information in the group email for you to consider. For those reading this for the first time, what do you think? How can we build alternative institutions that challenge the status quo? What sorts of direct action campaigns would you like to see? What should I organizational form be, if anything? If you are reading this, share this with tenants in your building or tenants in your neighbourhood. Lets build something powerful, new, and different; an institution that is unquestionably working class, de-colonial, and one that allows us to assert our collective strength. For far too long the working class—and working class tenants especially—have been beaten down all for the accumulation of wealth for people like Brit Smith of Homestead. That needs to stop. Help us figure out a solution to our immediate, material problems. Get involved.

Interview with CFRC 101.9 Kingston

Last week, CFRC 101.9’s Alex Fernandes was kind enough to host me on their radio program to discuss issues of rental housing in the City of Kingston. We talked about our political program, what we’ve done to help tenants, the meeting with the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing, and more. Give it a listen, and feel free to share this with your friends and neighbours. I was a little nervous, but here’s how it turned out.

KUT meets with the Housing Task Force

The following minutes were taken at our latest meeting, when we sat down with two members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing to discuss issues of affordability and life in Kingston. The Task Force members were Mary Rita Holland and Ted Hsu. There was a decent turn out to the event, and I greatly appreciate everyone for showing up and speaking their mind. As you’ll see, we received no promises or affirmations from the city; We were concerned that our meeting will be used opportunistically to legitimize their future plans on housing, but at least we took the time to let them know how we feel.

After a brief round of introductions, Mary-Rita Holland (herein, MR) began the meeting by saying that there was a lack of tenant advocacy in the city. She said she was concerned about a number of things related to housing. For one, she said, it is hard to keep track of property standards. Moreover, despite trying to do outreach, there is no one single experience, so, for the city, it is a matter of collecting different stories. Mary Rita said that the City has a mandate to increase supply and affordability; Analysis to date tends to be economic (I’m guessing she means quantitative, as opposed to qualitative analysis). MR said that information KUT provided can help bridge this knowledge gap. In addition to the Mayor’s Task Force, part of the City’s mandate is to report on housing situation in Kingston; in this regard, it is important to know stories.

Ted Hsu said that he believed there is a tradeoff between aesthetics and solutions. People were confused by this, and so he gave an example: One solution to housing may include a large 50-story buildings, which some people do not want for aesthetic reasons.

Tenants then expressed frustration over a lack of affordability; some KUT members discussed their belief that the working class needs a basic/increased income, rent controls, inclusionary zoning. There was a lot said during this portion of the meeting, and so I’ve listed other potential solutions and frustrations in point-form below:

  • more social housing – there should be more social housing in existing buildings 
  • why is state funding new vanity buildings for St. Lawrence and Queen’s when there is so little housing for the poor?
  • housing first/social housing is not a viable option for raising healthy families – it needs to be more comprehensive and address issues like mental health, access to food, medicine, etc.
  • inspections of buildings for code requirements and basic shelter expectations
  • slumlords walking all over tenants, especially lower socioeconomic class, disabled; These people are regularly faced with threats and neglect.
  • cost of rent in kingston is ridiculous
  • city funded advocate for tenants facing eviction after property standards problem
  • permanent tenant committee on council
  • tiny housing / co-ops
  • how can municipality put pressure on other levels of government to support/prioritize housing issues? rent capping, how can it be done? 
  • allowing zoning for coop and tiny housing communities
  • landlords interest to evict long term tenants; rent freeze, etc. 
  • problem: need to provide solutions that address housing problems
  • problem: committee appears biased toward developers; solution: better/more representation of those actually dealing with housing problems from tenant perspective 
  • social housing that  is not attached to money
  • law that ensures 1/3 income maximum for rent
  • get problem-creators (landlords, corrupt developers) off task force
  • allow lots to be split
  • concerns there has been student housing development, but none have been required to include affordable housing; there’s nothing wrong with mixing housing

After KUT members listed their concerns and frustrations with the Task Force, we took a brief break. Once we came back, KUT asked the following questions:

  • “As you’ll hear, everyone here has a story about being treated like crap by a landlord. Why is it that the city has picked people whose class interests are completely opposed to the majority of the people who live here to work on a housing task force? These are the same people who’ve exacerbated the crisis – why are they in charge of solving it?”
    • Ted Hsu’s response: one of the mandates of the TF is that it was supposed to provide evidence-informed recommendations; the number of people who agree with something on TF is not going to decide by itself – what’s important is the facts that are behind it
      • Ted says what he needs is to convince other people of a certain idea
        • These ideas have to be informed by facts
      • The important thing to keep in mind is that goal of TF is to convince other members of TF
      • Ted said the TF was chosen to have diversity of members (of information and points of view) 
        • At this point I interrupted and explained that he was not answering my question. I said that I could pick a million different places that have evidence about social housing being effective, from Berlin to Zurich, and in different regulatory and political contexts, from the USSR to Medicine Hat. So when we’re talking about evidence, what evidence counts?
          • Ted responded by saying the Task Force  is working in the context of Ontario, so the Task Force is looking at what happens in other cities and towns in Ontario
    • MR added that there is a dynamic that people don’t see: developers are frustrated with the city
      • Developers say it is too difficult to build, too many reports need to be filed
        • They are frustrated with city staff
      • Developers want politicians to get rid of regulations, planners and staff want to protect the public
        • Our feedback is valuable because it will help inform ideas
        • developers at the table to solve problem
    • KUT members expressed their concerns about whether we were being used as pawns, then: Does this meeting have to do with legitimacy, wherein the city is framing their consultation with us as “important dialogue” to help developers make money?
      • KUT said that, of course, developers want to make money
      • KUT’s concern is that we have developers and politicians who are careerists: when you frame the issue as Mary Rita just did, it makes us fearful
      • Why take Mayor’s framing as legitimate
    • MR then said that supply is huge question

KUT then posed its next question: All sorts of time and resources have been dedicated to this, reports have been made, etc. what sort of new and innovative solutions has the City proposed?

  • MR: tiny homes has put forward as priority – city providing land
    • Council made decision on tiny homes, not Task Force
  • TH: the city has changed bylaw to allow secondary suites
  • KUT asked what innovative approaches to funding had been made
  • Mary Rita stated that there was nothing innovative on funding, yet
  • A KUT member stated that the City might have a mandate, but it does not sound like it is to help individuals struggling: what are the problems, what are evidence based solutions? 
    • what is lacking is having a different body that is there to stand up for the people
    • we need people to help us
  • Why aren’t there more tenants on the board:
    • Mary Rita and Ted both acknowledged that this is a question for the Mayor because he chose them

Following this brief Q&A, the questions became more pointed around certain local issues:

  • One member asked, “Are you ok with homeless people in Kingston?”
    • At which point does it become unacceptable for you?
      • MR: we try to find ways to support that group to make sure shelter system is working
      • MR said she believed everyone deserves to have a home
    • TH: federal govt spending 50 billion on homelessness
      • KUT pushed back on this, saying that the National Housing Strategy was unveiled years ago and that it has not been effective.
    • “What is so hard about building housing geared to income housing for 2200 people to house homeless?”
      • “You have deficit spending and taxing powers”
      • Mary Rita expressed concerns over the cost of building – city has approved $16 mil to 90 units
        • She stated further that the operating budget is $400 million approximately
      • Ted Hsu said the Task Force is going to try to convince other people that recommendations can be followed
  • KUT  expressed concerns about systemic housing issues:
    • housing is way too expensive
    • finding a bachelor for $500-600 should be a reasonable thing
    • experience looking for housing with 3 people  or smaller really struggles
  • One member said it was impossible for single parent to make it in this city. They are confused and angry with long process for figuring out long term housing solutions. They said that landlords have raised rent without telling them. They have spent a year and a half looking for housing and cant find anything
  • Another member told their story:
    • They lost everything to floods in Ottawa in 2017, and they came to Kingston with dreams. They said they have lived under the poverty line whole life, despite having skills. Upon arriving to Kingston, so many people in their old building have nobody to advocate for them. They had an absentee property manager, who, despite being sent letters of complaints from multiple tenants, sent no response back. In their building, one gentleman slept in two sets of overalls all winter because heat didn’t work. When the property manager did finally come around, they asked for n11 for mutual agreement, and the company acting like they were doing her a favour. She expressed her disappointment. They moved here because they wanted to set roots
  • Another KUT member expressed their concerns: 
    • The shelter system is not good at addressing needs, same with motels
    • library has been shamed into letting homeless stay there
    • need to look at social impact of not having housing: medical, mental health, on children, poison food
    • if sustainability doesn’t include those who are in poverty, then this whole thing is pointless
    • developers have had opportunities to build 
    • AirBnB is also exacerbating the problem
      • Another member pondered: why not ban airbnb, develop similar software that uses part of the proceeds to fund new housing? 
  • A KUT member said that there is evidence showing that one way to solve homelessness is to build units
  • Another KUT member said that it’s the Mayor’s task force, which has manoeuvred in ways that won’t allow for progressives to have a say
    • We’re playing this game of capitalism, where developers run the show. The reality is that they want return on investment
    • In this person’s mind, the city can cap rates of return at 1%, and can have daycare, housing, etc. that doesn’t have to run a profit
    • Further, this person stated, we need to have mixed communities and mandate this: not with 5 years clauses, but in perpetuity 
    • we need councillors who think this way to bring this forward – it takes leadership, we can’t just wait for task force to unfold
    • developers and real estate agents are really the cause for the problem
  • Another KUT member said that the city needs to get in “the game” and invest in property
    • they further stated, “why are we advertising Kingston as a  place to  live when working class s people can’t afford to live here?”
    • “developers have set up the game to win; they are playing Monopoly”
  • A KUT member said they would like to see city spend as much time as they did on the new bridge on issues pertaining to housing
    • They proposed no new funding for St L and Q infrastructure unless its for housing
    • funding from feds and province should go to housing
    • Another member added, “why are we taking away housing when we can’t find one?” (with bridge development)

July 2 Tenants Meeting

The Katarokwi Unions of Tenants had an organizational meeting on July 2 to talk about a number of important items. Perhaps most importantly, the people who gathered last night expressed different opinions on how to make the most of our time when we meet with the Mayor’s Task Force the week of July 22nd. It was decided that we would put out an open call to our members and all tenants in Kingston to come to this meeting to voice their opinions about the state of rental housing. It was also determined that KUT would have a number of representatives there to speak on behalf of the tenants union, specifically. We are in the process of formulating some ideas about how to improve rental housing stock in the city, so if you have any ideas or thoughts you’d like for us to pass on, please forward them to us

Additionally, I passed along the news that the film ‘Push’ will be playing at the Screening Room beginning on August 9. ‘Push’ is about global gentrification and the processes of global finance capital that are causing unaffordable housing around the world, featuring Leilani Farha—the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. I’ve been in discussion with Leilani for a number of weeks and she says she is going to try to make it to Kingston for one of the nights. She and I agreed that hosting a panel discussion about financialization and discussing affordability in Kingston would be a great idea. At the meeting we held, KUT members thought about a few people who would make for good panelists; I will update everyone about who might be there and when this will be when I know more!

KUT members also discussed “big-picture” stuff; We agreed that our movement had to engage the masses and become a much larger organization. I think its important for us to constantly think about how to most effectively organize our presence in the community. If we are to have much success, I think that it is imperative that we think about how we will gain the support of the thousands of people renting in the city. In order to become a force, we must do a number of important things: first, we must help people who are facing struggles from predatory landlords and soaring rent costs; second, we need for more people to become aware of us as an organization and encourage them to support us in any way they can; third, we need to engage with our institutions in productive and creative ways, constantly challenging them to improve—and, at the same time, we must start to organize our own institutions and expose the system we live under for the monster that it is. 

KUT is currently in the process of assisting at least two different tenants in their struggles against landlords. In one case, we are assisting a tenant whose landlord is trying to extract as much money from her as much as they can before she moves out. This tenant has tried to ensure the landlord maintains the property, and has complained about water leakages, mold, bugs, and other issues to no avail. KUT has offered its support to this tenant and found the correct LTB forms to fill out. KUT members also encouraged her to get additional legal help. Tenants should all be aware that they can apply to the LTB for an order to end their tenancy agreement early if the landlord has not met their obligations under the RTA.

NOTE: You can apply to end the tenancy agreement early if your landlord does any of the following (Source: Social Justice Tribunals Ontario):

  • is not maintaining the rental property
  • unlawfully enters the rental unit alters the locking system without giving you  replacement keys
  • withholds or deliberately interferes with a vital service
  • interferes with your reasonable enjoyment of the rental property 
  • harasses you
  • unreasonably withholds consent to assign or sublet the rental unit”

This was the second official meeting of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants. We discussed issues facing tenants in the city, actively searching and going back and forth for solutions to the problems we are facing. Some of the topics we discussed tonight were a little sensitive in nature, so I won’t go into the specifics of everything we talked about; After reading this, if you want to know more, please contact me via email to join our email list. I can give a fuller debriefing there if need be. Our next meeting is at Grad Club on July 22nd at 4:30 p.m.

Lessons from Herongate Tenant Coalition workshop

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in a community-led workshop about gentrification and the financialization of multi-unit rental housing. The workshop was hosted by our friends, Herongate Tenant Coalition, and was led by University of Waterloo Professor Martine August. I think this workshop was valuable for KUT members for a number of reasons, and—perhaps at some point in the near future—we should look to hold a similar kind of workshop to talk about Kingston multi-unit rental housing, specifically.

The presentation began with August providing us with a working definition of financialization and an unpacking of what constitutes a ‘gentrifier.’ Based on my memory, August used Aalbers (2016) definition of financialization to help attendees understand the kind of processes that are contributing to housing affordability crises around the world. According to Aalbers, “financialization refers to the increasing dominance of financial actors, markets, practices, measurements and narratives, at various scales, resulting in a structural transformation of economies, firms (including financial institutions), states and households.” As August and Walks (2018) point out, financialization is “marked by the increasing penetration of financial practices, logics, and strategies into non-financial sectors,” including housing. Additionally, to give us a broader historical context, I would argue that finance capital and processes of financialization come to be a ruling force only in times when production is concentrated to the point where oligopolies and monopolies are able to be formed. I’ll delve into this more in subsequent blog posts. 

August also provided a working outline, identifying prominent ‘gentrifiers.’ This include private equity firms, asset management companies, real estate investment trusts, and institutional investors. Gentrification can refer to a number of different things. In its initial usage, gentrification was a term used to describe unique patterns of urban change in London (Glass, 1964); “gentrification or ‘gentry-fication’ means the replacement of an existing population by a gentry” (Lees, Slater, and Wyly, 2008). Lees, Slater, and Wyly argue, somewhat boldly, that gentrification is a process that began in post-war capitalist countries (2008, pg. 5). Taken together, I think you can understand gentrification, generally, as the replacement of a poorer, sometimes racialized, community by a richer, most often ‘whiter’ community, generally composed of the “upper-middle” working class and the petit bourgeoisie. In Kingston, from the rallies I’ve attended and people I’ve spoken with, this process has been happening most viciously around the Skeleton Park communities; As students have poured into the city and sought places close to Queen’s University, working class families have been pushed further north, into communities that are over-policed and not as close to markets, stores, and other important resources. This is something that deserves more recognition and is a topic I will focus on in the future.

The most interesting part of the evening for me was the information that August presented in her slideshow. If I’ve jotted the information down correctly, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have gone from owning less than 20 000 units in 1999 to owning over 160 000 in 2017. Furthermore, the top 25 landlords collectively own over 300 000 suites in Canada, equivalent to 13 percent of the total housing stock (and, it should be noted, this number is rising every year).

How much the rise of REITs and other gentrifiers have impacted Kingston is obvious to those who have experienced it. That said, it would be beneficial for KUT to conduct research into Kingston’s housing stock and determine exactly how much of the 13 850 private apartment units are owned by the landlords listed in the top 25. In conjunction with this, it would behoove the movement to also gain a better understanding of where these big landlords own their property, and explore the types of jobs tenants in these units hold. This can be done in a rudimentary way by looking at Stats Canada tract data, but more in-depth research that surveys tenants will be much more useful in the long term. We’ve made some strides by beginning to chart this information via KUT’s Map of Grievances, but this work is far from over. By understanding and being able to relay the conditions of the working class to those interested in studying and improving housing, KUT may be able to make a qualitative and material difference to the lives of people living under the hegemony of finance capital. Kingston’s 0.6 percent vacancy rate is the lowest in the province, and rent has increased to an average of $1 181 per month. While there are certainly issues with supply and demand that can be addressed through conservative reforms, tenants must also strive to look beyond this superficial idea and connect the struggle to that of the working class. Improved wages, funding legal aid clinics, better healthcare, and other progressive changes like universal childcare are also important to materially changing the lives of people under this repressive system. But the struggle will also have to include a critique of our profit-driven system writ large if we are to come out from under the boot of capital’s dictates; A grassroots’-developed campaign for dual power—wherein the working class organizes to the point where they are positioned to take control from the capitalists whose world we currently live in—is becoming something that needs to be considered, in my opinion. How long are the people willing to wait for solutions? Why should the same people and institutions who’ve exacerbated housing issues be put in charge of solving them? How can we effectively mobilize and offer substantive pushback? Though I have thoughts on each of these questions, I will leave my ideas for another day.

Overall, August’s workshop was helpful in understanding the broader processes causing gentrification in areas across Canada. With about 12-15 of us in attendance, the discussion was lively and thought-provoking. I’d like to thank both Martine August and the organizers from Herongate Tenant Coalition for inviting me to attend. 

Grappling with Homestead – Why the AGI is not fair to tenants

Kingston tenants living at 42 Leroy Grant Drive were recently served with a notice indicating that their landlord, Homestead Land Holdings Limited, was applying for an above guideline increase (AGI). According to their application, Homestead is basing their argument in a provision within the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) that allows for above guideline increases in cases where “[t]here has been an extraordinary increase in the cost for municipal taxes and charges for the residential complex or any building in which the rental units are located.” As will be explained in this brief article, however, despite the City of Kingston increasing municipal taxes this year, an AGI for all 169 units in the building does not make ethical sense.

There is actually a decent amount of evidence to make this argument. First, we have the AGI notice that tenants were served with itself. Second, through an inquiry filed to the City of Kingston’s Taxation/tax levy  department, we are able to see how much increased taxes have cost Homestead. When you look at the information of both, as is explained in greater detail below, it seems as though Homestead is going above and beyond what is needed to cover the increase in municipal taxes. Though I am still hoping to run this past someone with a better understanding of the RTA, based on these documents we have, I think tenants should be able to prepare a strongly-argued defense against Homestead. However, tenants should be wary of the Landlord Tenant Board’s (LTB) ability to be compassionate.

On the “Notice of Written Hearing,” Homestead revealed that they receive $168 178.40 in rent payment from the 169 units covered by the application. Even if they hiked rent by 1.8 percent, which falls within the guidelines allowed by the RTA, they would receive an extra $3 027.21 per month, or $36 326.53 per year.

Doing math and figuring out what ‘extraordinary’ means

Note from the City of Kingston

Without an inquiry to figure out the tax levy, people may figure that this approximates with how much the municipal tax increase is costing the company. However, because we do have the amount paid in municipal taxes (see image above), we can see that these numbers do not add up: In 2019, Homestead owed $325, 688.74 to the city, a 4.47 percent increase from the $311 747.43 paid in 2018. So, despite the fact that Homestead is only paying $13 941.31 more in taxes, they are trying to extract MORE than $36 326.53 from tenants, which is the amount they could legally raise via the landlord-friendly 1.8 percent guideline mandated by the RTA. Where is the other $22 385.22 going? As tenants in the building have noted, services in the building have been cut. Surely Homestead should have to answer this basic question in a hearing, no?

With all this said, it is worth exploring what is meant by an “extraordinary” increase in taxes and charges. According to the LTB:

“An increase in costs for taxes is considered “extraordinary” if it is greater than the guideline plus 50% of the guideline. The guideline used to determine if the increase is extraordinary is the rent increase guideline for the calendar year in which the first rent increase requested in the application will take effect.”

What this means is that the guideline increase (1.8 percent) plus 50 percent of the guideline (0.9 percent) is less than the percent raised by municipal taxes (to figure this out, you take the sum of the 2019 municipal tax paid and divide it by the sum of the 2018 municipal tax paid). What this shows is that the year over year municipal tax increase between 2018 and 2019 amounts to 4.47 percent. Based on this, it appears as though Homestead, despite cutting building services and the fact that they will profit even without an AGI, may have a legal argument to make at the LTB hearing.

Interestingly, the percent of year-over-year taxes paid by Homestead has decreased from 2017, when they paid $294 506.32. In other words, the 2017-18 increase was 5.85 percent, whereas the increase between 2018-19 increase was only 4.47 percent. So why are tenants receiving the AGI now, when the municipal tax increase as a percentage is less than it was in the year previous? KUT will continue to investigate and report.

In the view of the author, the LTB largely operates as a procedural mechanism that makes no ethical or normative judgements; though this mechanism does tend to reproduce the dominant ideology of liberalism, the LTB only makes its assessments based on how the specifics contained within a set of laws interprets a given issue. To the LTB, it likely does not matter that even the 1.8 percent increase goes above and beyond what is needed to maintain the building. It is important that tenants go beyond placing faith in the LTB, and that they mobilize around issues of justice and morality. The current judicial system fetishizes private property, favouring those who are owners over the tenants who actually fund the building, whose rent goes towards paying bills, upkeep and maintenance (and a few already-wealthy landlords). In no way does a court decision mean a particular situation is just, it just means that it is legal. Though I will do everything I can to help with the response to Homestead’s AGI application, we also need to expose the inherent unfairness of landlord-tenant relationships to the public; Landlord’s accrue wealth at expense of the tenant, who see their home as a place of survival, not as a money-maker. KUT needs to do more research and find out where we can best spend our energy to create a more equitable and just system for tenants.

AGI has tenants wondering how they will make ends meet

“This is a systematic attack on the under-educated and [those who are] low-income… It illustrates the greed involved with Homestead”

Tenant at 42 Leroy Grant Drive.

Despite reports that services have been cut majorly over the past year, tenants at a big apartment building in Kingston are seeing their rent increased above the 1.8 percent guideline set by the province. Citing an extraordinarily high municipal tax increase, Homestead Land Holdings Limited has applied for an above guideline increase (AGI) to the 169-unit building at 42 Leroy Grant Drive.

This has left some in the building confused and angry, wondering how they and their neighbours are going to make ends meet.

“My rent will likely go up $40 a month,” says a resident in the building. “That is substantial.”

“I’d like to know who is going to explain this notice to my Syrian refugee neighbours, or the guy with Parkinson’s down the hall.”

The proposed AGI by Homestead isn’t unique to this building. Three weeks ago, tenants in 65-unit 154 The Parkway apartment complex received a notice from Homestead that they too would be facing an AGI. Unfortunately, Katarokwi Union of Tenants (KUT) suspects that more AGIs are on the way.

According to Homestead’s own documents, the company currently receives more than $169 000 in rent payment per month from this building alone. Though KUT does not have the specifics, if the people living in all 169-units are forced to pay even $35 more in rent per month, this rent hike will increase Homestead’s revenue by around $71 000 per year. It is unclear how much more Homestead will be paying in municipal taxes this year.

This past February, the City of Kingston announced that they would increase municipal taxes by 2.5 percent. According to the rules of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), a landlord can only make an AGI application in three situations:

  1. There has been an extraordinary increase in the cost for municipal taxes and charges for the residential complex or any building in which the rental units are located. See RTA s. 2(1), s.126(1).1, s.126(2) and O.Reg 516/06, s.28, s.29 and s. 41;
  2. The landlord has eligible capital expenses (extraordinary or significant renovation, repair, replacement or new addition the expected benefit of which extends for at least five years) for the residential complex or one or more of the rental units in it. Tenants who began their tenancy after the capital expenditure was completed cannot be included in this application. See RTA s.126(1).2,126(7),126(8),126(9) and O.Reg 516/06, s.18, s.26-28;
  3. The landlord has experienced operating costs related to security services provided in respect of the residential complex or any building in which the rental units are located by persons not employed by the landlord for the first time or the costs have increased. See RTA s.126(1).3 and O.Reg 516/06, s. 30.

As mentioned, Homestead is arguing that they are eligible for the AGI because of “an extraordinary increase in the cost of municipal taxes.” According to the RTA, an “extraordinary increase” means extraordinary increase as defined by or determined in accordance with the regulations. It is somewhat ambiguous, and KUT is making the effort to find out exactly how much Homestead paid in municipal taxes at 42 Leroy Grant Drive in the past few years. Anyone with knowledge about this is encouraged to reach out to KUT via email: kcut.info@gmail.com.

This said, debating over the merits of the tax increase is a deceitful game that only legitimizes the role of real estate developers and property management companies who profit from an inherently unjust system. Generally speaking, the working class does not care about the neoliberal logic involved in determining whether Homestead ‘deserves’ this AGI increase. The idea that Homestead should be allowed to extract a surplus from people’s homes is laughable on its face. The working class cares about the continual material degeneration of their livelihood. Those who are being asked to fork over more money for a corporation’s benefit struggle to see the fairness in this arrangement. Kingston is facing an acute housing shortage, which allows landlords to jack up rent prices as high as the market will bear. Its simply untenable, and something needs to be done about it.

But this shouldn’t lead us down a rabbit hole debating supply and demand economics. Simply increasing the supply of housing may make things more affordable in the short term, but, in the end, another housing crisis will proliferate. To think in these terms relegates the debate to the realm of exchange without looking at how our political economy is produced. The real struggle is rooted in the logic of ownership itself; why should one small class of people own and control the economic well-being over those who only have their labour to sell? Why is it that the people who contribute most to the city — the people who make our food, who wait on us in restaurants, who build our buildings, who drive us home safely after a night of drinking, or who do any other kind of working class job — suffer the most? This is a big question; I would like Homestead officials and city councillors to try and answer. It is this debate which people should be talking about.

To be sure, though, KUT will applaud any effort made to immediately make life more affordable and liveable for the working class in the city. There are reforms that can be made in the relatively near future that can be done as a show of good faith by our politicians: we want more rent-geared-to-income housing, rent-freezes, more shelter space, housing people on the social housing list, a mandatory minimum wage increase, and more social programs that increase the quality of life for those who can’t afford certain products or other things that improve well-being. These kinds of steps are imperative; the livelihood of people is at stake, and politicians must not only recognize this, but actually do something to help us.

Rental Housing Index illustrates the situation we are in quite well: for those who earn $22 000/year or less, a one bedroom apartment in the city will take up around 60 percent of your hard-earned money. For those earning between $22 000 and $39 000 a year, a one bedroom apartment, on average, takes 36 percent of your monthly income. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation guidelines suggest that anything more than 30 percent of income going towards rent is deemed unaffordable. So, even by their standards, the situation in Kingston is dire.

Tenants have to fight back against the predicament we find ourselves in. More and more real estate developers intend on gentrifying the city. There are many plans to re-zone and start building more unaffordable high-rises, too (like this story, for example). As another author notes,

“In 2009, Ulster County adopted the Three County Housing Assessment Needs Study, which stipulated that to meet the affordable housing gap, the City of Kingston would need to build 1,005 units of affordable housing by 2020. Since that report was published, the city has only added 55 units of affordable housing.'”

For now, tenants across the city should band together to fight the proposed AGI wherever possible. For those living in 42 Leroy Grant Drive, they have until June 15th to file responses to the application. KUT is happy to help any and all tenants who require more information or who would like help organizing and mobilizing people for their eventual Landlord Tenant Board meeting.

In the mean time, please join KUT’s Facebook group, which serves as a place of solidarity and organizing for those interested in making Kingston a more liveable and equitable place to be. People are also encouraged to send information about AGI’s, eviction notices, and unfixed repairs to our KUT team, so that we can update our KUT Map of Grievances. Send emails to kcut.info@gmail.com.

May 6th Tenants Meeting

Meeting Minutes

The first official meeting of the Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants (KUT) took place on May 6th, 2019. Attendees gathered to answer a number questions, such as: 1) What does victory look like in the short-, medium-, and long-term?; 2) How should our group increase public awareness?; 3) What kinds of methods are going to be  useful in acquiring information and disseminating knowledge?; and 4) What funds are we going to need as an organization to achieve our goals? Though we were not able to answer all of these questions directly, the meeting was productive and some progress was made.

People brought forward different ideas and potential projects that the KUT could focus on. One of our members discussed the struggle they were facing against their current landlord, who was using an N12 notice to remove her from her home. Another member mentioned the Homestead project at Caruthers Wharf, mentioning that they had heard how tenants there were feeling helpless and confused about an upcoming AGI rent increase. Apparently Homestead is claiming that they need to raise rent above guidelines because the tax break they had received for the past ten years from the city was coming to an end. KCUT members might also be interested in this story, in which a tenant in a 65-unit Homestead-owned building has vowed to fight an AGI that did not specify how much the rent would be increased by. Though tenants have not organized yet, we may be able to help them moving forward. There was also a spirited discussion about the former nun’s residence at 7 Wright Crescent; According to reports, the “Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to sell their 1960s-era low-rise nun’s residence to the city on the condition that affordable housing will be included in a future redevelopment.” We discussed the viability of direct action, and while no firm conclusion was made, it seems as though the general sense was that we were a little too late to make a long term difference with this particular project.

Members proposed that KUT form a working committee with three different, yet interrelated, branches, focusing soon outreach, research, and help/physical work. Briefly, these units would work as following: those doing outreach work would answer emails from frustrated tenants in the city and help raise public awareness through social media, door knocking, pamphlet distributing at high traffic areas, come up with fundraising initiatives etc.; those tasked with doing research would do mapping work, do some ‘digging’ at the land registry office, interview tenants, and other systematic investigation; those who opt to ‘help’ would agree to help tenants move, assist with basic repair work, and lend a hand wherever necessary. Though this division of labour was well received, there was no formal arrangement made. Arguably, this is something that should be firmed up in the coming weeks, as we can coordinate within different groups to start setting goals and an agenda.

To the best of the author’s recollection, it was also agreed that KUT would develop a pamphlet that included a list of demands, information about tenants rights, our contact information, and the like. When the shared drive for KUT becomes available, this pamphlet will be able to be worked on as a collective, but we should also think long and hard about the specifics we would like to see, as there is only so much room. Finally, it was agreed that KUT would require a website, a Facebook page, an email address, and a shared Google drive. This will all be available in the next few days. Though the next meeting was scheduled for May 20th, the Grad Club was closed and so the meeting was postponed. Please stay tuned via email for updates about the next scheduled meeting. If you are not part of our email chain, please send an email to kcut.info@gmail.com. You can also join our Facebook group discussion