Feds announce ambitious plan to build 250K homes on public lands

Michelle Dorey Forestell
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Government of Canada is opening up its portfolio of properties to provide land for the building of more homes for Canadians.

The Public Lands for Homes Plan was announced in Kingston today, Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2024, when Kamal Khera, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities, was in the city to meet with Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands. The announcement occurred over the noon hour after the minister toured 1318 Princess Street, one of the City’s nearly complete mixed-income housing projects sponsored by Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation in Kingston.

The minister said she was “very pleased to be here in Kingston to highlight one of the most ambitious parts of our plan: the Public Lands For Homes Plan in Budget 2024.”

Khera drew attention to the housing plan released last week by the federal Minister of Housing and the Prime Minister, saying, “It’s very simple. It’s focused on three main things: first, building more homes faster; second, making it easier to rent and own a home; and third, helping those who can’t afford a home.”

“Our new housing plan will break down significant barriers to the construction of new homes, notably the scarcity and high cost of land,” Khera explained, noting that unlocking 250,000 new homes by 2031 through the new Public Lands for Homes Plan will directly benefit Canadians here and across the country.

To accomplish this, Khera said the federal government would be “using all tools available to convert public lands to housing” — which would include “leasing, acquiring other public lands for housing, and retaining ownership, whenever possible. As we identify lands under this process, we will listen, of course, to the community members to ensure that we are delivering solutions that meet the needs and expectations of communities right across this country. When it comes to building more affordable homes for Canadians, we will leave no stone unturned.”

She shared plans to build homes on Canada Post properties by enabling Canada Post to prioritize leasing or divesting properties and lands with high potential for housing. Similarly, the government will be building homes on Department of National Defence lands by exploring the redevelopment of properties that could be suitable for both military and civilian uses, divesting 14 surplus properties with housing potential, and building and renovating housing for Canadian Armed Forces personnel on bases.

Plans are also underway, she said, to convert underused federal offices into homes, with $1.1 billion being invested over 10 years to transform 50 per cent of the federal office portfolio into housing. Khera explained this would save $3.9 billion over the next ten years, with $0.9 billion per year in ongoing savings — allowing more office buildings, particularly in urban areas, to be converted into homes for Canadians.

Khera also pointed to other “key measures” to make housing more affordable and available: implementing the new Canada Rental Protection Fund, enhancing the Canadian Mortgage Charter, and creating a new Canadian Renters’ Bill of Rights.

“Budget 2024 is a plan to deliver fairness for every generation,” said Khera. “This is the fairness that Canada is working towards: the opportunity for every Canadian, regardless of age, ability, or intersectionality, to have a safe, accessible, and affordable place to call home.”

Gerretsen said today’s announcement underscores the “groundbreaking impact Budget 2024 will have on Kingston.” Through the government’s conversion of public lands, he said, “our community will gain access to safe, accessible, and affordable housing. This marks a transformative step toward ensuring that even more Kingstonians have the opportunity to achieve home ownership, making our city a place everyone can truly call home.”

Budget 2024 will also make Canada’s tax system fairer, said Gerretsen, by asking the wealthiest Canadians, “the less than one per cent, to pay a bit more so that the government can provide opportunities for generations to come.” 

The Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation housing project that hosted the announcement will include 92 units: 40 market housing units and 52 non-market units to support residents with rents ranging from rent-geared-to-income levels to 80 per cent of the average market rent. In addition, Kingston Co-operative Homes Inc. is preparing to construct a 38-unit affordable housing project adjacent to this site.