Housing is booming in Kitchener, and much of that housing is not detached homes, but apartments and multiple housing.
In 2016, Kitchener issued building permits for 2,417 new residential units, the second highest level in the past 30 years and almost double the number issued the previous year, when the city issued permits for 1,323 units.
The data, in the newest report on growth trends in Kitchener, shows that most of that housing was multi-residential — just over 60 per cent of the units were townhouses and apartments.
Although planners caution that housing data can spike and dip, the trend appears to hold true over the longer term: the average number of multi-residential homes being built each year has gradually been creeping up over the past 20 years.
The increase in multis doesn’t mean the end of single-family homes: 35 per cent of the units for which permits were issued in 2016 were single detached houses.
But it does suggest a greater range of housing types. Suburbs that are a uniform swath of single-family homes are likely a thing of the past.
In newer subdivisions in the city’s southwest, notes Coun. Paul Singh, “you have stacked townhouses, detached homes and you have semis, pretty much on the same street. It adds a greater diversity of housing stock, so that you give more options to people. A detached home may not be an option for some in terms of affordability, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to live on that street.”
The report also shows that especially downtown, intensification is well, intensifying.
In the year since the last report, the density in the downtown has increased from 180 people living or working downtown to 187 jobs and residents per hectare. The city’s target is to see 225 residents and jobs per hectare by 2031.
At a recent committee meeting, Coun. John Gazzola wondered whether the city needs to ease its efforts to encourage greater density. “In a way, it seems we’re moving faster that we’re required to (under provincial and regional plans). With so many things facing us, do we ever stop to say maybe we’re growing a little too fast?”
Singh, who chairs the city’s planning committee, says intensification makes sense for a couple of reasons. Boosting the number of people living and working downtown “brings vibrancy and life, so that King Street doesn’t look so dead after five o’clock,” Singh said.
Building more homes and offices downtown, where there is already infrastructure — transit, water pipes, schools and community centres — saves money too, he said. “If we build outwards we’re building new roads, new community centres, new parks … In the long term it’s the taxpayer base that supports that: snow clearing, managing our community centres, our parks.
“Are they (residents) comfortable paying more for services as we build out? We can hardly manage to pay for the infrastructure that we have right now.”
The city aims to ensure that intensification happens in a planned way, in areas that can handle the extra population, said city planner Lauren Nelson. “It’s important that we’re directing growth to the appropriate places.”
That means most of the intensification goes downtown and along the LRT corridor, she said, to ensure that low-rise, established neighbourhoods are protected.
“We’re looking for a balance, and that’s something that the numbers are showing us,” Nelson said, noting that permits for major developments were issued across the city, on Highland Road and Homer Watson Boulevard as well as in the core.
The city’s long-term plans are to create neighbourhoods that are walkable, well served by transit, and with plenty of nearby services as well as schools, parks and community centres, Nelson said.
That’s why Kitchener is developing more detailed plans for each of the areas around LRT stops that will work to ensure there are enough parks, transit, parking and other infrastructure to support the added growth. The proposal for the Midtown area near K-W Hospital, for instance, calls for more public open spaces and parks and more underground and shared parking to reduce the need for surface lots and clogged on-street parking.
“We’re making sure the infrastructure can accommodate that growth,” Nelson said.