Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design! I’m Steve Fudge and I’m celebrating my 31st year as a realtor and property consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
If you’re creative and part of the shelter industry like me, little is more exciting than the opportunity afforded by starting with a fresh blank canvas when it comes to housing. And with a long-time lack of housing supply – particularly when it comes to shelter for the missing middle – leveraging one’s creative spirit with a potential development site can also help achieve multiple housing goals at once.
Especially because I believe the best housing is designed function first, and that means being able to create space that is intelligent, thoughtful, and suitable for the people who will occupy it. This is particularly exciting because Toronto will soon allow new zoning as-of-right like this CBC story describes “Why A 4-Storey Apartment Could Be Coming To A Residential Street Near You“.
Not too long ago the City of Toronto recently completed its Multiplex Study as one component of the City’s Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) initiative. This study focuses on permitting multiplexes – residential buildings containing up to four units – across Toronto’s low-rise neighbourhoods. Finally, within a few weeks building up to 4 units (including partially below-grade) will become as-of-right in Toronto’s Yellowbelt areas that predominantly contain single-family dwellings.
This is also occurring because of new directives mandated by the Provincial Government to accelerate the housing supply that, despite being against many urban ratepayers’ wishes, expands the number of options available to create more residential units. Just as we now have Laneway Housing & Garden Suites, since 2018 and 2022 respectively, creating more units in areas traditionally limited to single-family residences will help alleviate the supply crunch.
Tearing Down, Rebuilding Monster Homes
I won’t deny my jaw can drop in both delight and horror when I see residences built for the rich. In fact, I recently posted a piece about the lifecycle of neighbourhoods and houses by showcasing –> Gaudy Or Grand: Behind The Doors Of Multi-Million Dollar Mansions In Bridle Path & St Andrews-Windfields (Plus Lessons On The Lifecycles Of Neighbourhoods & Houses)
However, as marvelous as these may be they do little to help with the creation of a housing supply. Furthermore, their high price tags accelerate property values in surrounding areas, which ultimately creates affordability problems for the rest of the population. This is predominantly because the City’s zoning policies have restricted the land in single-family areas from being redeveloped to serve the needs of our growing population. Instead of creating multiple residences on the same site that are more affordable for the current and future generations, in the quest to ‘preserve the character of a neighbourhood’ ratepayers have intentionally or unintentionally ensured the areas they live in are ‘exclusive and exclusionary’.
The Yellowbelt Areas: The Past & The Future
Although single-family properties in Yellowbelt Neighbourhoods will soon be able to be redeveloped to have as many as four residences, I do want to point out that there are many City of Toronto dwellings that already have more than one unit. Many residences have basement apartments, of which most are not legal but the City casts a blind eye as, by and large, it’s the most affordable private rental housing stock available.
Furthermore, a lot of dwellings originally constructed to be single-family dwellings were converted by different immigrant groups relocating to Toronto pre-1960. As I write in Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate, many dwellings are listed as being duplexes, triplexes, or more units because they were used as such for many decades before modern urban planning zoning practices became policy. Today, city records may list a property as having a ‘legal non-conforming use’ designation that is different from the area’s zoning. These properties – whatever their designation may be – can typically have that use continued indefinitely, but this does not mean the property complies with current Building and Fire Codes.
Furthermore, in the past decade, we’ve seen a trend in Toronto whereby Single Family Houses Are Being Replaced By Boutique Condo Townhomes which has been a clever approach to intensify and densify the city although the legal costs to create a condominium are an additional $40,000 to $50,000 more than building a freehold residence.
As I wrote in Toronto Real Estate, Yellowbelt Zoning & The Missing Middle: Part One and Part Two: We are talking about a significant amount of land, and a large opportunity for redevelopment here. The Yellowbelt comprises 1.8 times more space than the land area of all other high-density residential zones in the area. It totals 70 percent of all the residentially zoned land in Toronto, where prices for a property are generally in excess of $1,000,000 for a detached dwelling. And, as long as this restrictive zoning in yellowbelt neighbourhoods is preserved, exacerbated by the height restrictions in the limited areas that permit mid and high-rise housing, property values are guaranteed to continue their price appreciation in Toronto because it is constraining supply with policy. And as we well know in a city that has seen significant population growth, when supply is not meeting demand, prices go up.
It’s not just about creating housing inequality by pricing people out of the market; it is excluding the missing middle from easily accessing our city’s most established and venerated urban amenities. These yellowbelt neighbourhoods are rich in their history with reputable schools, recreational spaces, cultural amenities, green spaces, village shops, and convenient public transportation, all of which improve the quality of life. Without affordable housing options in these areas, the missing middle is being marginalized to less central locations which tend to lack the same quality of services.
And also important to note, is that these single-family homes in these areas are of a certain age that they will soon (if they have not already) require significant repair or replacement to be viable, so theoretically a lot of this construction/renovation will soon be underway anyways. Furthermore, as I write in The History Of East York & Toronto Real Estate – Featuring Holborne Avenue, lot severances have been allowed to create two residences on a lot that had previously housed one, so the spirit of multi-unit residences is there.
A Shift In Homebuyer Profiles
Over generations, housing shifts to act as a commentary of the demographic of the day. Whereas a home may have been occupied by a single family in generations past, through affordability challenges, demographic, behavioural and lifestyle changes, who occupies a home, along with what a home physically looks like has shifted.
Our aging population is one of the drivers of these trends, with more focus on aging in place at home, with the sizeable and influential Boomer segment prioritizing this. Furthermore, the sheer cost of housing is such that many families are living together because they have no option. Also, many immigrant cultures consider multi-generational housing just how it’s done. It’s how they grow their wealth and take care of future generations. Because of this, multi-generational housing is on the rise in Canada, as it provides a multitude of benefits, from help with affordability, to help with child care to help with aging parents as I discuss in my post –> Multi-Generational Living Is Trending In Toronto.
And, although I recognize we’re tired of talking about the pandemic, it’s had a huge impact on Long Term Care Homes. I also believe As We Start Calculating The Impact Of Covid-19, The Failure Of Government To Care For Its Senior Citizens Becomes Apparent because the Ford government is not proactively changing our Building Code to mitigate against airborne viruses. Because of this, I suspect more Ontarians will explore different housing options for ageing-in place.
The Power Of Four
And while one home provides a blank canvas for great possibilities, that potential expands significantly with four residences. In a four-unit redevelopment scenario, there lies an exceptional opportunity. It’s perfect for multi-generational living, with three generations living independently under one roof. Best of both worlds for lifestyle and real estate investment.
It also creates the opportunity for four friends to age in place together by maintaining some autonomy, with four separate, but connected residences.
Or it could be an excellent investment property. Better still, invest the capital at the time of redevelopment to allow each suite to be separately deeded. By developing it as a four-unit condominium, you could sell the suites over time as required, and surround yourself with your chosen family.
It satisfies today’s goals and tomorrow’s as well.
We’ve long recommended that the highest and best use of any site is one where the property is an ‘accordion dwelling’, meaning that it could be used as a Single-Family Dwelling, or by locking doors it could instantly become multi-units. The permutations and possibilities are staggering!
Our Listing At 5 Holborne Avenue: A Property With Endless Possibilities – NOW SOLD!
Listed recently for the first time since it was constructed by the family in 1922, this property is well-situated on the preferred south side of a quiet avenue that does not directly intersect with Coxwell Avenue, which means traffic is predominantly local and limited. And yet, it is lickety-split commuter-friendly by foot, bike, or public transportation being just one block east of Coxwell Avenue (and the East York Civic Centre), two blocks north of Mortimer Avenue (and Michael Garron Hospital), and two blocks south of Cosburn Avenue (and East York Collegiate).
The property comprises a 2-bedroom bungalow of just over 700 square feet with a small shed and private drive situated on a generous lot with dimensions of approximately 30.8 x 102.5 feet or a total of 3160 square feet of land according to Land Registry. It is feasible that the new owner could go to the Committee of Adjustment and apply for minor variance approvals to construct a residence totaling 3160 square feet above grade plus a lower level of a similar size. This could translate into 4 floors of 1050 square feet each (including common areas) which would allow for four 3-bedroom residences.
The City likes dwellings to be no longer than 55 feet long and 27 feet tall. Following these mandates, one could construct a dwelling 19 feet wide and retain the existing private driveway to run along the east side of the dwelling, if required.
While this property is now sold, if you’re seeking a property that could be developed into a Multi-Unit residence, contact firstname.lastname@example.org!
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