Tag Archives: planning

Toronto explores laneway homes as a solution to the housing crunch

Laneway homes could be a solution to Toronto's housing crisis, advocates say. The city is holding public consultations about this.

Laneway homes could be a solution to Toronto’s housing crisis, advocates say. The city is holding public consultations about this. (CBC News)

The solution to Toronto’s housing affordability crisis could be found in your own backyard.

In response to skyrocketing home prices, the city’s looking to loosen the bylaws around developing one of its few sources of underused land: laneways.

A proposal went to public consultation Monday, exploring the possibility of letting homeowners build a secondary suite on the edge of a property leading into a laneway.

But don’t call your realtor just yet.

Those smaller homes wouldn’t be for sale, said Alex Sharpe, one of the co-founders of the policy groups co-ordinating the public discussion.

“It’s not going to create a whole new crop of cheap houses that people can buy,” said Sharpe, who lives in one of the city’s few legal laneway homes and runs a group called Lanescape.

Laneway Toronto house

Alex Sharpe lives in a laneway home in Toronto and is the co-founder of Lanescape, which looks at the development of laneways. (CBC News)

Instead, it would build on the idea of a basement apartment. A laneway home would have more natural light, but unlike a basement apartment there would be more privacy because the backyard acts as a buffer between the main home and secondary suite, Sharpe said.

In theory, the move could benefit both Toronto’s renters and homeowners.

For property owners, it translates into an extra unit to cover the mortgage and house adult children or relatives. But it’s also a way to cool down the long-term rental market, which has seen supply shrink alongside the rise of AirBNB, studies have found.

“We view laneways as an opportunity to expand the supply of units in existing residential neighbourhoods,” Sharpe said. “They have the services, [they] have the infrastructure, the transit and they’re well-connected.

Media placeholder

Play Media

Toronto laneway home owner1:06

“We’ve had a shortage of housing in Toronto in the last number of years and it’s growing in intensity because we’ve run out of land.”

Tiny home fever

Laneway homes may be new to Toronto, but Vancouver’s city council gave landowners the green light to start building them in 2009. Regina and Ottawa have also followed suit.

In fact, Vancouver actually provides a how-to guide to residents that includes potential floor plans for the tiny homes.

Toronto city councillors Ana Bailao and Mary-Margaret McMahon say laneways could be critical to the future of the city’s development.

Laneway Toronto

Sharpe lives in a laneway home with two bedrooms and a streamlined design. (CBC News)

McMahon represents Ward 32, Beaches-East York, where she said there’s a concern about the effect that high-rises would have on streetscapes.

“So this is a very measured approach to density,” she said of the laneway discussions. “We have concerns about privacy creep and what-not so you’re not going to see the Taj Mahal of four-storey laneway home; it’s going to be in keeping with the character of the neighbourhoods.”

Laneways rejected before

Toronto city staff cited privacy concerns — that secondary homes might overlook their neighbour’s backyards or cast shadows — among their reasons in a 2006 report that recommended against allowing laneway housing.

Uncertainty about how to deliver public services like garbage pick-up, barriers to emergency access and the possibility that residential properties would be subdivided also killed the idea from going ahead at the time.

Ana Bailao

Coun. Ana Bailao says that laneway homes are no different than allowing a property owner to rent out a basement suite. (CBC News)

But the current plan at the public debate would see all public services delivered from the front of the property, in the same way that it’s done for rental suites, Coun. Bailao said.

“We already have basement apartments in the city of Toronto,” said the Ward 18, Davenport councillor. “All we’re saying is maybe we should allow it at the back of the houses as well.”

Consultations are also happening within the planning departments about those changes and there’s a push to name the city’s laneways so that first responders would be able to navigate them more easily, she said.

Province supports laneways

And, unlike in 2006, laneway advocates now have the support of Ontario law.

The province made changes to its Planning Act in 2011, when it introduced new legislation that requires municipalities to “establish official plan policies and zoning bylaw provisions” for secondary units — including those for laneways.

“The policy at the province level is disjointed from the local level,” Sharpe said, something he said he hopes the public consultations will change.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Beware of ‘transportation mortgage’ when moving to suburbs: planner

Port Mann Bridge

A new analysis of living costs in Metro Vancouver is raising serious doubts about whether opting for a cheaper home in the suburbs actually saves families money.

According to Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s city program, people who move out to the suburbs can end up spending far more on transportation than their Vancouver neighbours.

Using Statistics Canada data from 2011, Yan calculated that Langley residents will spend $563,755 over 25 years on transportation, while Vancouverites will spend $298,459.

That’s a difference of $265,296 over two-and-a-half decades.

“It’s the transportation mortgage. It’s the possible costs that could be involved in adding transportation toward your housing costs,” Yan said.

Factoring in those amortized transportation costs makes a dramatic difference in the million-dollar line, which separates the area of Metro Vancouver where most single-family homes are worth more than $1 million.

“The million dollar line is now somewhere on the border of New Westminster, Port Moody and Coquitlam,” Yan said.

In Langley, fewer than one per cent of single-family homes currently cost more than $1 million. If you include transportation, however, that number jumps to 73 per cent, according to Yan’s data.

But even if the moves don’t necessarily save much money, some who have headed to the suburbs argue they had few other options.

Jeremy Wee told CTV News he took the increased transportation costs into account when his family decided to move into a townhouse in Pitt Meadows, and they’re very happy with their choices.

“We found beautiful homes – new homes! – that we could actually bid on,” said Wee, who continues to commute into Vancouver.

“I love where I live, and I love where I work.”

Source: CTV Vancouver  Published Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tagged , , , ,

Architecture for the ages

Architects Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed a house that could easily shift to accommodate children, future renters and, one day, their golden years.

Architects Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed a house that could easily shift to accommodate children, future renters and, one day, their golden years.

Young adults are getting squeezed out of the housing market. Their parents, meanwhile, want to downsize without leaving familiar neighbourhoods. The solution couldn’t be simpler to a growing group of designers: Rethink (and rebuild) the family home to suit several generations for the long haul.

When a strange young man entered her bedroom, Kelly Rossiter wasn’t entirely surprised. “He had had a bit too much to drink,” says Rossiter, who lives in Toronto, “and had gotten lost on the way to the front door.”

On the way, that is, from a party at her daughter’s place; Rossiter and her husband Lloyd Alter live below their daughter Emma, now 28, in a 1913 house that’s been split into two apartments. The door that links the suites in their home is usually left unsecured. “But after that night, I began locking the door whenever she had a party,” Rossiter says.

That incursion was a “rare hiccup” for the three family members, who occupy the same house that Alter, 63, and Rossiter, 57, have inhabited since 1984. Recently, instead of trading it for a condo in another area, they hired David Colussi of Workshop Architecture to divide the rambling building into a duplex. Now they live in a suite in the first floor and basement; Emma is upstairs with her fiancé and a roommate.

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

 

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

 

Like a growing number of Canadians approaching retirement, Alter and Rossiter have taken a creative approach to the architecture of the “empty nest.” Rapidly rising housing prices – particularly in Toronto and Vancouver – are squeezing the middle-class expectation of home ownership for young adults. At the same time, their parents, people such as Alter and Rossiter, are not always eager to move into apartment living or to give up on the advantages of a familiar neighbourhood.

Rather than moving house, why not reshape our houses to fit us?

Such adaptability can be built into a house’s architecture. One example is the Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects: Their clients, a Toronto couple in their 30s with a young son, decided to move in with the husband’s parents. They built a bespoke house that would accommodate them all together with rental income – and then change, multiple times, as the family’s needs evolve through the decades.

“The ingredients for this kind of house,” explains partner Betsy Williamson of Williamson Chong, “are spaces that are discrete yet flexible.”

The Triple Double, at about 3,200 square feet plus basement, sits on a corner; it is a three-bedroom, three-bath home which spills across three levels – and abuts rental space located on the ground floor and in the basement. The tenant space can be configured as one or two apartments; half or all of it can also be joined to the main house with the removal of cabinets or wall sections. In addition, one of the house’s bedrooms can be closed off as a semi-private area for the older residents. In time, the architects imagine that the house could take many different configurations; for instance, one or both of the grandparents might move into the main floor rental space.

The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners' needs evolve through the decades.

 

The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners' needs evolve through the decades.

 

The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners’ needs evolve through the decades.

 

From the architects’ point of view, such adaptability is fairly easy to design. The house’s heating and ventilation systems can be separately controlled in each of three potential units; extra sound insulation provides a buffer of privacy. But the biggest consideration is, as Williamson explains it, a matter of space. “You need rooms,” she says. “You need rooms that are closed off that can be opened up to each other.”

This logic can be applied to houses that don’t have the scale or the unusual geometry of the Triple Double project. Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman of LGAArchitectural Partners, who are married and have two children, designed their own house a decade ago, when they were in their early 50s. “When we moved in, we had teenagers,” Goodman explains, “so we tried to figure out, what kind of house would work for that age of our family and what would work after that?”

‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’

‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’

 

‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’

 

The first need was privacy: Their kids wanted their own space, and they got it in the basement, which is high (the windows start three feet off the ground) and has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room, plus generous windows.

That basement has room and the plumbing rough-ins for a kitchen; it also has a space for a front door and staircase which is, for now, buried under soil in the garden. (“We thought, if we give the kids their own door when they are 14 or 15 years old, we’ll never see them,” Goodman explains.) Now the kids have moved out, and the couple is preparing to rent that space out, providing a source of income.

And the upper levels, with about 1,600 square feet, two bedrooms, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago. Goodman says he and Levitt are happy to reduce their ecological footprint, and simply don’t need any more space.

There is a lesson in this: Design matters. Levitt and Goodman are excellent architects, and their house is efficiently planned to be comfortable and adaptable despite its relatively modest size. “It’s important to think about what you’re building for,” Goodman says, “not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?”

The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman's house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.

The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman's house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.

 

The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman’s house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.

 

That raises the question of old age and a potential loss of physical mobility. Levitt and Goodman will live, still, on two levels; this goes against the emerging wisdom of “retirement communities,” in which people are choosing to retire to houses that are often on one level and wheelchair-accessible. Kelly Rossiter and Lloyd Alter have likewise chosen to live on two floors.

But is that even a problem? Alter, who is a writer on design and sustainability and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University, argues passionately that being located in a walkable neighbourhood, served by transit and connected to neighbours, is what matters as one ages.

“Older people, when they move into single-family houses in subdivisions, they’re setting themselves up for failure,” he says. “It’s a hell of a lot likelier that they’ll lose their keys before they lose their ability to walk up the stairs.

“This is one solution: this re-intensification of our neighbourhoods.”

Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.

Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.

 

Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.

 

As Alter correctly points out, the conversion of houses into apartments (and back again) is nothing new – especially in Toronto, where such ad hoc adaptations have always provided a major portion of the city’s rental housing. But for upper-middle-class families, they now make sense. “Now we’re going into a generational change where the kids don’t have enough money,” Alter says, “and the parents have the house and don’t need it.

That idea drives much of the business for the Vancouver design-build firm Lanefab, which specializes in energy-efficient laneway houses. Since the city made zoning changes in 2009 to allow such projects (small new houses in the backyards of existing houses), the firm has worked with clients who are house-rich, aging, and ready to simplify their lives.

“If you’ve got an 80-year-old house in Vancouver, being able to move into a new building that’s energy-efficient – that’s appealing,” says Lanefab’s Mat Turner. “They can stay in their neighbourhood, in a house that’s custom-designed for them.”

This sort of promising equation may be enough to break some middle-class expectations about dwelling and family. Alter and Rossiter, with their upstairs-downstairs living in Toronto, are finding that their friends love the idea. “People come, they see it, and they say, ‘I’d love to do this,’” Alter reports. “‘If I could ever get my kids to go for it.’”

 

Source: ALEX BOZIKOVIC The Globe and Mail: Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How city planning impacts real estate prices

City planning is an often misunderstood topic entrenched in the everyday decisions that real estate professionals make. This is because city planning can take years, if not decades and centuries, to complete. Each city planning decision has a profound impact on how cities are shaped and, as a result, how real estate values are influenced.

With the exception of the rudimentary Simcoe Plan created in 1793, the concept of city planning didn’t really gain traction until the 1940s. This is one reason that Toronto was such an unorganized mess in the 1900s. There was no plan for growth, no frameworks for transportation, and no guides on how cities should be designed and constructed. Even the streetcar network, which was built between 1870 and 1930, was a result of Toronto becoming a more industrialized manufacturing city and not down to planning policy. 

So, the city took shape due to private landowners who created streets and avenues leading up to their buildings (how selfish of them). Of course, if something is left to the private sector, they will create a solution in the most economic and efficient way possible. This is why Toronto is based on a grid network with little greenspace.

After World War II, Toronto’s postwar growth strategy focused on the future of cars and highways, which created the suburbs all around Toronto. The automobile, as well as planned infrastructure, allowed cities to grow horizontally (urban sprawl) rather than vertically. In economic terms, the supply of land was able to keep up with the demand for housing. Thus, home prices stayed in line with average household income.

Fast forward to today as more and more people are moving back into the downtown core. Single-family home prices are the highest they’ve ever been in Toronto and average household income has not kept up with the pace. This makes sense from an economic perspective because the supply of land is now limited and has not been able to keep up with the demand for single-family housing. 

There are three reasons for this and they all relate to planning policies that were created after 2006.

  • Greenbelt Plan: This plan protects environmentally sensitive areas and prohibits these areas from being urbanized. Essentially, there is a giant ring around the metropolitan area that can’t be developed.
  • Growth Plan: This plan identifies where growth and intensification can occur. There are 25 urban centres that focus on high levels of intensification. Some key elements of the growth plan include building compact, vibrant and complete communities, as well as optimizing the use of existing and new infrastructure to support growth in a compact and efficient form.
  • The Big Move (part of the Growth Plan): This plan focuses on transportation and higher order transit. Key here is that growth will no longer focus on the automobile. Thus, growth will be concentrated.

Like an embargo that can impact prices of goods, urban planning influences the value of real estate. The Greenbelt Plan limits the supply of land while the Growth Plan and the Big Move dictate how and where development can occur, which limits supply even further. This puts upward pressure on real estate values because demand far outweighs what is available on the market.

Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth, Julius Tang   23 Sep 2015

Tagged , , ,

Do you know the biggest cost of your new home?

New road construction is one of the infrastructure costs built into development charges.

Development charges are making it more difficult for young families to afford new homes.

So what are development charges? Ontario’s cities and towns pass bylaws to set development charges. They use these charges to collect money from new homes and businesses to pay for critical infrastructure: sewers and water pipes, roads, transit, parks and community centres. There is no doubting their importance.

The Development Charges Act is the over-arching provincial legislation that allows municipalities to collect them.

These bylaws are accompanied by a background study, which outlines the estimated amount and location of development within a municipality, and the related calculations of how the new services will accommodate the new population.

The topic of development charges (DCs) is part of the province’s 80-day public consultation on improving the land use planning and appeals system. I have been writing about the consultation in this space over the past few weeks and will continue to discuss it until the consultation ends on Jan. 10.

BILD and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association addressed DCs during a recent meeting held at our office that sought input from both associations’ members. The province is our partner in economic growth, and we have a lot to say about DCs’ effect on this growth.

In 2012 alone, the industry estimates that more than $1 billion was paid in DCs by new-home owners across the GTA.

But at the end of the day, DCs and other taxes represent one-fifth of the cost of a home in the GTA, according to a study of six GTA municipalities by Altus Group Economic Consulting. That is too much for a young family to take on.

The study involved Toronto, Markham, Oakville, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ajax and Brampton.

Since 2004, those municipalities have increased DCs between 143 and 357 per cent.

Let’s look at the Town of Oakville, as one example: for a new single-detached home, Oakville charges $23,503 in DCs; Halton Region charges $36,778; Oakville’s school boards charge $4,175 in educational DCs to allow them to acquire land for schools. In total, that new-home owner is paying $64,456 in DCs.

Those DCs are added to new-home owners’ mortgages, and they must pay the interest on those charges for decades.

When DCs are the biggest charge on a home, they pose a threat to the affordability of homes and even the health of the home-building industry.

It’s important to note that our industry employs about 202,700 people and generates $10.8 billion in wages.

 

During the current 80-day provincial consultation, now is the time for citizens ton tell the province about what they think is fair and reasonable to be charged by the municipalities.

Municipalities do have other alternatives to raise revenue. And it’s time they looked at their other options.

 

This column has been updated from a previous version.

Bryan Tuckey is President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association and a land-use planner who has worked for municipal, regional and provincial governments. Follow him at twitter.com/bildgta , facebook.com/bildgta , and bildblogs.ca.

Tagged , ,

Islamic Centre in Meadowvale gets go-ahead from Council

After 13 years of controversy and four hours of public discussion, City Council approved an application to build an Islamic centre in Meadowvale.

The decision was met with a mixed response of applause and shouts of “shame” following hours of emotional debate at Monday’s marathon meeting.

At one point Mayor Bonnie Crombie accused one opponent of “hate mongering.”

Crombie asked former mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston to return to the podium after he raised concerns about traffic congestion and noise. The mayor asked him if he is the author of the Stop the Mosque pamphlets and website, to which he replied yes.

“Then there are a few concerns you didn’t raise tonight that are on your website,” Crombie said. “You are concerned about vandalism increases, about the loss of freedom of speech, about the massive increase of sexual assaults on our parks and streets.”

Johnston said he does believe that but was not at the meeting to discuss those points.

Crombie then asked residents if this is what they believe in and are applauding. Some in the gallery responded with applause.

“This is heinous,” Crombie said to Johnston. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

A steady stream of residents marched up to the podium in Council Chambers at City Hall to raise their concerns about the proposed mosque, including increased traffic causing safety concerns, not enough parking, that the building is too large and that it doesn’t fit in with the surrounding community.

The meeting was so well-attended that there wasn’t enough room in Council Chambers so people were sent to one of several committee rooms to watch the proceedings on television.

The audience heard at last night’s (Monday, Sept. 21) meeting that several changes have been made to the project to address community concerns. The height of the building’s minaret has been reduced from 27 metres to just less than 20 metres and the height of the dome has been reduced to about 15 metres from the 18.6 metres first proposed.

The two-storey building will be 9.5 metres tall, not counting the minaret and dome. Staff have determined there will be no shadowing from the dome or minaret on neighbouring buildings.

Increased traffic is one of the most frequent concerns from those against the project use when speaking against it. However, according to staff, “significant” traffic isn’t anticipated and that Winston Churchill Boulevard should be able to accommodate the cars heading into and out of the centre.

Parking, or a lack thereof at the site, was also raised numerous times by residents as a reason to turn down the application. However, the centre will have 115 parking spaces, one more than what’s required by the municipality.

Staff did determine that, during peak periods on Friday afternoon for prayer sessions, the demand may outnumber the available parking spots. Peak parking demand is usually for about 30 minutes on Friday afternoons. A few ways to solve the issue were proposed in the report, including on-street parking, increasing the number of prayer sessions and sharing parking with another nearby facility, among others.

Glen Broll, a partner with Glen Schnarr and Associates, the legal representation for the Islamic centre, told councillors that his clients have entered into an agreement with the nearby Meadowvale West Church Centre to accommodate the overflow parking.

The location of the proposed centre, near homes, isn’t out of the ordinary, according to the report.

“Places of religious assembly have been historically viewed as complementary to residential uses allowing individuals to practice their faith and participate in activities without travelling long distances,” read the report. “There are a number of examples within the city where places of religious assembly have located on corridors adjacent to residential homes and are viewed as compatible within the neighbourhood.”

Saito tabled an alternate recommendation that called for the application to be refused but she found little support for it amongst her colleagues as she cast the lone vote in support of it.

The councillor, who earlier this month had sent out an email newsletter to her constituents where she said it appeared likely that the application would be approved, asked Amir Syed – the Islamic centre’s board of directors president – point blank if he would be willing to once again try and work with her and the community to alleviate their concerns.

Syed replied that, after waiting 13 years for the building, it was time to move forward. He told the committee they have tried to find another location but that wasn’t successful.

“You have always said you want to live in harmony with your neighbours,” said Saito. “How is this living in harmony?”

Islamic centre officials have previously told The News the organization has been forced to rent space in Mississauga to host their prayer and religious services or if they wish to have classes or activities for their members. They want to build the centre so there will be a location in Meadowvale for their community to use.

Meadowvale resident Cheryl Pounder, who has bordering on tears when it was her turn to speak, begged the councillors to not approve the project.

“We can live in harmony but it’s just not the right location,” said Pounder.

** This story was updated on Sept. 23 to include information about an exchange between Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Kevin Johnston

Source: Mississauga News Mississauga News By Chris Clay

Tagged , , ,