The market for condo apartments remained strong in the Greater Toronto Area in the second quarter.

Greater Toronto Realtors reported 7,038 sales of condo apartments through the Toronto Real Estate Board’s MLS in the three months, up 3.2% compared to a year earlier.

New listings for the sector were down 3.5% year-over-year to 11,110; and the average price gained 5.1% to $589,887, although in the City of Toronto (70% of transactions) the gain was 5.9% to $639,316.

“As has generally been the case in the region since the implementation of the Ontario Government’s Fair Housing Plan in 2017, the condo market segment has remained tight in comparison to other major housing types. However, from a price point perspective, condo apartments continue to offer prospective buyers a relatively affordable housing option when looking across the GTA,” said TREB president Michael Collins.

Rental market also tight

In the rental market, average rents for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments increased above the rate of inflation on a year-over-year basis in Q2 2019 as the market remained tight.

“However, we have seen an acceleration in the number of units listed for rent, which has provided renters with more choice in the market place and has coincided with a slower pace of average rent growth over the past year,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Chief Market Analyst.

RENT OR BUY TORONTO 2019

With every passing year it seems that, for many, the dream of moving from renting to buying a home in Toronto slips farther and farther away. Many are posing the question, when will the Toronto real estate market crash in hopes of a price drop to get their foot in the door, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Comparably, Toronto also has the highest rental prices in Canada. So when it comes to rent versus buy Toronto, 2019 may be the year to really look at your finances and weigh the pros and cons of renting vs buying. If there’s one thing we know for sure, the best day to buy is always yesterday; as prices climb, the money you do have today will be worth less tomorrow.

RENT VERSUS BUY TORONTO 2019
According to TREB’s data, the average cost of a one bedroom rental in downtown Toronto has increased 30% since Q3 of 2016*. If you knew you’d be paying these record high rents five years ago, maybe you would have pulled the trigger on saving for a down payment and moved from the world of renting to buying. What you’re paying in rent today is comparable to what you could be paying for a mortgage on a condo.

If you’re tired of paying these high prices to rent a home when you could own a home, what can you do to make the switch from renting to buying?

RENT VS BUY ANALYSIS
One of the most challenging hurdles to overcome when it comes to buying vs renting a condo is having enough money for the down payment. This is the biggest factor in your rent or buy equation. Let’s say you find a one bedroom condo for sale with a $500,000 price tag. The minimum down payment you can make on that condo is 5% or $25,000.

Seems like a lot of money, doesn’t it? And it is.

Now compare that to what it costs to rent that one bedroom condo which, in Toronto, is about $2,200 per month. After one year of renting that condo, you’ll have paid $26,400 in rent. Congratulations, you’ve just spent more on a year’s rent than it costs for a down payment on the that same condo.

It’s no wonder so many millennials are choosing to live with their parents. It’s not because they’re lazy, it’s because it’s the only way they have a chance in hell at buying a condo in Toronto. According to a recent article by The Star, one third of young adults are living with their parents for this very reason, to save for a down payment.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of living rent-free for a year with mom and pops. Curious to know what you could afford based on your current rent? Use this rent vs buy calculator by RBC.

RENT VS BUY: COMPARING THE MONTHLY EXPENSES
Having enough saved for a down payment is one thing, but being a homeowner comes with a few extra monthly expenses. Let’s compare the expenses of renting vs buying.

To set the scene, let’s suppose you’ve purchased the $500,000 condo with $25,000 (5%) down. One thing to note here is that because you’ve put less than 20% down, you’ll need mortgage insurance which, in this case, is an additional $19,000 to your mortgage for a total mortgage of $494,000.

Don’t let this added mortgage insurance phase you. Honestly, paying the slight premium in mortgage insurance in order to start earning equity in the real estate market can be better than waiting to save for the full 20% down payment. We explain why in our blog “Why 5% Down Today is Better than 20% Down Tomorrow.“

In order to calculate the monthly costs affiliated with renting vs buying, let’s say you secure a 5 year fixed rate mortgage at 3.39% over a 25 year amortization period. Your monthly mortgage payments will be $2,438. Compared to $2,200 per month in rent, that’s not bad.

Remember, the difference between renting versus buying is that when you rent, you’re renting space. When you buy, you’re renting money.

So while you’re paying just over $1,000 more to own that condo, think of it as a forced savings account paying into your home equity, unlike renting where you’re paying someone else’s equity.

BUYING VS RENTING A HOME ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
The disadvantages of renting are easy:

  • Throwing away money
  • Have no control/ability to customize your space

There are obvious benefits to renting:

  • Low maintenance
  • No unexpected costs
  • Not locked in to one place

The disadvantages of buying:

  • More responsibility
  • Locked in to one place (though technically you could rent your place if you needed to relocate)
  • Slightly higher carrying costs

There are also obvious benefits to buying:

  • You have a place to call your own
  • You can customize your space as you see fit
  • You’re building equity in a high performing real estate market

That last point is the biggest homeowner benefit of all. EQUITY.

In Toronto’s real estate market, condo prices in particular have been sky-rocketing. In fact, the condo market was leading the industry at the end of 2018 with an 11.4% increase year-over-year. Conservatively and for the sake of projections we tend to use the historical average which is 5% growth per year.

RENTING VS BUYING: THE 5 YEAR OUTLOOK
Circling back to our one bedroom rent or buy Toronto scenario, let’s fast forward five years to the end of your term and see how the numbers compare:

After five years of renting, using the current guideline for an annual 1.8% rent increase, your five year rent adds up to $136,838 along with your expenses (insurance and utilities) adding up to $4,500 for a grand total of $141,338.

After five years of owning, you’ve paid $68,639 towards your mortgage principal, $77,629 in interest, and just over $52,000 in additional expenses. Your grand total after five years of owning is $198,288.

Sure, you’ve spent roughly $57K more to own that same condo, but let’s not forget about that sweet, sweet equity. Let’s say your condo’s value increases 5% per year, your property’s market value over that five year term would resemble something like this:

Purchase Price: $500,000
Year 1: $525,000
Year 2: $551,250
Year 3: $578,813
Year 4: $607,753
Year 5: $638,141

That’s $138,141 you’ve earned in equity just by living there! So while renting you’ll have paid your landlord $136,838 towards their equity, as an owner you’ll be ahead by $138,141 in equity plus the $68,639 towards your mortgage principal.

HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY PROFIT?
Even though after the five year term your mortgage balance is $425,361, the equity you’ve earned over five years means, if you were to sell that condo, you’d still make a profit.

Let’s say you decide you want to upgrade your living situation and at the end of your five year term you decide to sell your condo at its current market value of $638,141. After paying your mortgage balance, closing expenses and legal fees, you’re still walking away with $179,373!

Not to mention that because this was your principal residence, all profits earned are 100% tax free!

RENTING VS OWNING IN RETIREMENT
The renting vs buying conversation isn’t just for first time buyers. If you’re a retiree looking to downsize you may be asking yourself should I sell my house and rent when I retire? We thought it would be worthwhile crunching the numbers for those considering renting in retirement vs owning.

If you’re downsizing, you’re likely not buying a one bedroom $500,000 condo, so for this example we’ll use a two bedroom condo with a price tag of $700,000. Below we’ll compare the cost of owning this condo with a 20% downpayment and mortgage rate of 3.39% with renting a two bedroom condo based on the City of Toronto’s average two bedroom rental rate of $2,989 (Q2 2019).

Are you surprised to see the difference in monthly expenses is only $657? The key benefit that comes with owning is that you’re building equity alongside those monthly payments, rather than just paying your landlord. If you’re able to build equity in retirement, you’ll have more to live off in your golden years. Let’s have a look at the five year outlook of renting vs owning that two bedroom condo.

After the first five years, you’ll have paid about $37,375 more to own in retirement versus choosing to rent. And the equity gains? If we use the historic average of 5% per year, your property’s market value over that five year term would resemble something like this:

Purchase Price: $700,000
Year 1: $735,000
Year 2: $771,750
Year 3: $810,337
Year 4: $850,854
Year 5: $893,397

The conclusion here to consider is that if you’re able to sell your current home to downsize, choosing to use the profits from the sale of your home to buy a Toronto condo has the ability to give you a great return during your retirement. In this case, you could earn $193,397 in equity in just five years.

Remember, real estate is a long term investment and the longer you hold a property, the better the returns will be. Not to mention the ability to leverage your equity into building a real estate investment portfolio. But that’s a story for another day!

It’s east versus west when it comes to the upper echelons of Canadian real estate.

A new report from brokerage Sotheby’s International Realty Canada highlights the chasm separating the luxury segments of housing markets on either end of the country.

Price and sales performance of top-tier residential properties in Toronto and Montreal provide a stark contrast to the struggling luxury markets in Calgary and Vancouver, according to the Sotheby’s 2019 Mid-Year Top-Tier Real Estate Report.

A total of 103 properties priced over $4 million changed hands in the Greater Toronto Area, down 19 percent annually through the first six months of the year.

But Sotheby’s suggests this decline is inflated. Increasingly, well-heeled sellers are avoiding the multiple listings service system used by the Toronto Real Estate Board (and the source for the sales data in the report).

Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the TREB’s appeal of an earlier decision in favour of the Competition Bureau — which was battling the board over access to home sales data — wealthy sellers are exclusively listing homes to maintain privacy.

Looking at just the city of Toronto, sales in the $4-million-plus range were roughly flat, declining 2 percent year-over-year in 2019’s first half.

To the east, Montreal’s luxury market is on pace for a record-breaking year.

Sales of condos priced above $1 million — considered to be a luxury threshold in this market, which is more affordable than Toronto — numbered 113 over the study period, up a jaw-dropping 40 percent annually.

And 11 Montreal homes sold for upwards of $4 million, an increase of 267 percent compared to 2018’s first half, although still only a small share of the market.

Calgary’s market remains overshadowed by previous highs recorded during the last oil boom, with the luxury market depressed, at least for now.

“With the conclusion of the provincial election offering fresh optimism, and growth forecasted for the next half decade, it is expected that the city’s top-tier market will continue to see a gradual recovery,” reads the Sotheby’s report.

Just one Calgary home has sold for more than $4 million this year.

And transactions involving residential property valued at more than $1 million plummeted 21 percent to a total of 275.

Vancouver’s decline was even more pronounced — some 73 homes priced over $4 million were snapped up, a 34-percent decline.

“Evolving conditions in Vancouver real estate have created opportunities for prospective top-tier real estate buyers to reevaluate housing options previously out of reach,” says Sotheby’s in the report.

“With market recalibration well underway, activity is expected to regain momentum.”

Amid sustained high levels of demand, condos continued to be the fastest appreciating residential property type in the Greater Toronto Area, according to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey.

The region’s condo units enjoyed a 7.2% year-over-year increase during the second quarter of the year to reach $542,203.

In comparison, growth in the other asset classes was considerably more muted. The value of two-storey homes in the GTA crept up by just 1.7% annually to $970,772 while bungalows went up by 1.6% to $809,648.

Across all housing types, the aggregate price of a property rose by 26% year-over-year during Q2 2019 to $841,729. Royal LePage predicted that the market’s prices will remain relatively steady by the end of this year, with aggregate prices ticking up by only 1.4% annually.

The condo market’s dynamism was spurred by robust consumer demand for homes priced at $1 million and lower – a trend that will only get stronger soon.

“Recent economic announcements aiming to strengthen first-time home buyers’ purchase power including CMHC’s incentive, have the potential to impact the condominium market,” Royal LePage Signature Realty president Chris Slightham said.

“Our team witnessed some buyers putting decisions on hold until the new mortgage incentives get fully established, waiting to see how they can benefit from the encouraging new measures.”

These positive prospects have to be seen in light of recent ownership numbers, however. Data from Statistics Canada indicated that as much as 39.7% of Toronto’s condo units were found to be either vacant, rented out, or used as second properties by their owners.

Lack of supply driven by the intense popularity of condos used as investment assets has pushed up the city’s rent rates by 30% between 2006 and 2018.

Worse, any additional units that do get built and enter the supply chain tend to be luxury offerings that get acquired immediately by foreign investors, Realosophy Realty president John Pasalis stated.

“Five years down the road, do we really need 50,000 micro-condominiums that are renting for C$2,000 a month?” Pasalis said, as quoted by The Guardian. “I think this is the risk when your entire new housing supply is driven by what investors want, rather than what end users want.”

It appears even developers of pricier, larger condos are conserving space by removing their ovens.

A one-bedroom unit at 155 Yorkville Ave., a four-minute walk from the Royal Ontario Museum, boasts 610 square feet and is asking for $3,295 in rent in an ad on Realtor.ca. It includes a bedroom and bathtub, a swanky den and a kitchen — but no standlone oven. Instead it has a convection microwave, which combines the functions of a microwave and oven.

Another two-bedroom unit in the building is listed for sale for $1.1 million and also appears to lack a stand-alone oven. The ad says “Ready To Turn To Income Property. Furniture Included.”

In June, the Star reported on a condominium at Front and Bathurst Sts. that houses 162 units without stand-alone ovens. Agnieszka Wloch, vice-president of development at Minto Communities Toronto, told the Star those units were all under 480 square feet and had a convection microwave, chosen as a response to changing lifestyle preferences and as a way to offer “space saving efficiencies and functionality.”

At the time, an ad for one such studio unit in the building — advertised with a “gourmet kitchen” — was asking for $1,650 a month in rent.

But the Yorkville building’s ovenless units appear to be larger and have a bigger price tag, which has experts the Star spoke to highlighting two trends: a downtown-wide shift away from home cooking, and the popularity of short-term rentals.

The Front St. W. building was enacting rules against short-term rentals, Wloch told the Star.

But in the case of the Yorkville Ave. building, the Star found eight listings for what appear to be units in the highrise listed on Airbnb.ca.

Camrost Felcorp, the developer behind the Yorkville Ave. building, which was completed about two years ago, did not return requests for comments.

Thorben Wieditz, spokesperson for Fairbnb, a coalition of tenants’ groups, condo associations, rental landlords and hotel groups, said that ovenless units “will add to the ‘ghost hotel’ stock, but not necessarily to the long-term rental stock in the city.”

Ghost hotels refer to cases where people are leasing or buying multiple units, and taking them off the long-term market by turning them almost exclusively into short-term rentals, Wieditz said.

“These places are more designed and cater more to people that don’t cook, don’t necessarily live in them — and if you rent them out on Airbnb, (not having an oven) would not really matter,” he said, as people who use short-term rentals tend to eat out.

The main reason for the pop-up of ghost hotels? “You can make a lot more money on the short-term rental market than you could renting it out on the long-term market,” Wieditz said.

However, James McKellar, a real estate professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said there are a number of people who would choose to live in one of these condos, adding that the rise of ovenless units — even in luxury buildings — is a sign of a “lifestyle shift” among downtown residents.

“I think urban life today is very different than what it was even 20 years ago, and developers are working at these trends and trying to accommodate them,” McKeller said.

“There are single-person households today that would look long-term and an oven wouldn’t be that important if they have an alternate to it.”

McKeller also noted that downtown residents tend to be more “location-conscious” when choosing a place to live, and “an oven isn’t going to be a big deal” as their focus is more on the neighbourhood.

Forest Hill Real Estate’s Scott Stren, a broker for one of the Yorkville units, said the stand-alone ovens were omitted be because “of course they’re trying to save space,” pointing to a larger trend of conserving space in Toronto condos.

When asked if potential tenants and homeowners were hesitant on an ovenless space, Stren noted that it wasn’t really an issue.

According to Statistics Canada figures released last month, roughly one in three condos are not owner occupied.

The annual BILD Awards celebrate the GTA’s hottest, new digs. Here are four properties prospective buyers should take a look at

From soaring skyscrapers to low-key low-rises, the Building Industry and Land Development Association highlighted some of Toronto’s top properties at the 39th annual BILD Awards.

The annual ceremony, held last month, honours achievements in planning, design, sales, marketing and city building in 40 categories. A group of 41 judges from across North America selected this year’s winners from 850 submitted entries. Members of the public also pitched in, with more than 5,200 voting online, for the People’s Choice Award winner.

The awards, attended by more than 1,200 industry professionals, set a spotlight on some of the GTA’s hottest real estate projects, while also showcasing how the industry is evolving. Here are four new options buyers should take a look at:

M3 CONDOS — BEST MID/HIGH-RISE PROJECT OF THE YEAR
The 81-storey twisting tower in Mississauga, wrapped by jagged, sawtooth balconies and a black-and-white zig-zagged façade, is an Urban Capital project.

The developer rose above the competition with its contemporary, sculpture-like design. The judges also emphasized the project’s planning, overall quality, sustainability and marketing campaign. The M3 will stand alongside the M1 and M2 condos, as well as six other buildings the developer hopes to erect in the coming years.

Why it stands out

At about 260 metres tall, M3 Condos is more than half the height of the CN Tower, making it among the five tallest buildings in the country. Nearly sold-out, it has about 900 residential units, six levels of underground parking, 15,000 square feet of retail and the same amount of office space.

Why you want to live here

Besides such features as deep, contour, soaker tubs in their sleekly styled suites, residents can enjoy the condo’s indoor saltwater pool, a fitness centre, restaurants, event spaces, screening rooms, a kids playground and splash pad, all with a view of a two-acre park in the middle of Mississauga, near Burnhamthorpe Road and Confederation Parkway.

Price

Starting from over $300,000.

CHARBONNEL — BEST LOW-RISE PROJECT OF THE YEAR
This Summerhill community of 19 luxury townhomes is developed by Treasure Hill Homes.

With a reputation for high-quality builds, Treasure Hill Homes’ Charbonnel project was recognized for its superior mid-town location, as well as its focus on customization, accessibility and green space — the latter three representing the peak of new industry trends.

Why it stands out

Each townhome provides an immense sense of space through large, long, triple-pane aluminum windows in most rooms. Foliage lines the backyard and also borders the rooftop terrace. Customization options include a media room, private library, or personal spa. To future-proof units and make them accessible, the townhomes come with private elevators that service each floor.

Why you want to live here

Charbonnel hems the corner of Avenue Road and Oaklands Avenue near De La Salle College, providing walkable access to the boutiques, restaurants and galleries in Rosedale, Summerhill and Davisville villages, while also making for an easy commute to the downtown core, sitting near the TTC Summerhill station on the Yonge-University Line.

Price

Starting from over $3-million.

 

LAKEVIEW VILLAGE — BEST NEW PLANNED COMMUNITY
The Lakeview Village that hopes to transform Mississauga’s waterfront is led by Lakeview Community Partners Ltd., a collection of 25 groups in construction, design, architecture and transportation. The ambitious project, which reimagines land that used to belong to the Ontario Power Generation Station, demonstrates new levels of creativity and collaboration in the industry.

Starting construction in 2021, the developers aim to create a self-sustaining community with homes and jobs for up to 17,000 residents, plus shops, restaurants, entertainment, business parks, nature — all connected to Lake Ontario.

Why it stands out

One of the highlights from the seven different sections of the village is Inspiration Point, which will blend into Lake Ontario with a park, waterfront trail and cultural programming pop-ups along the shoreline.

Why you want to live here

Lakeview village will provide a mix of low- and high-rise residential units and amenities for every season — summer splash pads, winter skating rinks, and seasonal markets. Walk to nearby businesses in the Lakeshore Getaway in the north and Serson Innovation Corridor to the east.

Price

Not yet available.

M2M CONDOS — PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
One of the most coveted awards of the evening, with members of the public casting their votes online, went to M2M Condos in North York, by Aoyuan International. The developer has properties around the world, including One30 Hyde Park in Australia, The Granville in Vancouver and properties in China.

Why it stands out

BILD noted that Aoyuan’s vision for M2M is a condominium community that supports and encourages a healthy urban lifestyle, while providing living options that make it easy for families to raise children in the city. The master plan includes more than 1,500 new residences, a community centre and a daycare.

Why you want to live here

Located at the corner of Yonge and Cummer, there are plenty of dining and shopping options nearby, as well as TTC transit access. It’s also near a variety of green spaces such as the Bayview Golf and Country Club, The Thornhill Club, Newtonbrook Park, Silverview Park and Hendon Park.

To be finished in 2021, there will be five towers in total that will feature one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, plus one-bedroom suites with two dens.

Price

Starting at $389,900.

Toronto condo prices continue to level off amid tighter lending rules and a surge in new supply.

The average price per square foot of a resale condo in Canada’s biggest city rose 3.3% to C$683 ($520) in the first quarter from the same period last year, the weakest gain since 2014, according to market-research firm Urbanation Inc. The average price of a condo was up 3.6% to C$579,000 in the same period, the slowest rate of increase since 2015.

Condos Cool
Price gains for Toronto resale units fall to 2014 levels

“Condo prices are still being propped up by factors like high immigration, a strong job market, rising income, low borrowing costs, but we see demand starting to take a hit due to high prices, following a 45% run-up over the past three years,” Shaun Hildebrand, president of Urbanation, said in a phone interview.

Hildebrand sees price growth capped at 6% for the foreseeable future due to a wave of supply. A record 71,378 condo units were under construction in the first quarter, according to Urbanation.

The Toronto housing market took a hit last year after the government tightened mortgage-lending rules to ease rising debt and soaring home prices in the region. That pushed a lot of buyers into the cheaper condo segment, which saw prices jump as much as 11% in the first quarter of last year.

Rents Ease
“The stress test is creating affordability challenges for first-time buyers plus single-family home prices haven’t become more competitive and growth for larger suites is also starting to slow down,” Hildebrand said. Price growth for smaller units is still well above average while growth for larger ones has fallen below average.

The average price of a three-bedroom condo reached C$800,000 in Toronto in the first quarter, higher than the combined average price of C$727,000 for semi-attached, row and townhouses in May. In contrast, prices averaged below C$500,000 in the first quarter for studios and one-bedroom units.

Rent gains for Toronto condos have also been easing in the past few quarters and are expected to continue cooling amid a surge in completions of condo and purpose-built rental apartments, Hildebrand said.

An annual ranking of the affordability of global cities for employees working abroad shows Canada has stayed stable.

Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey finds that Canada’s major cities are relatively affordable while global peers have become more expensive for ex-pat workers.

Vancouver remains the most expensive in Canada but slips three places from last year to 112th in the rankings while Toronto, last year’s costliest in Canada, slips six spots to 115th.

Montreal saw a strong rise in cost of living, up eight spots from last year to 139th. Calgary (153) and Ottawa (161) remained stable.

“From a global perspective, Canada remains a relatively affordable place to live and an attractive destination for expatriates placed by organizations outside the country,” said Gordon Frost, Partner and Career Business Leader for Mercer Canada. “Cost of living and quality of living are key components of a competitive total rewards program and compelling employee value proposition – both of which are essential for companies to attract and retain the best talent as they prepare for the workforce for the future.”

Meanwhile, the strength of the US dollar made major cities there more expensive for international workers with New York up four places to 9th, the highest-ranked city in the region; San Francisco (16) was up 12 spots, Los Angeles (18) climbed seventeen places, and Chicago (37) jumped fourteen places.

Asia is most expensive

The costliest places were dominated by Asia which took 8 of the top 10 places.

Hong Kong (1) remains the most expensive city for expatriates both in Asia and globally as a result of the housing market and currency being pegged to the US dollar, driving up the cost of living locally.

It’s followed by Tokyo (2), Singapore (3), Seoul (4), Shanghai (6), and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (7).

“Cost of living is an important component of a city’s attractiveness for businesses,” said Yvonne Traber, Global Mobility Product Solutions Leader at Mercer. “Decision makers increasingly acknowledge that globalization is challenging cities to inform, innovate, and compete to foster the kind of satisfaction that attracts both people and investment – the keys to a city’s future.”

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2019
(Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

If you ever find yourself wondering why there are so few little walk-up apartments in Toronto — of the kind that are absolutely commonplace all across Montreal — you can look to history. “In May 1912, the city declared a full-scale ban on apartment buildings in residential neighbourhoods,” writes Emma Abramowicz in an essay in the new anthology House Divided from Coach House books, which examines the affordability crisis in housing in Toronto. In the 1960s, she writes, planners cemented this occasionally overlooked rule by making preservation of the character of stable residential neighbourhoods a key goal.

This separation between “residential” zones and places where you can develop meaningful new housing has been preserved in the recent zoning and Official Plan changes, other essays in the book make clear, which allow apartment construction pretty much along main streets only, or in new neighborhoods on former industrial or rail lands. That’s why we see so many sky-high condos springing up clustered in certain areas, and so few triplexes or four-storey walk-up apartments anywhere.

The authors and editors of House Divided, on the whole, make the argument for just that kind of development as not only worthy of allowing, but essential to encouraging. Planner Gil Meslin outlines the benefits of these low- and midrise, “neighborhood-scale” apartment buildings: They are permanent as available rentals, not subject to the family whims of in-law suites or basement apartments; they help preserve affordability in upscale and gentrifying neighborhoods; they fit in architecturally even while allowing a relatively high number of people to live in a space. Those things — and the increased population they can bring to an urban neighborhood — make an area a better place to live. They make parks lively, populate schools, support a thriving local retail streetscape.

And yet they are all but impossible to build. Anthology co-editor and Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic details an award-winning design by German architects for affordable, well-designed 11-unit, four storey buildings that can fit on the same size lot as a large single-family home. They look great, and easy to build. Yet Bozikovic then explains how the regulations in place in Toronto would make it virtually impossible and completely impractical for a developer to try to put one in Toronto — even on a corner lot across from highrise apartments a short walk from a new LRT line in Scarborough.

That’s part of the “where” question central to the book’s arguments. If low- and midrise walk-up apartments (and duplexes and triplexes) are the form they argue should be allowed, the location they have in mind is vast: the city’s “yellowbelt,” the area (more than twice the size of Manhattan) that is zoned exclusively for detached single-family residential dwellings. According to book’s authors, if you added just one duplex per hectare in the yellowbelt you could house an additional 45,000 people. The potential extends beyond the city’s immediate borders: John Lorinc reports in his introduction on a report estimating that Mississauga could house 435,000 new people just by allowing low- and medium-density infill development in established neighborhoods.

And the thing is that while Toronto and its region’s population have been growing quickly (far faster than the housing supply), these “stable residential neighborhoods” have been shrinking — actually losing population as people have fewer children, as seniors age in place in big old houses, more single people live alone, and as gentrifiers convert rooming houses into family homes. Bringing residential population density back up to mid-20th-century levels wouldn’t just ease affordability, it would revitalize neighborhoods and make serving the residents with top-notch public services and facilities more efficient.

At this point, the big hurdle seems to be an obsession with “prevailing character” — the assumption by existing residents and officials and the regulations they write is that somehow a small apartment block will destroy a neighborhood. But when you look at the existing triplex and small apartment blocks that are scattered around the city (on High Park Ave. or Roncesvalles near High Park, Brunswick or Palmerston near the Annex, on Donlands in East York or Vaughan Rd. north of St. Clair, or on Midland Ave. near the Scarborough Bluffs, just to cite a few examples) what you see is they fit in fine. All of these are pleasant — mostly very desirable, actually — places to live. And the character of those places is enhanced by the presence of those apartments. It seems to me every residential street in the city could use one or two little apartment buildings.

The book is careful to note that this isn’t some silver bullet for affordability. Lorinc writes “zoning reform is necessary but not sufficient.” Supply isn’t going to solve affordability all by itself. And to that end, there is some discussion of social housing, especially of Vienna where two-thirds of the population lives in publicly subsidized housing and the city tops global livability rankings. But walk-up buildings in the yellowbelt could be part of a social or charitable housing component to the solution, too.

In a city where current regulations encourage developers to go big or go home, House Divided makes a compelling argument that the city should invite them to go smaller and give us more homes.

Source: The Star