Men at Work Design-Build president, Paul Gallop, takes a look at the ever-growing housing issues in Toronto and possible building solutions to keep people in the city.
Since many RENO & DECOR readers live in old homes in the core of Toronto, we’re bringing a bit more of a local perspective from our team who spend their days working in the trenches facing the challenges of planning and renovating our fragile, densely-packed, older neighbourhood houses.
We’re so fortunate to be living in a thriving, internationally-envied urban centre, but let’s face it, some of our old Hogtown homes are in serious need of improvement, inside and out. Our properties are small and expensive, and it’s confusing trying to understand what’s technically and legally possible, and what will actually add real value and comfort for you and your family. What’s worth saving, and what is too far gone? How do you balance the architectural, structural, and interior finishing details while considering energy efficiency, zoning and building-code regulations? Which of those inspirational style ideas you’re seeing in the pages of magazines like RENO & DECOR will actually work in your old-Toronto home?
BUILDING ISSUES IN THE SIX
In upcoming issues we’ll explore questions like these with help from our award-winning team of designers, engineers, project managers and trade professionals, whose focus is exclusively on renovating old-Toronto houses.
One issue that may be of particular interest to Toronto homeowners is the City of Toronto’s proposed Changing Lanes—Laneway Suites project. With a network of approximately 311 kms of laneways weaving throughout many older parts of the city, there is untapped potential to introduce a new form of housing accessible from these lanes. Allowing the construction of secondary suites or small houses at the rear of residential properties served by laneways could increase the supply of desperately needed rental units. It would also provide a source of potential income for homeowners who are struggling with the high cost of property ownership in the city.
BACK ON THE TABLE
A previous initiative to explore laneway housing was rejected by the city due to the complexities and challenges of severing properties and servicing the new buildings through the restricted laneway spaces. The proposal currently under review is based on the idea of allowing the construction of an accessory building that would form part of an existing residential property, and would still be owned as part of the main property. The building would be serviced from the existing house on the property. It would not contemplate land severances or independent utility services. The thinking is this would be more like having a basement apartment, only instead of the apartment being in your basement, it’s in a detached little building in your backyard facing the lane.
CANADIAN CITIES EMBRACE LANEWAY HOUSING
There are numerous factors that the city must consider in determining the viability of this concept, including zoning, building code, fire and emergency services access, demands on public services and the concerns of neighbours and community groups. The city has undertaken an extensive review of the idea and has developed a set of draft guidelines for implementing a program in the districts of the former City of Toronto and East York. The proposal is presently going through various community hearings, with what so far seems to be generally enthusiastic support. Like all things bureaucratic, it’s a slow process and impossible to know if or when it may come to pass, but the signs are encouraging. Other municipalities in Canada and the U.S. have either adopted or are seriously exploring similar laneway housing programs, including Vancouver, Ottawa, Regina and Edmonton.
For more information, the city has a webpage devoted to the program.
by Paul Gallop