In about two weeks, the two-story two-bedroom laneway suite that replaced Tabatha Southey’s garage will be ready for her son and his fiance to move into.
She says the 1,000-square-foot self-contained home, which cost about $ 560,000 to build and build, could just as easily house herself, her parents or a tenant.
It is among about 50 houses that Torontonians have built in their backyards since the city passed a bylaws in 2018 that allow the construction of another home on plots that return to alleys.
Southey’s laneway house has been a love affair designed to merge with the character of the Cabbagetown house where she has lived for 28 years. Her contractor, a neighbor – Mark Pelzi from Sumach Contracting – even went looking for matching bricks.
One of the best things about building the house, says Southey, a writer, is that it means more people will share her beloved neighborhood.
“This is two people more or three more people living in my neighborhood to go to (the local pub) House on Parliament and get a pint and support the other local businesses I love,” she said.
“I know how lucky I am to live here. The idea of being able to extend that luck to another … I hope the whole block is filled up with laneway houses, ”Southey said.
That was exactly what city officials hoped when they approved laneway suites in 2018. They wanted to diversify the types of housing available in Toronto’s downtown neighborhoods and open them up to residents who otherwise would not be able to afford them.
But laneway suites have not – at least so far – put a dent in the city’s housing shortage or addressed its affordable challenges.
Therefore, the city’s planning and housing committee on Thursday approved changes to the original bylaws to make the process faster and easier.
Politicians and planners say laneway housing is one in a series of solutions designed to gently add density to those neighborhoods that already have transit connections and other highly valued community services.
In addition to laneway suites, the city has expanded the rules allowing the construction of more secondary suites or basement suites, and in January it is expected that garden suites will be added to the mix so more homes can be added to plots that do not. back on alleys.
Since the adoption of the bylaws, there have been only 238 applications to build laneway homes, and only nine of those applicants participate in the Affordable Laneway Suites Pilot, which provides forgivable loans of up to $ 50,000 in exchange for a 15-year commitment to keep the rent below the city’s average market price.
Urban planning authorities say laneway homes were never expected to increase housing supply significantly, but there will be cumulative gains. They also did not expect secondary housing to be priced cheaper than other leases in Toronto.
An urban survey found that laneway suites are rented for an average of $ 3.25 per square foot or $ 2,600 for an 800-square-foot two-bedroom unit. About 30 percent of building permit holders expected to use the laneway suites as leases. Another 30 percent planned to house family, and 40 percent expected to rent to family or even live on the street level.
Meanwhile, interest in building laneway suites has grown – from 16 applications in 2018 to 95 last year. With 58 applications already filed in May, city officials expect at least as many this year.
But with about 30,000 downtown plots in the center supporting lanes, Toronto wants to encourage more homeowners to build these second homes.
Despite objections from about a dozen community groups, the committee agreed to allow the addition of about a foot to the existing elevation supplement for houses with lanes and to reduce the need for green areas in the backyard by allowing a wider, impenetrable path between the original house and the lane. home. The changes still need to be approved by the city council.
Senior urban planner Graig Uens says the changes are in line with adjustments to the original rules and that they address the concerns that most often send home applications to the Adaptation Committee.
He said the number of applications for track construction is what the city predicted in a 2018 employee report that predicted between 100 and 300 a year.
“We are more or less at that point now,” Uens said, though the pandemic may have “frustrated some people’s efforts to pursue this.”
Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, chair of the Planning and Housing Committee, says: “No one had ever expected thousands to show up.”
“This is a new program. Even today, I find that many people are not aware of it,” she said.
She points out that the amendments to the bylaws for laneway were part of a planning and housing committee’s agenda, which also included other measures to accommodate more people in the city’s established neighborhoods, including adding multiplexes to streets that currently only allow detached and semi-detached houses . , and a reduction in parking requirements for condominiums.
Laneway homes are one solution to two urban priorities: housing shortages and climate change, Bailão said.
When residents talk about preserving the character of their neighborhood, they sometimes may not recognize that people are part of that character and that part is already changing. Workers who have lived in established neighborhoods for decades are being pushed out because they are no longer affordable, she said.
“The data shows us right now that there are many neighborhoods that are actually declining in population,” Bailão said.
“We need to change to make sure we continue to have inclusive and thriving neighborhoods.”
Although some have been advertised on short-term rental sites like Airbnb, laneway suites were never intended to be tourist accommodations, Bailão said. However, if the laneway home is the main residence of the person renting it on a short-term basis – whether it is the owner of the home or a tenant – and the rental falls under the city’s other short-term rental rules, it is legal.
“I certainly hope that through the (short-term rental) licensing system that we have created, we will capture those who are not anyone’s primary residence,” she said.
Independent planner Sean Galbraith, who helps clients navigate the adaptation committee, is often critical of Toronto’s progress in diversifying housing options in established neighborhoods. But he welcomed the changes to the track rules.
“The city is doing it right: it is learning and adapting to optimize things to make it reasonably easy to make laneway suites. The proposed changes will not get properties that did not already qualify for a suite to have one, but they will mean that there will be a need for fewer deviations, lower costs and speed up approvals, ”he said.
Architect Tom Knezic, who designed Southey’s laneway home and others, wrote a letter supporting the amendments to the laneway statute. He said the higher elevation helps design more sustainable buildings, something that is of particular interest to his company, Solares Architecture.
He believes there has been so much “political baggage” on the track program that it had to disappoint some.
Still, Knezic believes homeowners should consider renovating and expanding their primary residence before building another backyard house.
“You should renovate your home for as much density as possible. A basement apartment is one of the biggest things we can do if we want to increase affordability and increase the housing stock, increase the density and not change the character of the neighborhoods, ”he said.
“Once you have exhausted what you can do in the house, you must move on to the lane. It should be the cherry on top, ”Knezic said.
He points out that armchairs are expensive to build. The city found that they generally cost between $ 300,000 and $ 400,000. It’s probably too much to demand that homeowners make them an affordable rent, Knezic said.
But, he said, “If we add density everywhere and add units all the time, it will work.”
He believes investors will be drawn to the potential rental returns on laneway homes. It will persuade more people to build them, and in the end there will be enough housing options to stabilize prices.
Shira Packer and Leandro Dourado attended laneway suite community consultations and were excited to build one in their Bloordale Village backyard. Dourado, a contractor, was able to carry out most of the work on their 320-square-foot street house, which kept their investment at about $ 100,000.
Built with ceiling design, there is a bedroom, bathroom and mechanics on the ground floor with a kitchen, living room and dining area upstairs, it is rented for around $ 1,700 a month.
They expect to get their investment back in about five years, something Packer said they could never have done if they had participated in the forgiving loan program.
“I love the idea that they offer that type of subsidy and I think a lot more people would be interested in it. But they also have to keep in mind that the maximum rent to charge was really low from a market perspective, She said. “Maybe they could consider offering grants with fewer ties.”
For homeowners looking to invest in a rental property, laneway suites are among the most economical options, Packer said.
“You save a lot by already having the property you are building on,” she said.
Like Southey, Dourado would like to see many more laneway homes. He imagines community events in hot weather and companies like coffee shops bringing new life to the alleys of Toronto.
“It does not have to be all of them,” he said. “If they put a stand in every neighborhood, it’s like, ‘Oh, let’s go to this night on this track. It’s going to be coffee shops or empanadas on sale.’ It’s so short this summer. ”