Making the case for laneway housing

by Neil Sharma28 Feb 2018

Toronto is said to be mired by land scarcity, and according to a Sutton Group Security Real Estate sales agent, building laneway housing could help reduce the pressure put on housing supply—which lags well behind demand.

Sara Gaggi says the areas around Midtown are replete with laneways that could support a substantial amount of new housing. Citing the Cornell neighbourhood of Markham, Gaggi noted how developers routinely think outside of the box.

“Before I was in real estate, I owned a contracting company with my husband, and in Markham, a city innovative for how they design houses, [developers] offered buyers choice to have an apartment suite above the garage, which were in the back of the home,” said Gaggi. “Some homeowners opted for that and they were able to get rental income from that to help out with their mortgages.

“We have so much of that in Toronto around Midtown. You see these hideous-looking garages that could be redeveloped into rental suites. Parking for the owner could still be maintained, and at the same time they could create another dwelling in space being used as nothing more than a garage.”

While laneway housing could alleviate the pressure on an undersupplied city, hurdles—namely bureaucracy—do exist. Gaggi wonders how land could be recovered from homeowners, stating expropriation is the likeliest way.

“A homeowner would have to take on home equity to finance that kind of dwelling, so ideally if you get someone with deeper pockets, like a developer, on board, does the government come in and buy back the land and then sell it to the right developer?” asks Gaggi.

“It could be done in uniform fashion with architectural control and building standards in place, as opposed to an individual doing it on their own. The trick would be to finance the bureaucracy behind it.”

Infill homes were once unpopular, but today, with a paucity of available land, they’re in fashion—if only out of necessity.

“You could see there are pockets, like Midtown and St. Clair Ave. and the areas around Eglinton Ave., where there are a lot of laneways,” said Gaggi. “Downtown is being turned into a concrete jungle—that’s where we have condos, and it’s probably the right solution because you can fit more people there—but Midtown has detached homes and that’s where laneways could go.”

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