As we continue to contend with ongoing housing woes in the GTA, laneway housing is one potential way to help increase supply and provide much needed rental units.
Councillors Ana Bailao and Mary-Margaret McMahon had a vision to allow laneway homes in the city and last week the Toronto and East York Community Council reviewed and authorized staff to move forward with a number of recommendations for laneway housing.
A laneway home is literally a house built in an existing laneway. It’s a small one or two-storey structure that is detached from the primary home and is usually located at the rear of a residential property facing a laneway or alley. All of the unit’s services such as water, sewer, electricity, and gas come from the main house and its entrance opens onto the laneway or alley.
There are a number of benefits with laneway housing. In addition to providing an alternate housing option and to increasing the quality of affordable rental housing in the city, laneway homes offer a place for adult children, empty nesters and aging parents to live and be close to their family while maintaining their privacy. As well, with multi-generational living on the rise, the concept of laneway suites looks beyond the traditional basement apartment and expands secondary housing choices and mix.
Municipalities across Canada including Vancouver, Ottawa and Regina have adopted laneway housing as an effective way of delivering gentle density within the urban landscape of their cities.
Toronto also has a huge potential for developing laneway homes with more than 2,400 publically owned laneways covering more than 250 kilometres of public space much of which is rundown and abandoned. These areas could be used for creating laneway housing, turning unused spaces into modest housing options within established neighbourhoods that are also close to key amenities such as transit, parks and shops.
Introducing laneway suites into older neighbourhoods in our city could actually help keep communities from deteriorating. A study released in 2015 Make Way for Laneway demonstrates that the population of some older neighbourhoods in the GTA is shrinking as residents age and their children move out. Bringing in more small-scale housing options in these established neighbourhoods would keep the neighbourhood population stable, which in turn would provide the customers that local businesses need to thrive.
Development within a mature neighbourhood is often a big concern for residents because they don’t want their community to change. However, laneway housing increases density in a different way. Changes occur gradually maintaining the look and feel of low-rise residential streets throughout its transformation.
Municipalities that already have laneway housing have found that this form of moderate intensification within existing neighbourhoods can exist without altering the neighbourhood’s character and scale.
Currently laneway suites are not permitted in Toronto under the existing zoning by-law although they have been considered case-by-case and involve an onerous process with unnecessary costs. As part of the plan to move forward with such suites, the report recommends that the City eliminate these barriers by proposing policy changes that will allow and encourage laneway homes to be built.
The land development, home building and professional renovation industry has been a strong advocate for laneway housing development. It is an important step in delivering more innovative housing options for the GTA and providing people with housing choices that are more affordable.