In My Opinion: The time has come for laneway suites in Toronto

Residents attend a city-led public meeting on laneway housing, December 2016. PHOTO: Lara O'Keefe

Mary-Margaret McMahon is the Toronto city councillor for Ward 32, Beaches-East York.

At a time when the City of Toronto is desperate to increase its stock of rental housing; when the city is anxious for affordability; and especially at a time when Torontonians are struggling to remain in their homes, the concept of laneway suites appears as a glimmer of hope in our current state of despair.

Mary-Margaret McMahon

Though it certainly is not the single antidote to this problem, it is one possibility among various remedies available to us. With 100,000 new people moving to Toronto each year, and the majority of development applications in the downtown core, it is critical that we explore other intensification options to adequately house our ever growing population.

One city we can look to as an example is Vancouver, B.C. — a city where, currently, one fifth of its rental stock is derived from laneway housing. Alongside Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary have also implemented policies to allow for laneway housing. While Toronto is accustomed to taking the lead on innovative initiatives, we are sorely lagging behind with this housing possibility.

In 2003, a laneway housing proposal was brought forward to the City of Toronto’s planning department, however, it was complicated and not well received. In that proposal, lots could be severed and it was mandatory that services were provided through the lanes. This would be a very costly endeavour, considering we have approximately 2,400 laneways in the city.

Since, Councillor Ana Bailao and I have spearheaded the idea for a laneway suites policy for the City of Toronto. In conjunction with Evergreen CityWorks, Lanescape, and the city’s planning department, we began this work years ago. Three design charrettes drew hundreds of eager residents out to Ward 18, Ward 32, and Evergreen Brickworks where discussions were animated and robust. Attendees were keen — keen to remain in their homes with a new income potential, keen to age in place, keen to offer cross-generational living, and keen to rent a home.

It is important to note that the concept we are working on differs from the initiatives that were proposed in 2003. Our concept involves retaining the property for rental purposes only, and providing servicing from the main house. As with any planning policy, a number of various issues are being considered, including but not limited to privacy, parking, green space, tree canopies, overlook, setbacks, angular planes, heights and access. In order to ensure that this work is on the right track, we are working closely with numerous city departments in an effort to meet their requirements. Toronto Police Services is pleased with the concept, hopeful that the animation of our lanes will help with crime prevention and reduction.

Councillor Bailao, myself, and the rest of our team are in fervent pursuit of a laneway suites policy. This issue will be debated with our councillor colleagues on the Toronto East York Community Council June 13. I encourage you to write in with your thoughts to and/or come down and provide a deputation. It is important for us to hear from you on this vital topic.

The time has come for Laneway Suites to exist in Toronto.


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