Central to the City of Toronto’s housing affordability crisis is the idea of a “missing middle” that few housing options exist to bridge the gap between single-family homes and high-rise apartments. Our Ready to Real Estate podcast host and TRREB Chief Market Analyst Jason Mercer discussed the GTA’s missing middle – and the various housing types available to fill in that gap – in a previous episode with Urban Strategies Inc. But what’s in the way of breaking ground on these vital housing options? In “Experimenting with Missing Middle Housing in Toronto,” Jason chats with Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford, an urban planner and member of the City’s Planning and Housing Committee, on how a Toronto pilot project can turn a desire for mid-density housing into a reality.
Brad points to both social and procedural barriers to bringing in more, and varied, housing supply in the City. One is the existing population. At the time of the City’s amalgamation in 1998, what Brad calls “a grand bargain” was struck with neighbourhood associations to keep rapid growth and high-density housing out of their areas, and this was maintained through restrictive residential zoning. When making that “bargain” over 20 years ago, decision-makers couldn’t have predicted Toronto’s explosive growth. This growth outpaced the City’s ability to supply housing and neighbourhood attitudes towards change, resulting in high concentrations of high-density, small-sized condos in some areas and population decline in others, including, according to Brad, his ward of Beaches–East York.
He hopes that a pilot project introducing mid-density housing into existing, largely single-family residential neighbourhoods will win over residents to the idea of adding different housing options on a larger scale. The approach speaks to preserving the “prevailing character” of the neighbourhood.
“It’s really more a conversation about evolving character,” he says. “We can introduce new types of housing that don’t undermine the look and feel of the prevailing character. They can actually add to that, but reflect the world that we’re living in right now, the affordability crisis; and provide a level of incremental change that I think is something people can actually get quite comfortable with and grow to love.”
Of course, even if existing residents are brought on side, there are still barriers to building missing middle housing in the City’s existing processes. “We cannot have the same process for a triplex that we do a 60-storey tower,” Brad adds. “And right now, it’s basically the same thing.” Only by reimagining municipal development approvals processes – including urban design, heritage, engineering, ECS, and water, among others – and “right-sizing” them for different kinds of residential projects, can Toronto create the right return-on-investment conditions to encourage building those projects in the first place.
By working through this reimagining with a pilot project in his ward, Brad wants the City to then be able to roll out a greater diversity of development projects throughout the its residential neighbourhoods, especially ones where the population is in decline.
Tune into the full episode for more insights on Toronto’s missing middle, and watch for a Ready to Real Estate podcast episode later this year when Jason hopes to have Brad back to see how things are going.
If you have questions about the pilot or how the Planning and Housing Committee is addressing housing issues in Toronto, you can reach out here .
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