Much of the GTA’s housing shortages can be attributed to a lack of certain housing types called the “missing middle”: options between single-family dwellings and high-rise apartments. Urban Strategies Inc. ’s Joe Berridge and Michel Trocmé joined TRREB Chief Market Analyst Jason Mercer to discuss the opportunities available to address the GTA’s housing supply issue on the recent Ready to Real Estate podcast episode “An Answer to Toronto’s Housing Shortage.”
First of all, why does the missing middle matter?
When there’s a scarcity of housing options in otherwise amenity-rich residential neighbourhoods, the population begins to decline. According to Joe, there’s been a 5–10 per cent drop over the last couple of decades. A declining population negatively impacts local businesses, schools, and community amenities like transit and libraries.
Joe explains that “part of the missing middle is actually a human missing middle . . . to make it much easier from an affordability perspective for younger people, including families with kids to be able to come into that large part of the city, which is essentially now locked down for single-family housing.”
Part of the imperative in addressing the missing middle is not just ending the housing shortage, but ensuring that all of the GTA’s neighbourhoods continue to thrive and grow. Sustaining the population and allowing households to move within the housing continuum in a given location serves to sustain – and promote – community economic development in turn.
How does development need to change to fix the missing middle?
Development addressing the missing middle needs to identify the unique opportunities in a given neighbourhood. Post-war suburbs in Toronto, with narrow, deep lots, may be suitable for laneway housing or granny flats. The wider, shallower, and often curved lots of 905-area suburbs might be better suited to garden flats or mid-density infills. (Note: for more information and examples of each of these housing types, read The ‘Missing Middle’: An Answer to Toronto’s Housing Shortages? , authored by Urban Strategies Inc.)
“Development isn’t limited to existing residential areas, either,” says Michel. “We’re seeing it on all of our main streets and arterials . . . not just in the traditional downtown portions of Toronto, but also in the suburbs where former small, shopping plazas are being converted to five, six, eight story mid-rise buildings facing those main streets.”
How can governments help?
Jason notes that governments at all levels are aware of the housing shortage and see a need to fix it, especially as part of a COVID-19 economic recovery strategy. “We’ll see a substantial increase in immigration coming to Canada,” he says, “and the GTA will be, or at least should be, the single greatest beneficiary of that immigration.”
To pave the way for a greater diversity of housing options, Joe implores governments to “make it easy.” This means legalizing secondary apartments, laneway apartments or granny suites and easing mid-rise zoning restrictions. The recent move by the City of Toronto to legalize secondary apartments “could free up hundreds of thousands of additional units” alone, says Joe.
Toronto has taken a laudable leadership position to address the missing middle, and Michel hopes to see surrounding GTA communities “lead in doing something really interesting that’s more focused on the suburban fabric,” as well.
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