Laneway housing has been all the buzz in Toronto as a way to create more housing in high-density areas. With an eminent housing crisis and very low availability for housing in the city, stakeholders are desperate to find a solution, and find new places to put homes could be the answer. So what exactly is laneway housing?
Think of it as a basement suite, but on top of your existing property. A laneway house is an additional suite on the same property as an already existing house. It is typically built on top of a garage or at the back of the house near a lane or alley. It would function similarly to a basement suite in the sense that it relies on services on the main house, but would be above ground instead. According to Cofounder & Architect of Lanescape, Craig Race, “There are a lot of cities with framework for laneway housing, with Vancouver as a leader for this. The laneway suite gets all of its servicing and mail delivery from the main house, they are always on the same property and must work in tandem with the main property. Through a pretty intense public consultation process, we are trying to build something suitable for Toronto as well.”
Previous city councillor Adam Giambrone killed laneway housing in 2006 when a report condemned the practice because homes would to be provided with external services such as water and hydro from the laneways rather than the main house on the property, and this was seen as untenable by the city. As a result, the city over-regulated laneway housing and made it extremely difficult to build at all. The process to build a laneway suite is covered in red tape and can take months to approve. “It is a difficult process and very expensive. It is necessary to go through the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board, which is a long process and takes a lot of expertise,” Race says. “It is very prohibitive for homeowners today.”
Since then, laneway suites (as opposed to independent houses) have grown in popularity in urban centres across North America, and would rely on the main house for water and electricity. “When the city looked at this before, it was assumed that the laneway would need to provide services, but the services could be provided at the front of the home. It is just a matter of taking it underground.” Race explains. “You would take it from your basement and dig a rear trench to the laneway house.” Once the trench is constructed, the laneway suite would use the same water and electricity as the main home.
In conjunction with Evergreen, Lanescape has been involved in public consultations across the city educating people on the importance of laneway housing. The involved parties have been actively engaging with city councillors, meeting with technical staff who will be affected by the changes and hosting presentations for the public to be involved. The public consultation process ramped up after Ontario Minister of Housing Chris Ballard announced last fall that every municipality should begin developing legislation for laneway housing across the province.
Allowing laneway suites would ultimately be a positive development for Toronto because it responds to the need for housing in high-density neighbourhoods and is also a sustainable approach to housing. “Laneway suites and sustainable living go hand in hand. They allow for visible density because people can co-habitat on existing structures and makes better use of what we have,” Race says. “These structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. There is also a point to be made about the health component of living above ground, and not in a basement.”
In order to develop a cohesive report to present to council in the spring, Lanescape is accepting responses to a public survey as a part of their consultation process. From there, the report will be delivered to city council and they will begin debating to see if laneway suites can become a part of the housing development landscape in the city.
If you are interested in supporting laneway housing, take the survey and help push forward the agenda for more affordable housing initiatives in Toronto.