New report finds housing in the GTHA can be more affordable

Community News & Features Oct 26, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Finding-Missing-Middle3By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA) housing can be more affordable according to Ryerson City Building Institute (CBI) in its October 2018 report.

The report, “Finding the Missing Middle” claims the urban region has more than enough room to meet the current housing demand.

GTHA is one of North America’s fastest growing urban centres and housing has been a key conversation in this part of the continent in recent years. Close to 100,000 housing units are set to roll out in the Toronto region over the next five years. The numbers are records high – more than the region has ever seen before.

“Part of the challenge in delivering appropriate and affordable housing is that a “tall and sprawl” pattern of development has emerged in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area” the report says.

As a result, households are pushed to choose between squeezing into a small condominium unit in a high-rise tower close to good employment, amenities and transit, or a single-family home not served by either transit or amenities and requiring a long commute.

However, as The Philippine Reporter had published in September 2018, rental costs in the city and the suburbs are increasingly expensive.

“Finding the Missing Middle” made Mississauga as a case study by using a model that can be readily transferred to other municipalities. “Our model found room for 170,000 new homes. Over 80% of these units can be delivered in areas prioritized by the Growth Plan and Mississauga’s Official Plan,” wrote Graham Haines and Brianna Aird in the report.

What the region desperately needs, according to the study, is multi-unit housing (at an average unit size of over 1,000 square feet) with access to services, schools, jobs, and transit. Or simply put, adding appropriate housing in already built neighbourhoods, a fraction of the city’s land area. This is what it defines the “Missing Middle.”

But defining the “middle” can be difficult for policy makers, real estate economists and urban planners. Wide discrepancies in house prices throughout the region are attributed to the limited availability of serviced land. For example, a Markham townhouse cost about $1 million in the spring, compared to a detached house price of $1.56 million. In North York, a townhouse is estimated to cost $866,000, compared to $1.7 million for a house with a yard.

“Municipalities need to do a systemic inventory of those lands that are available for development or redevelopment,” said Ryerson CBI executive director Cherise Burda.

The study has divided the areas for new housing into 5 ‘buckets’, assessing Mississauga’s redevelopment potential representing opportunities for different types of development: Major planned developments, GO stations, major nodes / community nodes, transit corridors and arterial nodes / plazas and vacant sites.

“Taking a similar approach across the GTHA would help ensure that we are building abundant new Missing Middle houses, providing opportunities for families to live in desirable neighbourhoods close to transit, jobs, schools and services, and helping to protect the Greenbelt and create a more sustainable region,” the report stated.

“And building in these areas has yet additional benefits, for example, optimizing transit operations and improving household affordability (as getting rid of one car can lead to major cost savings),“ it added.
Graines pointed the challenge is restrictive zoning bylaws that force “tall and sprawl” developments, either making it more profitable for developers to construct higher buildings with smaller units or reducing density intensification to single-family homes and low-rise condos.

“Most of our zoning bylaws were designed when we were building a lot of single-detached houses, but not for the type of density that we need to keep our cities growing,” said the Ryerson CBI research manager.