In an effort to boost housing supply and address skyrocketing demand, Toronto’s recent policy change allowing the conversion of single-family homes into low-rise multiplexes has garnered both praise and caution from housing experts. Although seen as a positive move, observers emphasize that this alone may not immediately make housing more affordable in Canada’s most populous city.

Policy Overview

Toronto councillors, in a May vote, amended a zoning bylaw to permit up to four residential units in a multiplex. This policy aims to increase housing supply, potentially transforming a significant portion of the city’s “yellowbelt,” where only one single-family dwelling per lot was previously allowed.

Potential Impact and Challenges

While experts acknowledge the potential of the multiplex policy to address a severe housing shortage, concerns about immediate affordability persist. Penelope Gurstein, co-director at the Housing Research Collaborative, emphasizes that while increasing density is positive, steps must be taken to ensure affordability. Gurstein suggests allocating at least one unit in new multiplexes as affordable housing and expanding social housing and purpose-built rentals.

High Housing Costs in Toronto

Toronto has long grappled with high housing costs, with April statistics from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board indicating an average home price of $1,153,269. The city faces a supply shortage, with new listings down by 38.3% compared to the previous year.

Similar Moves in Other Cities

The multiplex policy aligns with similar initiatives in other cities like Vancouver, Minneapolis, and Portland. Karen Chapple, director of the school of cities at the University of Toronto, notes that cities adopting such policies have seen positive results. However, she emphasizes that more work is needed for the policy to be successful.

Ensuring Success: Citizen Developers and Affordable Construction

Chapple suggests making it easier for individual homeowners to become “citizen developers” by providing access to capital, pre-approved templates for plans, and education on multiplex conversions. Making construction more affordable by design and providing loans to low-income homeowners are proposed strategies to ensure the success of the multiplex policy.

In conclusion, while Toronto’s multiplex policy is viewed as a step in the right direction, comprehensive strategies and collaborative efforts are needed to truly address the housing challenges and make significant progress toward affordability in the long term.

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