By Naama Blonder and Josh Papernick
Finding and designing development solutions to unlock the City’s “Neighbourhood” areas has been a major focus at Smart Density. I have been a strong advocate for Missing Middle housing and rethinking how the City can take advantage of its land, and was very excited to see this document being published. We have put together this summary in order to help you understand what the City is proposing and what may be relevant if you were planning to pursue a Missing Middle housing project.
Why did the city introduce this document?
In July 2019, Mayor John Tory and Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao passed a motion that asked city planners to consider new forms of development within Toronto’s “Neighbourhoods”. These residential lands cover most of the city in what has been termed the “Yellowbelt” and contain outdated zoning that mostly restricts development to single-detached houses.
The goal of “Expanding Housing Options” is to determine ways to allow “Missing Middle” options and by extension more affordable housing, such as duplexes, triplexes, low-rise apartments, garden suites behind houses, and rooming houses everywhere in these exclusively zoned areas. This response was the result of intensified media scrutiny and public pressure on the City to move away from the status quo of how it has traditionally handled planning and development.
What is the current status of Missing Middle development in Toronto?
To rewind a couple steps, it is beneficial to look back at what is included in the Missing Middle. This type of typology includes laneway housing, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes (and other ‘plexes’), townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings. Essentially, it refers to building typologies that contain a higher density than a single-family house but a lower density than a mid-rise building, which is defined as 6-11 storeys in height by the City of Toronto’s mid-rise buildings design guidelines.
Much of the City’s new housing stock has come in the form of mid- and high-rise development. In Toronto’s “Inclusionary Zoning Assessment Report: Housing Needs and Demand Analysis”, published in May 2019, it was noted that multi-unit buildings of five storeys or higher increased by 30% between 2006 to 2016, compared to 3% in its low-rise building stock of less than five storeys. Despite a high demand for more affordable housing, the scale of this latter type of intensification is relatively minor.
In the January 2019 report titled “Toronto Housing Market Analysis: From Insight to Action”, it was noted that many of the City’s low-rise neighbourhoods have declined in population. In fact, it was determined there are 220,000 less people in these areas since 2001, with younger cohorts largely underrepresented. This indicates that public resources are being underutilized and that there is room to expand capacity and introduce a more even demographic mix in terms of age, income, race etc., especially if areas are well-served by transit and existing infrastructure.
The City has identified approximately 5,000 Missing Middle units in the form of development applications between 2014 to 2018 out of the 400,000 total residential units proposed. This represents only 1% of the projects in the City’s residential development pipeline during this time. Additionally, there have only been around 2,500 new units added through the City’s “as-of-right” building permit system between 2011 to 2018, which constitutes only 0.6% of the total proposed residential units over this period.
The opinions of community associations can reveal a lot of information as they hold a large amount of power in neighbourhood decisions and considerable sway over local councillors. In February 2020, City Planning launched a survey designed to identify issues and establish priorities from the perspective of these associations in terms of expanded housing options.
A total of 241 groups representing all 25 Wards were sent invitations, with an overall response rate of 42%. Views on increasing housing options and planning permissions in Neighbourhoods were quite mixed. While 48% of associations supported the idea, almost as many (40%) were against, and only 55% were open to discussing the idea. Ideally, you would like a higher level of support in order to pass housing policies that aim higher than traditional incremental plans.
What is contained in the proposed Work Program?
The report presents proposed actions in six broad categories:
- “Engage” public and stakeholder consultation on proposed housing options
- “Enable” projects to expand permissions for additional housing options
- “Facilitate” projects to facilitate missing middle development where it is already permitted in the Official Plan and zoning
- “Study” areas where further study is needed to advance new permissions or facilitate the development of expanded housing options
- “Pilot” initiatives to test at a small scale
- “Monitor” work to determine desired outcomes, establish methods and metrics for tracking, and maintain reporting
What new proposed initiatives may directly help me pursue a Missing Middle project?
Garden suites and other accessory dwelling units
The City is planning to develop appropriate Official Plan policy and zoning amendments required to permit suites in accessory buildings without laneways, which they are referring to as “garden suites” or “coach houses”. Second units are currently permitted within a building that is ancillary to a detached or semi-detached house or townhouse.
Expand additional unit permissions in Residential zones in new and existing buildings
The City is considering Official Plan policies and zoning changes to accommodate more housing units in Residential zones within existing buildings. This may allow duplexes and triplexes to be added as permitted uses in areas zoned for detached and semi-detached houses. This may include simplifications to zoning language in order to address both purpose-built multiplex dwellings and additional units in existing buildings. Secondary suites are typically the only current permitted option to increase additional units in most neighbourhoods.
Major Streets zoning
The City is considering rezoning Neighbourhoods-designated properties that front Major Streets listed on Official Plan Map 3. There is approximately 250 km of parcels designated Neighbourhoods that front onto Major Streets. Pre-zoning to allow the full range of low-rise building types would provide greater certainty with regard to the permitted housing forms and help eliminate process barriers for applicants.
Review parking requirements and driveway standards for missing middle residential types
The City will reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements for low-rise apartment buildings, multi-unit dwellings and other housing options of interest. This will help promote housing where traditional parking regulations would have presented a development obstacle, and also support active transportation and transit use.
Review multi-unit zoning standards
The construction of new Missing Middle housing has been limited to areas with the R (Residential) and RM (Residential Multiple) zoning standards. The City will review additional areas where these may be applied in order to move past outdated standards, such as unit caps within multi-unit zones and limitations on the number of doors facing a street.
Review municipal financial tools to encourage additional housing options
The City will consider measures such as program support to encourage affordable housing and purpose-built rental housing in Missing Middle forms. It will also review development fees and taxes related to at-grade renovations in order to help reduce financial barriers to increasing housing units.
Identify and resolve process barriers to building new low-rise housing in Neighbourhoods
The City plans to consider altering unnecessary zoning requirements and adjust review processes for low-rise housing, expanding as-of-right zoning for low-rise building types, and the potential use of the Community Planning Permit System.