In the past, Toronto’s laneway houses were mostly variations on a half-dozen base models, all designed to suit specific neighbourhoods. They ranged from modest cottages with asymmetrical rooflines and post-and-beam construction to faux Georgian mansions complete with gabled roofs and triangular plinths above the front doors. But while their facades, landscaping and doors are disguised to look like ordinary homes, these structures serve a higher purpose: housing (and hiding) Toronto’s regional energy infrastructure.
In a city where real estate prices have doubled, tripled iReno Vaughan and quadrupled in less than two decades, these small, repurposed spaces are playing a critical role in bolstering the city’s housing supply. Whether as rentals or a source of income, laneway dwellings provide a more affordable alternative to single-family homes, which can cost up to $1 million. And they help to address a citywide problem: a shortage of affordable apartments and a growing waiting list for social housing units.
At the same time, high property values have also created a real estate bloodsport in which gentrification has become a weapon in the class war. When “We Bought a Crackhouse” made headlines in 2017, the young family’s tale of renovating their Parkdale home became an emblem of last-resort gentrification, ripping open a gash in a formerly diverse urban skin already rubbed raw by skyrocketing property prices and the rising inequity that accompanies them.
This story of class war is a familiar one to Toronto residents. In its wake, a generation of rent refugees has been left homeless or forced to relocate. And, as the recent spate of eviction notices and stories demonstrate, even those who own their homes have been unable to escape the city’s merciless rental market.
A growing number of homeowners have responded by retrofitting their properties into multi-unit dwellings. The most popular is the laneway house. Designed to be a place to live while keeping a large back yard, these dwellings have been built by architects and DIYers across the city. Despite their low-profile, laneway houses have won accolades and acclaim for their architectural and ecological innovation.
As with any building, the more units you can fit onto a lot the better it will be for your investment. But, it’s not a given that multiplexes will pop up in every residential area. “Economics will determine where they happen,” says a Toronto-based real estate broker, adding that investors and homeowners looking for additional income will move forward with projects when the numbers make sense.
If you are interested in converting your home into a multi-unit, it’s important to work with an experienced permit designer who can evaluate your property and ensure you meet all local zoning requirements. Contact us at BVM Contracting today to learn more about how we can get you in touch with a permit design team that can evaluate your property’s potential to be converted into a multiplex. We can also help to explain the different options that are available to you based on your budget.