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Unpacking the family condo

John Lorinc has a piece in the Autumn 2018 issue of University of Toronto Magazine that is worth a read. It covers families in Toronto being priced out of the low-rise housing market and/or making the conscious decision to live in an apartment or condo.

He raises an important question:

The big question hovering over this generational transition is all about city-building, and whether increasingly dense metropolitan regions such as Toronto and Vancouver can figure out how to turn all those newly sprouted forests of highrises into true communities that are both affordable and appealing to the wide range of people who call these cities home.

The reality seems to be that more people in this city – out of economic necessity and/or because of a lifestyle preference – are choosing to raise a family in multi-dwelling housing. I live in a condo and my neighbors are raising a child two doors down from me.

I am sure that we will continue to see more of this and I am sure that we will get better at designing for families. We are trying to do our part with the 2-storey homes that we have incorporated into our Junction House project. 

I would, however, like to respond to the underlying tone in the article that but for developers being stubbornly resistant to larger 3-bedroom apartments in this city, we would have a myriad of new condominiums filled with families.

The reality is that there are market and structural forces (including cultural biases) that steer what gets built.

There are affordability considerations. Larger condos cost more money than smaller condos. And that prices out many families, particularly if there are cheaper alternatives available in the form of low-rise housing. 

The reason we appear to be at an inflection point today is because the cheaper alternatives are disappearing. (This of course returns us to the broader question of overall housing affordability.)

There are also timing and financing considerations that likely create a supply-side bias. Most lenders require that a certain number of condo units be pre-sold before construction starts. 

This means that, as a developer, you need people that can both afford what you’re selling and that are willing to buy three to five years out, and perhaps even longer. That can be difficult for many families.

Lastly for this post, there’s the GST/HST New Housing Rebate in Ontario, which I have argued before on the blog could be incentivizing smaller suite sizes and could use a refresh for today’s home prices.

All of this is not to say that we shouldn’t be designing for urban families and that we shouldn’t be focused on delivering more affordable housing to this and other cities. Those are two very important things.

It is simply to say: there’s a lot going on here that needs to be unpacked. 

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