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Toronto has issued nearly 200 building permits for laneway suites — is that enough?

We talk a lot on this blog about laneway housing and ADUs, including, of course, the one that Globizen built earlier this year. But beyond being exceedingly cool (see above), what has this policy change meant at the macro level? To what extent is it actually helping housing supply? Let’s consider Toronto.

As a reminder, “laneway suites” became permissible in the former/old City of Toronto in 2018. The policies where then expanded to the entire city of Toronto in the summer of 2019. So we’ve had just over 2 years of this housing type being fully allowed city-wide.

Though it’s worth keeping in mind that there are only so many laneways in Toronto (which is why “garden suites” are going to be important and may actually end up being more impactful):

Between the introduction of laneway suites and June 2021, the City of Toronto received 306 permit applications to construct, of which 238 were associated with a unique address (the same address can have multiple permit applications).

During this same time period, 183 permits were issued. 107 were still under review at the time this report was written. 15 were refused. And 1 was classified as “unknown”, which I guess means it got lost in the ether or under someone’s desk.

Some of you will probably argue that this isn’t enough new housing for a city of 3 million people with high home prices, high demand, and high immigration. And I would agree.

But it’s still early days, there will be an adoption curve, and the policies are still being tweaked to further remove some of the barriers associated with delivering this housing type. Of the 238 unique addresses that submitted a permit application, just over a quarter of them had an associated minor variance application, which means that they did not fully conform to the current laneway suite by-law.

The most common obstacles appear to be the 1.5m laneway setback, the soft landscaping requirements, and the required fire access. But I know that there are others too. I could have used another foot or two in height on mine.

But as I mentioned before, there are more areas in this city without laneways than with. And so garden suites are going to be an integral component of city-wide ADUs. This will certainly help the adoption curve.

I continue to believe that these are all steps in the right direction and that this is an exciting time for Toronto. We are in the midst of transforming our laneways. But we’re not done yet. We’re going to have to make many other tough decisions in order to further increase housing supply. I’m positive we’ll get there.

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