Affordable Housing and Housing Affordability: Is Anyone Listening? Part 2 of 3 – Will Lenssen

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Op-Ed created by Will Lenssen, Sales Representative®, Homelife Power Realty Inc, Brokerage® Mar23, 2019

Note: The opinions and positions here are the sole personal expressed opinion and perspective of the author and in no way represent the views of his Brokerage® or his local, provincial, or federal associations or affiliates.

Multiple family housing is an alternative to consider. What is that really? It has often been referred to as MURB’s or Multiple Unit Residential Buildings. See article “Higher Density Housing to Dominate West GTA Soon” – Feb. 25, 2019 by Ephraim Vecina for Canadian Real Estate Wealth. 

In this article, Vecina indicates that high-capacity multi-family housing is rising in the western GTA because it is presently more affordable to most people in the lower and middle class. It is present in Europe. Are we adopting that model for Ontario more so than in the past? Land is becoming expensive with our rising populations and this higher density housing makes environmental and economic sense. Will this plan by builders driven by house buyers help the homeless? It does raise some options to those who handle housing and municipal zoning. Builders who, by default because of a lack of land, have options such as land use sharing with those in need of housing, including the destitute. Multi-family housing is one choice for builders. This would be based on municipal zoning as well as other governmental incentives. There are municipal trends now to zone MURB’s along transit lines such as bus, rail, and subway lines. Those contrary to it are those who own single dwelling homes close to transit routes because of the amenities that such homes have, namely a lack of congestion or people and vehicles; open skies versus being in the shadow of tall buildings; parklands and open spaces.

Another trend called micro-living could be a choice for affordable housing. The article entitled “Could Micro Living Catch on in Toronto?” By Neil Sharma from HomeNews for Canadian Real Estate Wealth Feb. 19, 2019 may have the answer. This is the MURB units being smaller. We are used to larger living spaces than some countries and in some urban centers, this will change soon. The article states that micro-units are about 350 sq ft with an in-unit bathroom and kitchen and rent about 20-30% less than conventional apartments. This would cater to young professionals, but also to those on meager incomes and single parents. They would be popular to those who want to be in the higher density urban areas of public transit to remove the need to buy, keep and pay the high price for parking a car. If they came with some shared amenities like storage, they would be more popular. Some could be distributed to the homeless and be that much more affordable for government subsidies as well.

What about the “Tiny Houses” which are different from micro-units? The following link will help find exactly what tine houses implies. Many are opting for them. “Mobile Housing”, a form of tiny houses, have parks which are increasing in numbers and improving. The typical lot size could accommodate several micro-units. These remind me of the Hobbit village in Lord of the Rings series. We have Tiny Houses in the form of mobile trailer homes that are parked in Puslinch, Ontario that is quite successful. Traditionally, they are a form of “vacation homes” for those who like to be able to move and take their mobile homes with them. It is popular out west where workers live while they have seasonal work or must be mobile to move their homes where the work calls them. A few years back, I sold a camper van to a young man who did just that; it became his home on wheels while he was a transient worker in Western Canada. You may recall that a firm in Vancouver was proposing a plan to take shipping carts from railway lines and converting them into housing. Some plans included stacking them with like a condominium site. That plan included small micro-businesses serving the retail needs of the community. Olympic villages for athletes are similar in nature. Since rental and purchase costs are based on unit sizes, this could be an answer to affordable housing. If some Toronto lakeside condo units are going for up to $1,000 psf (per square foot) to purchase with additional costs for a parking spots (some at $65,000) and lockers (some around $7,000) not including condo fees, then what could the comparable costs be for a Tiny House or a micro-living condo, and compare the costs of such if they were away from the GTA? Safe and efficient building, furniture, and appliance designs can result in amazing micro-units or Tiny Houses for lease or sale. TV series sometimes highlight such projects. There is a market out there and housing would become that much more available for those who can afford it and for the homeless based on governmental aid.

Now we have a “shared idea” from Solterra Co-Housing Ltd found in Port Carling, ON. Here is some information “About Us” taken from Solterra and its Alignable profile. Note that this is a “senior” co-ownership idea that is now a reality.

In this form of housing, each co-owner obtains an exclusive right to occupy a designated and specific suite/unit through a registered Co-ownership Agreement and its provisions/conditions. Each owner also shares the “common space” with other “like seniors”. Note the word co-ownership. Each owner is on a shared title for the property. It is also self-governed. Shared parties share costs of co-owners associated with the operation of the home include the utilities, common expenses, care cost, food, and taxes. A screening process ensures that interested parties and co-owners are like-minded. As with any shared ownership on title, legal advice is strongly recommended and should be part of any purchase agreement. If they want to sell, the co-owner can call their own real estate agent to re-list their interest on MLS®. Soltera Co-Housing Ltd has a subsidiary company that supports the co-owners with services such as shopping, meal preparations, cooking, medication reminders, cleaning, and laundry – even on an “as needed basis”. Ownership includes a 24/7 alarm systems and on-site emergency response, personal panic buttons and alarms for each unit that can be bought on an individual basis. Procedures must also meet the Ministry of Health guidelines. My grandmother lived in such an arrangement in the Netherlands where the practice has been common in senior co-housing developments for some time. Independence is important to seniors and this allows them to be aided while keeping a connection to the community; it is quite different than what some perceive as “institutions”. One in France includes young people who volunteer to set up friendship activities with the residents. An individual’s integrity and dignity are upheld with still “owning” their own home while having a safe setting. A similar arrangement is starting up on Rockwood where a home renovation on available property has expanded to include accommodation for about 12-15 seniors of like mind. With Canada’s demographics, this has great potential. But why just for seniors? I am in favor of age-grouping for the right reasons; however, this plan should also be available for all age groups. It is the idea that younger persons want independence and a place of their own. Not everyone can reach that. For others, what about a combination of age groups? In some countries, this choice is open to all who “fit”. As such, seniors receive help from the presence of youth who can aid seniors and youth benefit from the wisdom of seniors. This “community” unit idea has various options for it seems to be working for seniors. What other options are there for housing?

Part 3 will supply some options beyond those already mentioned in Parts 1 and 2.

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