Laneway housing a step closer to reality after community consultations

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Laneway housing a step closer to reality after community consultations

The majority of residents who engaged in community consultations support laneway suites in the city, according to a new report, and the next step will be to get city councillors on board.

Councillors Ana Bailao (Ward 18-Davenport) and Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32-Beaches-East York), in conjunction with community organizations Evergreen and Lanescape, brought the issue of adding housing to the city's laneway system to residents in the form of public meetings and surveys.

That work wrapped up late last year, and in a report issued this week, the group noted widespread support for the idea, but that residents have questions covering issues such as:

- How big the structures should be.

- Ways that the development could be done sustainably.

- Whether the development process, from zoning bylaws to financial incentives, could be improved.

Bailao, speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday, said the group is now preparing a report, including a set of proposed guidelines for laneway development, that it will take to Toronto and East York community council.

"There's such a need for diversifying our housing stock that people are excited about this idea," Bailao said. "I think Toronto is ready to have this conversation."

Basement apartment goes out to garage

While laneway development may conjure up images of large homes being built along narrow slivers of land, the proposal actually calls for allowing a small apartment or suite at the back of a residential lot that is not connected to the property's main house. Options for using such spaces include a caregiver, in-law or "granny" suite, or a rental unit.

Laneway suites are also being pitched as an avenue for easing the city's rental-housing crunch, by tapping into one of the last remaining sources of under-utilized land.

"This is taking your basement apartment and putting it on top of your garage," Bailao said.

The city has more 2,400 laneways that span more than 300 kilometres. But not all spaces are ripe for development, Bailao said when asked how many suites could be added to the landscape. Some homeowners may simply be uninterested in pursuing such development, she added.

To compare, Vancouver has added more than 2,000 units since the city began allowing laneway development in 2009, she said.

Privacy, parking among residents' concerns

Not all residents were supportive, however, according to the report. Some were concerned that development would contribute to parking shortages, traffic and noise, or would reduce privacy.

Back in 2006, the last time that Toronto was considering laneway housing, city staff cited privacy concerns, including views into people's homes and backyards, as well as shadows, as part of their reasoning for not recommending moving forward.

There were also questions at the time about how to deliver services to laneway homes, including garbage pick-up and emergency help.

Bailao said Friday that such questions will be answered in the guidelines her group will present to councillors, including ideal lot sizes and set-backs, privacy protections and other proposals. The consultations also led the group to conclude that all services would have to be delivered from the front of the property, not the laneway.

Ultimately, development could transform laneways — which are currently used mainly for parking and garbage storage — into more vibrant, and potentially safer, parts of the city, she said.

"This is an opportunity to bring a little bit more safety, to bring more eyes, more life into those laneways," Bailao said. "So that aspect to this project is important."