Laneway Housing Coming To Toronto?

Sunday Dec 11th, 2016



Our leaders are looking at laneways to ease the city's housing crunch. So if you are a rat or a raccoon, better call the movers. 

The idea, pushed by Davenport Councillor Ana Bailao, our official housing advocate, is to allow cosy abodes to be built on garages, parking pads and behind regular homes. This would transform back alleys into bustling residential zones. "Laneway suites have the potential to increase our housing supply in a responsible, sustainable manner and provide additional rental opportunities for Torontonians," Bailao enthused Tuesday in her launch of a "city-wide consultation" in tandem with Beaches Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon. 

Toronto has 2,400 public alleys, totalling a whopping 250 kilometres. Currently, they are occupied mostly by shadowy citizens, furry pests and garbage bins. We have lots of lanes down here in the amusingly dubbed Garden District, east of Dundas Square. Some have names, such as O'Keefe Lane, Victoria Lane and Frank Natale Lane, the latter named for a hardworking local grocer. 

They are not what you'd call "prime residential." One night this summer in O'Keefe Lane, I swear to God, we watched a Norway rat the size of a wolf try to carry off a City TV van.

Wait until that alpha vermin gets his eviction notice! Like many alleys in Toronto: Nice place to visit. Wouldn't want to live there. 

If you have travelled the Third World, you're familiar with Laneway Housing (LWH). It's a great way to cram many people into small spaces and still have room to tether your goat. Here in Hogtown, your goat needs wings. Condo towers rise all over. But what if you're afraid of heights?

Bailao and McMahon say LWH is ideal for renters who don't like - or can't afford - cookie-cutter condos, or for your granny or college student, or for that kid who JUST WON'T LEAVE.

Alley abodes are currently illegal here, but have been embraced by other Canadian cities, including Regina and Ottawa. Vancouver has a 58-page guide to building one. Maximum 900 square feet, no decks facing neighbours' bedroom windows, porch lights to make the lane warm and welcoming, etc. 

Naturally, civic leaders embrace the windfall in new fees and taxes. Toronto City Hall conducted surveys at a public meeting on December 5th, however the results of those surveys have not yet been made public. 

Well, good for Bailao and McMahon. As long as Toronto doesn't morph into Marrakech, where every home is on an alley, or madcap Manila or jumbled Mumbai, this could be the rebirth of our lonely lanes. "Unlocking" an asset, as McMahon puts it. 

I've long extolled the humble alleys' potential as a network of bicycle lanes, away from main roads, safe and unintrusive like the bike grid in Bogota, Columbia. 

Our laneways could house off-beat retail, like the funky jeans shop in an alley off Dundas Street. We could run our marathons via lanes and parks and keep them from clogging streets. 

In fact, the rats might make 'em run faster.

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