The fast lane to affordable housing for one Toronto resident is in a laneway

City council will consider a report this week on the potential for transforming some of the city's laneways into a resource for new housing.

Real estate developer believes time is right to build a laneway house he planned five years ago

Brandon Donnelly has submitted plans to the city to build a laneway home behind a house he owns. He says the cost of building is affordable because he doesn't have to buy more land. (Brandon Donnelly)

City council will consider a report this week on the potential to transform some of the city's laneways into a resource for new housing.

That's something Brandon Donnelly welcomes.

He's been thinking about building a laneway house for more than a decade and even went so far as to submit drawings to the city's planning department five years ago.

The 34-year-old real-estate developer said the reception back then wasn't positive.

"They had no idea what it was. 'Where's the street? There's no frontage.' It didn't register with them," he recounted. "They didn't support it so I decided to put it on hold and wait for the landscape to change."

He believes change is here: he recently brushed off his original drawings, made some adjustments and re-submitted his plans to build a laneway home behind a house he owns in the St. Clair Avenue and Dufferin Street area.

Brandon Donnelly has applied to the city to build himself a two-bedroom laneway house on his property in the Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue area. (Michelle Cheung/CBC News)

"To build it, the cost of it is really the construction cost and the servicing costs, but it's a lot less than going out and buying a lot and trying to build a ground-related house," said Donnelly.

He rents out the main house now and plans to live in the 1000-square-foot, two-bedroom house that will front on the laneway if the city gives him permission to build.

This is the design of the laneway house Brandon Donnelly is hoping to build. (Gabriel Fain Architects)

Not a new concept

There appears to be growing support for laneway home construction in Toronto. In March, Coun. Ana Bailao (Ward 18-Davenport) and Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32-Beaches-East York) worked with two community organizations to produce a report on the concept of adding laneway housing by hosting public meetings and surveys.

The report indicated a majority of residents who provided input supported the idea, but raised concerns about parking, traffic and noise if more laneway homes were built.

Those concerns are expected to be addressed in the report to be presented to city council later this week.

A two-bedroom legal laneway home in Toronto. (Alex Sharpe)

The city has more than 2,400 laneways that span more than 300 kilometres.

The city considered laneway housing back in 2006. At the time, city staff cited privacy concerns as part of the reasoning for not recommending moving forward.

City playing catch up

Donnelly will be going to the committee of adjustment later this summer to seek approval for his project. It will likely be an uphill battle: he said a city planner has already contacted him.

"They just don't have policy around it. They don't have a way of responding to it," he said. "It just doesn't meet the current land-use policy so they can't support it."

Donnelly said he's not discouraged.

"It's just a question of policies catching up to sentiment that's already there."


Michelle Cheung

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michelle Cheung has been around the block a few times having worked as a journalist in Canada and internationally for more than 25 years. She has embraced telling digital, radio and TV stories that affect people in Toronto, the city where she grew up. Michelle's favourite way to explore the city is on her bike. You can reach her at