Laneway houses: the future of affordable urban living?

Developers and urban dwellers alike are hoping to move forward on the rather untapped market by creating new real estate in Toronto's tucked away laneways.

Toronto laneways


6 years agoVideo
Some city dwellers and developers hope laneway homes will be a new and viable real estate option. 2:26

Tucked behind the often very expensive houses that line Toronto streets are hundreds of laneways filled with cars and garbage bins and graffiti.

But many are trying to breathe new life into laneways by creating new homes tailor-made for such tights spaces.

Bill Gall is a laneway homeowner. His immediate neighbours might be garages but for Gall, building a three-level home within the small confines of a laneway was a better option than purchasing a condo.

“The opportunity to build a brand new, detached house so close to downtown Toronto is irresistible, you might say,” Gall said. His home resides in a easy-to-miss laneway off Chinatown near Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue.

Developers are looking to take advantage of Toronto’s hidden backstreets by turning even former industrial buildings in laneways into livable spaces like the Lanehouse townhouse development on Barlett Avenue, near Dufferin and Bloor Streets.

“I think that everyone realizes in Toronto how land is at such a premium and people really want to live in the city in an urban lifestyle and I think it will be a growing trend,” said Adam Ochshorn, president of Curated Properties Inc.

Amendments and approvals 

But when it comes to property and housing, trends can’t fully take off without permission.

As it stands, city bylaws currently prevent two separate residential buildings on the same property. Amendments and approvals will be required for this new trend in urban living to continues to grow — and considering soaring house and condo prices, many think it should.

“We want to keep young families and young professionals within Toronto that want to live and work here,” said Shelagh McCartner, assistant professor at Ryerson University's school of urban and regional planning. “And by dense-ifying in this way, while keeping the character of the neighbourhood, it would allow us to not absolutely change Toronto while providing that housing stock."

Some groups, like the Toronto Laneway Renaissance Project — a volunteer-run online publication that collects and shares information on the city's vast network of laneways — are lobbying in their own way for future laneway development.

“We believe that the often-ignored, fear and beloved routes through the city provide an enormous, untapped resource for the development and intensification of community, culture, business and housing,” the group's website reads.

As for Gall, one of the few to have already secured this new urban dwelling, he couldn’t be happier.

“I like it, I like my house, I like the space, I like the location,” he said. “So I think I’ve got basically the best of all worlds.”