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Laneway house owner says homes like his are 'real opportunity' for Toronto

Laneway houses are beautiful and functional, can make back alleys safer, and could bring more housing stock to Toronto, says a man who makes his home in one in the city's east end.

Alex Sharpe says city needs to find out 'where the sensitivities are' on the small structures

Alex Sharpe wanted to live in a laneway house because he is passionate about them and believes they could help to solve Toronto's affordable housing woes. (Alex Sharpe)

Laneway houses are beautiful and functional, can make back alleys safer, and could bring more housing stock to Toronto, says a man who makes his home in one in the city's east end.

Alex Sharpe, co-founder of Lanescape, an advocacy group, as well as co-founder of Spire Commercial Realty Inc. and IQ Office Suites, told Metro Morning on Wednesday that he wanted to live in a laneway house because he is passionate about them and believes they could help to solve Toronto's affordable housing woes.

"I do think, given the pressure we have in the city around affordability and around the supply of housing, it's something that deserves further exploration," Sharpe said.

The city will consult its citizens about the idea of laneway houses next month at a forum on Dec. 5, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Evergreen Brick Works, and it is conducting an online survey. Lanescape, non-profit Evergreen and councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ana Bailão are involved in the consultation.

"Our goal with the consultations is to understand where the sensitivities are," Sharpe said. "We are trying to understand how people use their laneways currently, where they see opportunities to change the nature of how laneways are used."

Issues include delivery of services

Sharpe said laneway houses present a "real opportunity" for Toronto because they would be built in desirable, established residential neighbourhoods, they would be quiet, and would be built on under-utilized land.

"You want to respect and maintain the character of the existing neighbourhoods that they are in," Sharpe said.

Issues around laneway houses include the complexity of building them, the risk that one lot would simply be split into two, as well as the delivery of services, including water, gas, hydro and sewage, and whether those services come through the main property or what he calls the front house.

"It's intended to be a basement apartment that is now on top of your garage," he said.

Sharpe said some laneways in Toronto are wider than others and the opportunity to build on them would depend on the available space. 

A few years ago, he said he bought a property with a single storey garage that had been retrofitted by the previous owner into an illegal rental unit. "That's ultimately how I was successful at the committee of adjustment. It already existed," he said.

'Great for my family'

"Currently, after our renovations, it's a one and half storey, slab, one grade, wood frame construction house. If you're looking from the main street, it would be difficult to see," he said.

"It's down a very narrow opening between two detached houses fronting the main street. It blends in nicely. The interesting part of my lot is that on the laneway side, it actually faces a street, as opposed to facing another garage."

He said his laneway house is on a dead end street. "Ultimately, it's great for my family. I have a little girl who is about to turn two and so she rides her little tricycles out there. We go out and actually have met some of our neighbours in that space through being out there. But for the most part, it's a very quiet spot," he said.

Laneway houses, he said, are "a mechanism to try to increase supply," which he believes is desperately needed in Toronto.

With files from Metro Morning

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