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Laneway Housing

Avenue

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I want laneway housing to happen as soon as possible mainly so that I can stop hearing about it. The discussion around it is extraordinarily large compared how insignificant an impact it will actually have in terms of relieving the housing situation in this city.
 

steveintoronto

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I want laneway housing to happen as soon as possible mainly so that I can stop hearing about it. The discussion around it is extraordinarily large compared how insignificant an impact it will actually have in terms of relieving the housing situation in this city.
It is already happening. Your sense of time is relative to your sense of proportion. It was never touted to totally relieve the supply shortage, which, btw, is arguable. There's indication now that the increase in supply is proportionate to rate of population growth. What's gotten skewered is demand based on hysteria not supported by the market fundamentals, but that besides, you miss the essential point. Why rip down perfectly wonderful neighbourhoods to put up gargantuan high-rises when they can be put on open space and brownfields?

I think we should rip down your house and replace it with a high-rise parking lot. How's that sound?

Meantime, a sensible approach can be taken to increase density and yet add to the quality of an existing neighbourhood by doing laneway development, and mid-rise infill.
Mid-Rise: Density at a Human Scale
All growing cities must find ways to develop at appropriate, transit-supporting densities without overwhelming the surrounding context. The human-scaled, mid-rise building can be a solution—but achieving a good neighbourhood “fit” is not easy.
March 12, 2014, 6am PDT | Robert Freedman


Quadrangle Architects
Used by Permission
(Updated 03-17-14) I had the great privilege of living in Manhattan for two years in the early 1990s while I was studying and working in New York. After weeks of searching I found a small apartment in Kips Bay, on the fourth floor of a classic New York walk-up. I was drawn to the neighborhood not only because I could afford it—barely—but also because of its comfortable, human scale. After a day spent working among the glass and brick towers of Midtown—I would walk home and feel part of a neighbourhood. The scale was comfortable, the sidewalks were sunny and I could find everything I needed—from bagels and pizza to dental floss, dry cleaning, draught beer and pocket parks—all within a five-minute walk of my front door.

My building was a solid brick walk-up—like thousands of apartments from that era—built after legislation had put an end to the worst tenement housing. Though small, my place had two large, double-hung windows in the main room for light—and light-wells in the kitchen and bathroom—which provided a much needed cross-breeze in the summer. These buildings had no elevators—not because they hadn’t been invented—but rather because they were too expensive for everyday housing. Without an elevator they were typically constructed to a height of four or five (sometimes six) stories, in direct relation to how many flights of stairs people were willing to climb. Anyone who has regularly carried bags of groceries (and a bike) up four flights of stairs will attest to the upper limits of human mobility.

Like many things in the design of cities, when you let the limits of human movement dictate size and proportions, the scale begins to feel human. No surprise there. In areas of Manhattan where entire blocks of walk-up apartments have been preserved, the human scale provides an amazing and welcome contrast to the soaring, elevator-towers that cover much of the rest of the island. You immediately sense how the heights of the buildings are in harmony with the width of the street. The materials are warm and natural, and, on the Avenues and major streets, the sidewalks are lined with small shops and restaurants. While walking, you have the sense that you “fit.” It’s not unlike retrieving your jacket after having mistakenly slipped into someone else’s that was several sizes too large. It just feels right. I remember wondering at the time—would it be possible to replicate this feeling in other cities? We’re no longer building elevator-less, brick walk-ups, but I was convinced that regardless of architectural styles it would be possible to create that comfortable human scale in a contemporary setting.



An example of mid-rise construction along a 20 metre wide right-of-way. Image from the Avenues & Mid-Rise Buildings Study. Credit: BMI (Brook McIlroy Planning & Urban Design).

Fast-forward ten years and I’m back to my hometown as the director of urban design for the city of Toronto. The ink is barely dry on the city’s new Official Plan, and already critics are attacking the new Avenues Policy. As one articulate critic stated, “Trying to recreate European-style Avenues lined with cheek-by-jowl, mid rise buildings along Toronto’s commercial Avenues is the triumph of bureaucratic wishful (read ‘delusional’) thinking over common sense.” Despite the clever quip, I think the Avenues Policy makes a great deal of practical sense in Toronto, where we are grappling with rapid population growth and a need to create density along our existing and proposed higher-order-transit streets.

With very strict rules in place to protect our “stable, single-family, residential neighbourhoods,” the only place to build denser, mixed-use buildings is in our Downtown, the Centres and along the Avenues. Developers have been more than happy to continue building high-rise condominium towers wherever they are permitted, but in general, tall buildings are not allowed adjacent to neighbourhoods. We arrived at mid-rise, as a more modest form of density that both residents and developers could accept—if not embrace. It turned out that building mid-rise on the Avenues was a more difficult challenge than anticipated, and I was very eager to find ways to make it work. [...continues at length...]
https://www.planetizen.com/node/67761

Avenues & Mid-Rise Building Study - Consultant’s Report (pdf)
A note on the author:
Robert Freedman, MRAIC, AICP, LSUC, ULI, CanU, is Principal of Freedman Urban Solutions and an Urban Design, Planning and Development Advisor with over 25 years of experience working in a variety of urban and suburban environments in both the public and private sectors.
 
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Avenue

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It is already happening. Your sense of time is relative to your sense of proportion. It was never touted to totally relieve the supply shortage, which, btw, is arguable. There's indication now that the increase in supply is proportionate to rate of population growth. What's gotten skewered is demand based on hysteria not supported by the market fundamentals, but that besides, you miss the essential point. Why rip down perfectly wonderful neighbourhoods to put up gargantuan high-rises when they can be put on open space and brownfields?

I think we should rip down your house and replace it with a high-rise parking lot. How's that sound?
I wouldn't care because I'm renting month to month where I am and it may be a matter of months before I'm priced out of there. That is the reality for the majority people in Toronto and that is why the middle-class oriented laneway housing discussion is so tone deaf. "Perfectly wonderful neighbourhoods" mean nothing to majority of the people in Toronto as they don't live in or visit one. They don't have proportional voice or representation - that's a different issue.
 

steveintoronto

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I wouldn't care because I'm renting month to month where I am and it may be a matter of months before I'm priced out of there. That is the reality for the majority people in Toronto and that is why the middle-class oriented laneway housing discussion is so tone deaf. "Perfectly wonderful neighbourhoods" mean nothing to majority of the people in Toronto as they don't live in or visit one. They don't have proportional voice or representation - that's a different issue.
So you want to pizz on everything else out of spite? Hey, I came to this nation with barely the clothes on my back...don't get me started. Do you think for a moment tearing down other housing to put up high-rise is going to offer you something more affordable? You'd best do some reading. The opposite is happening, like adding fuel to a chimney fire. But I digress, the Globe and Star (as well as many other media) have had stories on that within the last few weeks, and Toronto's problem is far from being a supply-driven one, it's from people like you lighting fires at the drop of a match.
[...]
Realtors don’t want a foreign-buyers tax. They prefer politicians to instead address what they see as a supply problem caused by regulations that restrict construction of new houses. Condos are as thick as grass in Toronto – a lawn of glass and steel. New housing projects are scarcer, and this imbalance needs attention because a lot of buyers prefer houses over condos.

But that’s a medium- to long-term fix for housing. A foreign-buyers tax is much quicker-acting, so let’s get on it. Don’t be deterred by data from the Toronto Real Estate Board indicating that just under 5 per cent of residential real estate transactions last year involved foreign buyers, and that more than half were buying homes for themselves or members of their family.

The modest size of the contingent of foreign speculators argues for a tax, not against. If TREB’s numbers are accurate, a tax would slow the market modestly rather than crushing it. Bloated to bursting as they are, house prices need delicate handling.

The reason is that big swaths of the country are mortgaged to residential real estate. Individuals have massive amounts of their wealth tied up in their houses, governments at various levels have come to rely on tax revenue generated by the housing sector and the entire economy depends heavily on spending related to housing. [...]
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/foreign-buyers-tax-would-help-tame-torontos-housing-market/article34271252/
Toronto's housing woes a demand problem, not supply: Study
Joshua Gordon, assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, says addressing the supply side of the equation won't help when it comes to addressing soaring Toronto home prices; it's all about high demand. [...]
http://www.bnn.ca/real-estate/video/toronto-s-housing-woes-a-demand-problem-not-supply-study~1077675


Meantime:
upload_2017-3-17_14-46-3.png


Lots of info here: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=f3064af89de0c410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
 

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LUVIT!

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A question. Will this bylaw be for only lane ways? What I mean is if one is on a decent sized corner lot could the back of the property, with full access to the side street, possibly be considered?
 

Avenue

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But I digress, the Globe and Star (as well as many other media) have had stories on that within the last few weeks, and Toronto's problem is far from being a supply-driven one, it's from people like you lighting fires at the drop of a match.
I found the rest of the post not the quite relevant or responding to anything I've said... but out of curiosity what do you even mean here?
 

steveintoronto

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In answer to your writing this:
I wouldn't care because I'm renting month to month where I am and it may be a matter of months before I'm priced out of there. That is the reality for the majority people in Toronto and that is why the middle-class oriented laneway housing discussion is so tone deaf. "Perfectly wonderful neighbourhoods" mean nothing to majority of the people in Toronto as they don't live in or visit one. They don't have proportional voice or representation - that's a different issue.
It's no wonder it's incomprehensible to you...

I wrote:
the Globe and Star (as well as many other media) have had stories on that within the last few weeks, and Toronto's problem is far from being a supply-driven one, it's from people like you lighting fires at the drop of a match.
In answer to your claiming lack of supply is all that's behind the ridiculous price of renting in Toronto. It isn't. Rampant speculation of buyers, almost half of them not resident in Toronto, or intending to be, is the major force behind the bubble pricing.

A foreign-buyers tax would help to cool Toronto's housing market ...
https://www.thestar.com › Opinion › Editorials
6 days ago - A levy on foreign buyers would help to cool the Toronto housing market as the politicians work on longer-term solutions.

Ontario reconsidering a foreign buyers' tax to cool housing market ...
www.theglobeandmail.com › Real Estate › Toronto
Mar 9, 2017 - Brad Henderson, CEO of Sotheby's International Realty Canada, said foreign buyers are a tiny proportion of the Toronto market and any move ...

A foreign-buyers housing tax in Toronto? Bring it on - and fast - The ...
www.theglobeandmail.com › Globe Investor › Personal Finance › Household Finances
Mar 10, 2017 - The Toronto market must be tamed because it's turning into a laboratory experiment on how obsessional thinking about a particular kind of ...
You visited this page on 16/03/17.

Biggest factor in Ontario's red-hot housing market is demand: finance ...
globalnews.ca/.../ontario-foreign-buyer-tax-would-not-address-soaring-prices-toronto...
Mar 10, 2017 - Ontario's finance minister said Friday that while he is considering a tax on foreign home buyers for Toronto and beyond, it's not the biggest ...
 
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innsertnamehere

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They have done this a lot in Cornell in Markham. All the new houses are laneway access, and they gave buyers the option to construct a rental unit on top of the rear garage. Lots of them scattered around the subdivision, and creates a healthy mix of affordable rental housing in the neighbourhood. Rent is typically $1000-$1200 judging by craigslist

laneway housing.jpg
 

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steveintoronto

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They have done this a lot in Cornell in Markham. All the new houses are laneway access, and they gave buyers the option to construct a rental unit on top of the rear garage. Lots of them scattered around the subdivision, and creates a healthy mix of affordable rental housing in the neighbourhood. Rent is typically $1000-$1200 judging by craigslist
Excellent! Thanks for the rental price too. I'm a bit late catching it, but NOW mag had an extensive piece on Laneway Housing two days ago:
https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/real-estate/Toronto-laneway-housing-future/
I'm literally in the midst of an email debate with an architect/lecturer friend and one of his assistant architects at this moment, albeit I'm sure he's now hit the sack, and to save time transcribing, I'm just going to paste this in after slight editing:
He wrote in reply to an earlier send on this:
[Except that Toronto doesn't have a housing crisis. There are about 100,000 uninhabited dwellings in Toronto.]

My reply:

I question the figure for Toronto, but Van has certainly taken action:
http://www.bnn.ca/b-c-introduces-15-real-estate-tax-targeting-foreign-homebuyers-1.532374
http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/empty-homes-tax.aspxAnd UK done similar:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/council-tax-empty-homes-premium
Ontario considering following-suit, and this from Ryerson Policy Paper:
http://www.ryerson.ca/citybuilding/
But I agree, whether it's empty housing or not, it's as much a *Demand* driven market as Supply, some figures indicate the rate of build per unit numbers = increase in population numbers.
But all of that besides, given the option of increasing density by 'high-rise infill' (as per what's being projected for the High Park neighbourhood) and 'laneway housing' (or the equivalent in other forms of non-severed plot development) I vote for the latter!
And polls indicate that the majority of respondents agree!
Code Red: Toronto residents want more laneway suites, survey shows
I've completed the Laneway Housing Survey
http://www.oaa.on.ca/news & events/news/detail/SURVEY--City-of-Toronto-and-Laneway-Housing/1987
http://lanescape.ca/survey/
And will certainly attend the (May 9?) seminar on same. All other factors aside, I think living in such a unit would be great! And having a workspace beneath would be a dream.

A later send, I wrote after confirming his claim of "100,000 uninhabited units in Toronto":

[There are about 100,000 uninhabited dwellings in Toronto. ]

I was skeptical of the number, but indeed, your figure appears to be corroborated:

Feb. 12, 2017,
[Hold my beer Vancouver, we got this. The newly released 2016 Census numbers from Statistics Canada, show the City of Toronto saw Vancouver’s 25k+ unoccupied homes, and trumped it by another 74k units. Now with over 99k unoccupied homes in the city, speculation of Toronto real estate might be worse than previously thought.][...]
http://www.businessinsider.com/toronto-has-more-than-99000-unoccupied-homes-2017-2

I have to make clear, he supports the concept of laneway housing, but feels the premise of necessity due to a "housing crisis" is baseless. Our discussion continues tomorrow...
 

wopchop

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Doesn't mean that it is not a 'housing crisis'. It just means that it is not an issue of supply.

If there are 100,000 uninhabited dwellings in Toronto, and they are uninhabited either because their rents are too high for market, or because speculators are hanging onto properties, or some combination of both, then I would certainly call that a crisis.
 

steveintoronto

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Doesn't mean that it is not a 'housing crisis'. It just means that it is not an issue of supply.

If there are 100,000 uninhabited dwellings in Toronto, and they are uninhabited either because their rents are too high for market, or because speculators are hanging onto properties, or some combination of both, then I would certainly call that a crisis.
Absolutely agreed. We're up against semantics and definition of "supply"...which in actual units being built, matches the rate of increase in population.

A better term might be *available supply*...and by realizing why that availability is stymied would go a long way to addressing the 'bubble' in prices, which of course is a related issue.
I want laneway housing to happen as soon as possible mainly so that I can stop hearing about it. The discussion around it is extraordinarily large compared how insignificant an impact it will actually have in terms of relieving the housing situation in this city.
Avenue's lament is spiteful as well as badly aimed, and I answered quite curtly to him/her prior. This is an issue of *quality* of community expansion, not quantity.

I've got to get more details on Insert Name's Markham example, because if Markham can do it, so can Toronto. The "100,000" un-inhabitated units can be addressed better in the "bubble" string, and that's something many cities have done. It looks like Toronto is lagging badly on that.
 

narduch

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I don't understand how people get away with leaving homes unnocupied.

When my wife's grandmother moved into a nursing home the insurance company told us to either put the house on sale or rent it. They wouldn't insure an empty house.
 

steveintoronto

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I don't understand how people get away with leaving homes unnocupied.

When my wife's grandmother moved into a nursing home the insurance company told us to either put the house on sale or rent it. They wouldn't insure an empty house.
I was shocked at the "100,000" figure for uninhabited units for Toronto. I knew it was substantial, had no idea it was *multiples more than Vancouver!*

I'm going to dig into the federal government stat later, but this topic is becoming a hot one, been a number of opening page articles on it in the Globe and Star just within the last few days. The following is interesting:
Using taxation as an instrument of social policy is hardly new. In fact, the intent of a lot of taxes is to achieve the happy result (for government anyway) of both raising revenue and influencing behaviour. And so it is with the current proposal to tax empty homes.

Taxing empty homes seems to be uncharted territory in Canada, with much discussion but little or no implementation. However, similar taxes have been used elsewhere to control investment or expand the availability of rental housing.

For example, Camden, a borough in London, relied on its governing statute to impose a tax on homes that have been vacant for more than two years. Enforcement and collection has apparently included the inspection of tax records, site inspections and even (shiver) a snitch-line. Camden has allegedly converted more than 170 properties from empty to occupied in three years. Other London boroughs might be following suit.

France has apparently imposed a tax on empty homes in towns and cities with populations over 50,000. Melbourne, Australia, is apparently considering its own tax.

Experience in B.C. tells us that not everyone will welcome a new tax. So could a tax on empty homes be challenged and, if so, what might a B.C. court have to say about it?

First, much would depend on whether the tax laws state clearly enough when a home is or is not to be considered empty. For example, a home will presumably need to be unoccupied for a minimum time to qualify as empty because no one politician in his or her right mind would want to penalize a hard-working taxpayer for taking a holiday or renovating a kitchen. Seriously though, figuring out and saying with clarity what sorts of occupancy or periods of occupancy would lead to a home not being considered empty will be a challenge. And if the parameters of the tax are unclear, its validity could be open to question.

Second, the tax could be challenged as an unlawful constraint on a person’s right to deal freely with his or her property. However, property rights are not enshrined in the Charter, and the rights we have do not guarantee that property ownership will come without a cost. We all have to pay property taxes, and zoning bylaws legitimately limit the uses we can make of our property. The Residential Tenancy Act and human rights codes restrict our ability to choose renters and buyers, terminate tenancy agreements or increase rents. Governments can expropriate if they wish (and don’t get me started on strata bylaws…).

In any event, the idea that we somehow have an untrammelled right to use and enjoy our property as we see fit is wishful thinking (or unwished for thinking, depending on your perspective), and I doubt that a court would see a tax on empty homes as much different from all the other taxes or restrictions we have to cope with if we choose to own property.

Third, the tax could be questioned on constitutional grounds because, given the demographic realities of the Vancouver real estate market, its effect will be disproportionately felt by a particular group. However, a court would almost certainly regard this as coincidental and not a driving force behind the tax.

Fourth, privacy rights might rear their head and the tax could be challenged if its collection involves an alleged violation of a taxpayer’s privacy rights through some hideous mix of surveillance, snooping and information gathering. Canadian courts have tended to regard privacy rights as a Charter value, and if a court decides that the collection of the tax infringes that value it could decide not to uphold it. However, much would depend on the wording of the tax laws and how they are enforced.

Fifth, the process by which the tax is adopted could be challenged if, for example, there is reason to believe that the City of Vancouver exceeded its powers in imposing the tax. This would more likely be an issue if the city were to impose a tax or similar charge unilaterally without specific authority from the legislature.

At the end of the day, I suspect that a tax on empty homes would survive legal challenge with relative ease. And, of course, as with most taxes, the tax would probably be with us long after empty homes have ceased to be a political hot potato.

D. John Goundrey is a partner at the Vancouver law firm of Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP whose practice involves property law

https://www.biv.com/article/2016/7/testing-murky-legal-waters-urban-empty-homes-tax/
 

steveintoronto

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When my wife's grandmother moved into a nursing home the insurance company told us to either put the house on sale or rent it. They wouldn't insure an empty house.
This brings up the related point of insuring laneway housing:
Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 18, 2015 4:46AM EDT

TORONTO - Soaring real estate costs are pushing some Canadian cities to embrace laneway housing, touted as the future of affordable living in urban centres.

But as the properties become more popular and balloon in value, questions are beginning to arise about whether current insurance practices are sufficient.

Home insurer Square One Insurance says it has been fielding so many recent calls about laneway homes - most of them in Vancouver - that it's started offering a separate product created specifically for the structures.

Daniel Mirkovic, the company's president and chief executive, says in the past, laneway homes or coach houses were often $50,000 conversions of detached parking garages created by homeowners to house their adult children.

"Now, because of the high price of real estate, the whole concept of laneway housing has changed," Mirkovic said. "When you're looking at a laneway home that the owners have invested $200,000 or $300,000 dollars to build, that's a very significant investment."

Converting a back alley parking garage into a residential structure is one way for homeowners to offset the cost of pricey real estate by generating rental income. However, not all Canadian cities allow for laneway homes to be built.

Vancouver is a notable exception. The city has issued over 1,000 permits for laneway homes since 2009. In Calgary, city officials are launching a pilot project that will allow laneway homes to be developed along one of the city's streets.

As square footage in Canada's hottest real estate markets becomes pricier and developers look for new ways to squeeze housing into tight spaces, laneway homes are likely to grow in popularity. That could force insurers to rethink their policies.

Currently, most insurance companies - including Aviva Canada, Intact Financial and TD Insurance - cover laneway homes under the same policy as the main property and don't offer a separate insurance policy for the structures.

Mirkovic says that could be problematic in certain circumstances - for example, if a natural disaster occurs that affects both the main structure and the laneway home. In the aftermath of such incidents, building replacement costs may soar due to a phenomenon referred to as "post-event inflation."

In that situation, Mirkovic says, "the demand to build new homes or rebuild homes has gone up dramatically because there are thousands of people who need to rebuild their homes, and the supply is low. There's only a certain amount of building supplies readily available; only a certain amount of contractors who can build homes."

A home that cost $300,000 to build could cost $500,000 to rebuild. Typically, the insurance policy would cover the difference - but in the case of a laneway home, it might not, Mirkovic says.

"If you're insuring something as a detached structure you only get coverage up to the limit specified, which might be up to $300,000, but if it actually costs $400,000, you're out of pocket for the extra," Mirkovic said.

There could be drawbacks, however, such as two deductibles instead of one. In some instances, premiums may be higher as well, Mirkovic said.

Mike Shepel recently opted for Square One's laneway housing package to insure a rental property he purchased in Vancouver. Knowing that replacement costs are guaranteed to be covered in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake provides him with security, Shepel said.

The physician said he plans to use the same product to insure his second rental property - another laneway home - as well.

"They're really cute little places," Shepel said. "It's a unique way to get more homes into the community … It really does feel like a small, little comfy cottage, where you feel more independent."
http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/growing-popularity-of-laneway-houses-raises-concerns-about-insurance-1.2569389

As to uninhabited residential property and insurance:

[Vacant and Unoccupied Properties: What Does Your Insurance Cover?]
http://www.brokerlink.ca/blog/vacant_and_unoccupied_properties/
 

innsertnamehere

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Doesn't mean that it is not a 'housing crisis'. It just means that it is not an issue of supply.

If there are 100,000 uninhabited dwellings in Toronto, and they are uninhabited either because their rents are too high for market, or because speculators are hanging onto properties, or some combination of both, then I would certainly call that a crisis.
They are uninhabited by Census Canada standards, which means nobody responded to the census from that unit. I Can tell you that the vast majority of students would not respond to the census, as most of them would likely still fill it out in their childhood home. Illegal immigrants would likely also not fill theirs out, people who own second homes in Toronto would not fill it out, etc. An unoccupied dwelling does not automatically mean it is sitting empty due to speculation or oversupply.

If you looked at the occupied dwelling rate in Muskoka, its only 55%. Cottages mean that most dwellings are "unoccupied". Toronto is 94% occupied. London is 94%. Waterloo is 95%. Kingston is 88%. Are you telling me that there is large amounts of speculation in those markets too?
 
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