Although John Tory’s ‘Housing Now’ plan aims to bring 40,000 affordable rental units to the market over the next 10 years, some urban planners, economists and politicians believe it will not do enough to solve the housing affordability crisis in Toronto. The Ryerson City Building Institute, commissioned by Sidewalk Labs, has released a report listing four market-focused innovations that developers can utilize to provide solutions to this economic issue. Cherise Burda, Executive Director of the institute recognizes the merit of Mayor Tory's initiative, but argues that "simply turning on the supply taps is not going to work...", calling for an "...intentional, sustainable approach for a range of income levels." The report includes a number of case studies of innovative housing options in-use around the world. 

The first suggestion is the construction of micro-units that promote a more efficient use of space. These buildings offer units at a higher cost per square foot, but because of their size, are overall cheaper for the end consumer. Some micro-unit buildings have also innovated in the modular construction space, where larger portions of the building are manufactured in an off site factory to increase construction speeds and reduce costs. Examples of these kinds of buildings have had success in cities like Seattle and London.

Pocket Living: a micro-unit development in London, image courtesy of The Ryerson City Building Institute

Secondly, co-living environments are being fostered in rental buildings around the world. These spaces offer smaller than average units with a bounty of amenities- encouraging residents to step out of their personal space and live within a larger community. WeLive Wall Street is a Central Manhattan development employing this concept and eliminating the pains of living in a traditional apartment through efforts such as lowering financial approval thresholds, offering free laundry and cleaning services and not requiring minimum lease terms.

A standard unit at WeLive Wall Street, image courtesy of The Ryerson City Building Institute

Thirdly, the City Building Institute has offered home ‘un-bundling’ concepts as an alternative solution. Some suggestions associated with this option include reducing or removing amenities, or selling unfinished spaces to consumers who can customize their units from a bare-bones foundation. A project employing this modular housing philosophy is currently in the planning stages in Hamilton’s North End.

Rendering of JvN/d modular home development in North Hamilton, image courtesy of The Ryerson City Building Institute

Finally, equity options were proposed to assist residents in making the transition between renting and home ownership. The report referenced some non-profits and governmental programs that would offer interest-free loans for purchasers to use towards a down payment on a mortgage, increasing the ease at which one could attain home ownership. A similar program has been successful in London but failed in British Colombia as it contributed to increased speculation and skyrocketing home prices.

Director Burda added "We need to consider new housing innovations that can tackle affordabliity, to retain a diversity of residents in Toronto, from young technology talent, to teachers, nurses, service and sales workers - all who are needed to make our city function,". The report can be read in its entirety on the Ryerson City Building Institute website.

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