Skip to content

Media Coverage

Postmedia: The hunt for the missing middle

Partially built low rise units

By Paul Barker,  Special to Postmedia Network

Momentum quickly gathering to build alternative housing types 

It’s safe to say that entire neighbourhoods within the GTA who have been void of triplex or quad housing projects will not be for too much longer. 

The need to create alternative housing configurations spurred on by the sheer cost of purchasing a semi-detached or detached home throughout the region is obvious. 

In fact, according to a report called Meeting in the Middle released in December by the Toronto Region Board of Trade, one planning reform calls for an end to residentially zoned neighbourhoods that only permit single-unit homes, replacing it with homes that enable at least four units in a building. 

The key findings in it formed the basis of a recent webinar organized by the Toronto chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) organizers described as a discussion of a “generational rethink of the density of residential neighbourhoods.” 

Moderated by Melanie Hare, partner with Urban Strategies Inc., an urban design and planning consultancy, speakers included Craig Ruttan, a policy director with the board, Ward 19 Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford and Melanie Melnyk and Philip Parker, both of whom are with the city of Toronto’s planning department. 

Ruttan, who co-authored the report, said the key is to create different housing types that will allow people the opportunity to buy a home. 

The report notes that Ontario’s current land use planning policies “concentrate urban growth in limited geographic areas, while most residential neighbourhoods are protected from even modest forms of density such as triplexes or small apartment buildings. 

“These building types represent a ‘missing middle’ of residential housing stock between single dwelling and large apartments.” 

“The city of Toronto has started taking promising action on issues related to the missing middle, but the need for increased density and housing options is important across Ontario.” 

It is referred to as missing, said, Ruttan, because in the majority of residential neighbourhoods in the GTA, such housing types are not allowed. 

The restrictions resulted in Toronto urban planner Gil Meslin labelling these areas in 2016 as the “Yellowbelt,” (neighbourhoods in the City of Toronto where zoning by-laws prevent higher-density development at a maximun height of 10 metres and permit only detached residential housing) which the report suggests can be eliminated through planning reforms at the municipal and provincial level. 

At the provincial level, findings released last month from the Housing Affordability Task Force, contained five key recommendations designed to “quickly increase the supply of market housing, to meet a goal of adding 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.” 

Key among them was making changes to planning policies and zoning to allow for “greater density and increase the variety of housing” and reducing and streamlining urban design rules in order to lower costs of development. 

Bradford meanwhile described the current housing situation as the “biggest generational challenge facing our city,” adding that there is not only a “huge supply problem,” but it is one that needs to be met by sound political leadership. 

“For far too long that has been absent because when local elected officials try and introduce the most modest form of incremental density, it has been met with ferocious backlash from the status quo. We give too much airtime to the voices who are already here and not enough thought to the folks who are not here – our future neighbours. 

“I am excited about this because it introduces “more housing options for more people in more neighbourhoods.” 

A key initiative is a city of Toronto program called Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) and in Bradford’s ward a pilot is currently underway that will see a group of city-owned sites developed as “missing middle” demonstration projects. 

“While the pandemic has shifted how and where we live, Toronto’s housing crisis has remained all too constant,” he wrote on his web site last year. “If we want to build back a Toronto of opportunity, we need to introduce more housing options – for the folks here today and for those who’d like to join us in the future.” 

A primary goal, said Melynk, who with Parker is co-lead of a multiplex housing study which is part of EHON, is to answer two fundamental questions: “As Toronto grows and evolves, what kind of city do we want and how can we make room for housing to create the kind of city that we want? 

“Our neighbourhoods are an important part of Toronto’s identity, and they play a simple but really critical role in the function of the city – they provide housing for Torontonians. 

“Physically speaking, the city’s neighbourhoods have seen really very little change over the last several decades. In fact, many have seen their populations either remain stable or even decline in contrast to the significant growth and change we’ve experienced in other areas of the city.” 

The municipality, said Parker, faces a wide-ranging housing crisis across a large range of income groups. 

“Low-rise growth can allow people to age in place, it can allow people to offset their mortgage and it opens up rental opportunities to a wider range of residents who currently live in the neighbourhoods.” 

 By The Numbers 

  • 70 per cent of Toronto’s neighbourhoods only permit detached houses with a secondary suite. 
  • 45,000 people could be housed by adding one home to every hectare of Toronto’s Yellowbelt. 
  • 1.5 million new homes are needed in Ontario to meet current and projected demand over the next decade. 
  • Ontario’s projected population by 2046: in excess of 20 million people. 

This story was originally published in Postmedia on March 4, 2022.

About Toronto Region Board of Trade

The Toronto Region Board of Trade is one of the largest and most influential business chambers in North America and is a catalyst for the region’s economic agenda. We pursue policy change to drive the growth and competitiveness of the Toronto region and facilitate market opportunities with programs, partnerships and connections to help our members succeed – domestically and internationally.

Media Contact

Andrew Perez, Media Relations Manager