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Garden Suites

Written by: Catherine Caetano-Macdonell

In Toronto, one of the hottest topics right now is housing — it is a city that is suffering a housing crisis and dedicated to increase housing options available to its citizens. Over the last few years Toronto has been creating initiatives like the Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods initiative, which is dedicated to the development of the ‘missing middle’. The ‘missing middle’ is an urban planning and development concept that describes a type of building that has higher density than a single family dwelling but lower density than a mid-rise building (less than 6 storey apartments). These types of buildings include garden suite housing, laneway housing, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes (and other 'plexes'), townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings. This type of development is critical for housing affordability, as it allows more people to live in great neighbourhoods that they previously wouldn’t have been able to afford and increases the housing options.

In the past, Craig Race, architect and co-founder of Lanescape ( , helped draft policy that developed into Toronto’s 2018 laneway suite bylaw. This paved the way for the approvals of garden suites which are now allowed in all residential zones of the City of Toronto. You are now able to build a secondary unit in your backyard as long as you meet the city’s requirements for size, height, setbacks from property lot lines, and it doesn’t damage any mature trees. When you apply for a building permit for a garden suite, your plans must comply with the relevant Ontario Building Code regulations and the Zoning By-law(Garden Suites, City of Toronto). If you are interested in building a garden suite on your property the cost of a custom build including materials ranges from $200,000-$300,000. There are ways to make this more affordable, such as the two laneway and garden suite initiatives that the City of Toronto has launched to encourage eligible property owners to develop secondary/ancillary dwelling units:

These programs are the Development Charges (DC) Deferral Program for Ancillary Secondary Dwelling Units and the Affordable Laneway and Garden Suite Program. The Developmental Changes Deferral Program for Ancillary Secondary Dwelling Units allows for a deferral for eligible property owners developing a secondary dwelling unit at the rear of a property. The Affordable Laneway and Garden Suite Program provides funding in form of a forgivable loan of up to $50,000 for eligible property owners developing a laneway or garden suite. The loan will be forgiven in 15 years from the date when the first tenant occupies the laneway suite. The rent being charged cannot exceed the City of Toronto Average Market Rent, by bedroom type at any time during the 15 year affordability period. (Garden Suites, City of Toronto)

The City of Toronto defines a garden suite as, “a housing unit usually located in the backyard of an existing house, but separate and detached from the main house”. They also say that garden suites are usually smaller than the main house, and often created as a way to house multigenerational families or as rental units. The city believes that by passing the bylaw to allow garden suites and laneway houses they will increase the housing supply through infill or increasing density. (Garden Suites, City of Toronto)

In Toronto, the opportunity for building garden suites is greater than laneway houses because the neighbourhoods that allow laneway housing are in the centre of the city whereas garden suites don’t require laneways and can be in more suburban communities. This is exciting because at the current rate of development of laneway housing and the early numbers of garden suites applications, Toronto could be approving 500 secondary suites per year, which is similar to a couple of high rise developments. (Cultivating a New Housing Typology in Toronto Backyards, AZURE).

Next Steps

In the future this may relieve some stress on the housing market but some experts think that this shouldn’t be where we stop. Naama Blonder, co-founder of firm Smart Density, who is consulting on City of Mississauga’s new residential infill guidelines and new ADU policies. She believes that garden suites will serve as a good solution to families who want additional space for multigenerational housing. However, this could have the impact of increasing the value of existing properties that either have garden suites or the potential for garden suites. For those entering the market as first time homeowners it could make housing less affordable, however for current homeowner and real estate investors this could be beneficial. Hopefully in the future Toronto will have more diversity of building types, and garden suites are a great first step.

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