The first phase of one of Canada’s largest purpose-built rental developments is nearing completion in Toronto’s Canary District.
Maple House, the first of a four-phase project being developed by Dream Unlimited Corp., Kilmer Group and Tricon Residential Inc., at Canary Landing is opening 770 mixed-income units this summer, 30 per cent of which are designated as affordable housing and will give priority to single mothers, women fleeing abuse, people with accessibility issues and indigenous people.
When the development is complete in a few years, the 12-acre Canary Landing will have added 2,300 purpose-built units to Toronto’s long-term rental pool, which Tricon Residential managing director Andrew Joyner says is in a state of crisis.
“The City of Toronto has a housing supply crisis,” he said, adding investor-owned condominiums have closed the deficit to an extent, but they’re designed for transient residents.
“Over the next 10 years, we’ll need 300,000 purpose-built rentals delivered in the city to meet demand.
"As a city, we built very little purpose-built after 1970. We basically filled housing demand through new for-sale condos and I think those units are typically sized for investors; they’re not focused on end users.”
Advantages of the site
The Canary District was selected as Canary Landing’s home because of its walkability.
Moreover, its adjacency to the historic Distillery District, one of Toronto’s most sought-after locales, lends the project a certain cachet while at the same time making it accessible to everyone, with residents of the affordable and market units living as neighbours instead of segregated by floor.
“We brought in Cobe Architect out of Copenhagen — we have been working with them since 2016 and brought them to Toronto for one of our other projects,” Joyner said of Tricon’s relationship with the Danish firm.
“We hired them to do the first phase of Canary Landing because of their ability to focus on contextually responsive design architecture and we thought they’d do a fine job of picking up on some of the fine grain and heritage elements of the Distillery District as well as creating a people-first community with a sense of pedestrian scale.”
The development is a partnership between all three levels of government, beginning with the province of Ontario.
Upon selecting the DKT Partnership’s (Dream, Kilmer, Tricon) plan after initiating a request for proposal, the provincial government sold the developers the land.
Toronto’s municipal government made contributions by way of development charges and property taxes on the affordable units, and the federal government, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental construction financing initiative, is the lender.
The development team partnered with seven non-profits in Toronto to fill 126 of the 231 affordable rental units, which will be offered at 40 to 80 per cent below the market rental rate, with the remainder being tenanted through an open market call.
Could a new mayor usher in more purpose-built rentals?
The inclusion of affordable units at Canary Landing elucidates the need for more purpose-built rental housing in Canada’s largest city where there’s a mayoral election in under a month.
According to president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario Tony Irwin, the election is an opportunity for Toronto to change its approach to purpose-built rental construction, of which there’s been a dearth for more than three decades.
Noting the painstakingly slow site plan approvals and rezoning processes, Irwin believes fresh blood at city hall could change things virtually overnight.
“The province sets regulations, but a lot of what happens relative to various development approvals and studies that need to be done, that can take three to five years,” Irwin said.
“I hope the next mayor will prioritize purpose-built housing and that these projects go forward.
"We look forward to having a willing partner at city hall who will work with our industry to identify where projects can happen and expedite them so they make sense from a business-case perspective, and so that shovels get in the ground and keys in the hands of residents who need them.”
European countries have a higher proportion of rental housing
Ontarians are in the habit of owning their homes; however, the cost is becoming prohibitive.
In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the homeownership rate in Ontario dropped to 68.4 per cent from 71.4 per cent 10 years earlier.
Joyner said Toronto is following in the footsteps of other major cities where renter households are commonplace.
“When you look at other world cities like London and New York, it’s quite common to have people rent and have roommates for longer periods of time,” he said.
“There are countries like Germany where 70 per cent of people rent, but Toronto has generally had very little new high-quality purpose-built rentals, and I think those buildings are being built today.”