Celebrating the pioneers of new apartment construction

Founder and CEO , SVN Rock Advisors Inc.
  • Jan. 28, 2015

Derek LoboHard though it may be to believe, the concept of purpose-built apartment buildings is young, at least when compared to the development of our cities. Last year, the City of Toronto celebrated the 110th anniversary of its first apartment building. The event was marked by the Toronto-based website BlogTO.

Toronto was a bit behind the times when it came to purpose-built apartments, but not by much. The first apartments of London weren’t that much older. Up until the late 19th century, you either owned a house, or you paid rent to sleep in a room, often shared with other people in rather cramped and unsanitary conditions.

The idea of a self-contained flat with its own amenities for one family took some time to catch on with the British middle class, until overcrowding in London forced builders to think creatively in terms of how to house people.

The Albert Mansions were among the first purpose-built apartments in London. Built between 1867 and 1870, they were a series of low-rise buildings containing 19 separate “houses”, each with a staircase serving one flat per floor. The success of the Mansions (and note the savvy name choice, to appeal to middle-class renters who saw renting rooms as something poor people did) led to further such developments.

More than half

Today, 52 per cent of all homes in London are flats.

Toronto’s first apartment building was called the St. George Mansions, and was located at 1 Harbord Street. This was a six-storey brick building with a partially enclosed courtyard. Costing $100,000 to build (equivalent to $2 million today), the building’s 34 apartments were marketed to barristers, professors and bank managers.

That was just the start. A year later, the seven-storey Alexandria opened on University Avenue, offering 72 suites. The first apartments were walk-ups; the use of elevators allowed later buildings to grow taller, and more would follow. Today, more than 28,500 apartment buildings exist in Toronto’s market, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. That’s the result of 110 years of growth.

The St. George’s Mansions and the Alexandria no longer exist, having been redeveloped by the ever-changing city. The next oldest apartment buildings, 389 Huron Street and 41-45 Spadina Road, are still around, having opened in 1907.

Opportunity has never been stronger

A lot has changed in the 110 years since Toronto started building new apartments, but the opportunity for new apartment has never been stronger. The City of Toronto is looking to increase its urban density, especially along its transit-friendly major streets. Purpose-built rental apartments are ideal for such a plan, whether it be six-storey wood-frame buildings, or taller high-rises. Vacancy rates continue to remain low, and average rents continue to rise.

The key in making the most of such a marketplace is knowledge – knowing the best places to build, the best materials to build with, the best unit mix to design into buildings, and the best targets to market your development.

The Canadian Apartment Symposium Series

From April 20 to 22, 2015, the ROCK Apartment Conference Series will help to share and expand the knowledge available to best address this market. Attendees can take part in the Canadian Apartment Owners Conference and Exposition on the Monday, the North American Apartment Construction Conference and Exposition on Tuesday, and the North American Student Housing Conference and Exposition on Wednesday. The event will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

These conferences are ideal for developers, builders, building owners, financiers and investors to learn about the opportunities that exist in purpose-built rental apartments, new apartment construction and student housing. Last year’s seminar attracted hundreds of attendees to listen to dozens of experts in these fields, and plenty of business took place as a result.


Derek Lobo is the founder and CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a real estate brokerage with over 30 years of experience in helping investors make the most out of buying, selling, and renovating purpose-built apartment buildings. Learn more about SVN Rock Advisors Inc., Brokerage on their website at www.SVNRock.ca.

Derek Lobo is the CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a unique full-service brokerage firm. He has focused his entire career on the North American apartment building business. He’s recognized…

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Derek Lobo is the CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a unique full-service brokerage firm. He has focused his entire career on the North American apartment building business. He’s recognized…

Read more

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