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Vertical villages can help solve affordable housing crisis

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With my work in the apartment industry and more recently my book The Self Funding House, I’ve developed a real passion for solving the affordable housing crisis. I’ve come to recognize this is a huge multi-faceted problem with no single solution.

We must address, and add to, what has been called the “missing middle” — a wide range of housing types including duplexes and fourplexes, courtyard housing and live-work buildings as referred to by

This is echoed by one of our clients.

“Although we are involved with multiple communities across the GTA, most recently we have taken a strong emphasis on the 'Missing Middle.' We feel there is an opportunity to help promote more density in under-utilized areas within the city by designing less aggressive built forms that complement the existing characteristics of the neighbourhood," Adam Prochilo, EVP land acquisition and development, URBINCO, explained.

"We can vertically integrate family-oriented homes that will enjoy their unique private amenity space and (allow) the benefit for each family to have the city’s reach at their doorstep."

Lack of supply as the centre of the affordability crisis

The key conclusion is that the lack of supply is at the centre of this affordability crisis — and adding supply can be accomplished in many ways, sizes and forms.

I’ve noticed that, especially as they get older, many parents long for the idea of a family compound — where the parents live in one house and their children/grandchildren live in surrounding homes.

Many of us are familiar with the Kennedy Compound or have heard of similar ideas such as family-owned vacation properties, but what if everybody had their own separate cottage in addition to a shared main house?

Due to the affordable housing crisis, many families are returning to the days when families lived together, inter-generationally. Young people are living longer with their parents longer — sometimes even after they are married — to save enough money to buy a house.

With housing prices increasing, maybe we need to revisit the idea of families sharing facilities, but in a way that preserves everyone’s privacy.

Many immigrants know this story from the old country and have adapted it to fit their lifestyle here in Canada.

Unique and varied housing options for a diverse population

A new, perhaps unexpected way to chip at the block of ice that is the affordable housing crisis is to consider the idea of a mini vertical village — a walk-up fourplex built to allow for privacy as well as commonality and community.

While a unique building like this wouldn’t necessarily be affordable for a young professional trying to break into the housing market, it could present an opportunity for the parents of millennials who cannot purchase a home independently and also wish to raise their children close to grandparents.

This might seem like a specific niche, but it is just the kind of thinking we need to help solve the housing crisis: unique, varied housing options for a diverse population. 

URBINCO is building an incredibly unique product, like the one I described above, in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto.

Honestly, if my children were looking to live in the GTA, it would be quite appealing to me! The idea of having my daughters and their families living under the same roof as my wife and I, while retaining complete privacy, is in many ways a father’s dream. 

Not only is it appealing to me, but it would also free up my current home for would-be homebuyers to purchase. Additionally, it would remove three other homebuyers (my three daughters and their families) from the market.

Another benefit of this type of property is that it can allow grandparents to age in place rather than moving into seniors housing.

Properties like this also allow for shared resources such as snowblowers, lawn mowers, even indoor appliances like vacuums and food processors.

If family members across the hall could share specialty appliances or maintenance tools, why buy them unnecessarily yourself?

In this way, unique types of living arrangements have the added value of helping the environment as well. 

I’m delighted to see unique offerings like this on the market and I hope developers will continue to be creative in their approach to solving the affordable housing crisis — whether that means roughing in basement apartments to allow for more self-funding houses or creating unique fourplexes like 2343 Gerard St. E. 

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