La-La-La-La-La-Laneway Housing!

Development | June 17, 2020


I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but for the longest time, I thought the opening to The Beatles‘ “Magical Mystery Tour” went something like:

“la la……la la la mystery tour….”

It’s not that unreasonable, right?

I mean, it’s not even close.  It’s “Roll up…..roll up for the Mystery Tour.”

But there’s so much “la la la” in that early music, it’s not completely unreasonable, is it?

The Beatles came along in the early-1960’s with their “bubble-gum” lyrics.  “Love me do,” and all that jazz.  I mean, “From Me To You,” starts out with the lyrics, “Da da da da da da, da, dum.”  So I guess, in my mind, I just hummed something like, “La la la mystery tour…”

That is, until I started reading the lyrics to just about every Beatles song in the last couple of weeks, and boy, now do I feel dumb.

My daughter is 3 1/2 years old, and while my brother’s kids listened to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift at that age, and beyond, I’ve always played classics for my daughter.  It started when she was two-years-old, and I’d put on a playlist called, “Jenna & Dave: Canada Day 2013.”

Three Dog Night’s “Jerimiah Was A Bullfrog,” followed by The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and then “Hello, I Love You,” and eventually into Roy Oribson’s “Pretty Woman.”

I don’t know how many 2-year-olds would say, “Daddy, put on Roadhouse Blues,” but I think it’s awesome.  Melts my heart and makes me proud at the same time.

Last month, I introduced her to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and now every night, I have to sing this song to her, along with Strawberry Fields Forever, and Yellow Submarine.  I memorized the words to Lucy pretty quickly, but the others, I’m still working on.  Luckily, when your kid is just about dozing off, you can essentially make the lyrics up and they don’t knwo the difference.

As is often the case with anything that piques my interest, I wanted to know what The Beatles’ first hit songs here, and I was surprised to find out (older folks – you’ll think this sounds ridiculous…) that all their first songs were released on two-song LP’s, aka “singles.”  All the early hits, and none of them on an album.  By the time “Please Please Me” was released in 1963, The Beatles were, in effect, re-using their songs!  This concept of “singles,” to me, is foreign.  I grew up when an album was released with 14 songs, and a “single” was simply the song that the band chose to send to radio stations to play.

This was all fascinating, absolutely fascinating!  And so over the last month, I’ve collected every Beatles song I can find, and even though “Lucy” is still my daughter’s favourite, she really likes the early stuff right now.

It’s so simple!

They’re all two minutes in length with lyrics like “Bla Bla Bla,” and “La La La,” all every easy to hum along with.

“Love, love me do.”

“Please, please me.”

“Beep, Beep Bop Boo.”

“La La La La”

Yeah, it’s all stuck in my head.

I can’t sleep at night with all these non-words tossing around in my brain.

And here I was on Tuesday afternoon, sitting at my desk, humming, “La La La La laneway.”

Over and over, without the ability to stop my own mouth from moving.

My mind is working on overdrive right now, trying to process both the sheer amount of Beatles lyrics I’m memorizing to sing to my daughter, as well as the day’s tasks at hand.  My business and personal lives have always been one, but now my mind has taken the two, mushed them together, and just spit out this nonsense.

La La La Laneways!

When you say it like that, it sounds pretty.  Like an early Beatles song, and not so much like the photo I used at the onset, which is what I used to think of when I thought “laneways.”

Laneway = Alleyway

It’s just a nicer way of saying it, right?  Like the “sanitation expert” that takes your “waste” away every other Thursday?

I learned more than a decade ago that some of Toronto’s laneways are a favourite spot for kids to ride bikes, shoot basketballs, and have their birthday parties.

True story.

Here’s me in 2012 at my niece’s birthday party in a la-la-la-la-laneway in Riverdale:

Well, you see my niece, and you see my brother, so I guess that makes me the one dressed in red?

Goddam, was it hot that day.

And as much as kids loved Elmo when they watched him on TV, they hated him when he was 6-feet-tall and towering over them.  L-L-L-Lotta tears that day, trust me!

Now not every laneway in Toronto is fit for a 2-year-old’s birthday party, but not every laneway in Toronto is suitable for building a single-family dwelling.

The concept of “laneway housing” probably first appeared on this blog a decade ago, and if we’re being honest, I had no idea what the heck people were talking about.  Living in an alley?  Isn’t that where our teachers told us we’d be living when they were trying to beat us down?  “At this rate, you’ll be living in a freakin’ alleyway when you’re older!”

Over the last few years, with Toronto’s housing shortage/crisis in full effect, the City of Toronto has not only relaxed guidelines surrounding laneway housing, but they’ve actually encouraged it!

We had a listing last week on Sheridan Avenue and a few of the agents asked us, “Can you build a laneway house back here?”

We investigated, and while one firm who specializes in laneway houses said that there was a 95% chance you could, and that’s considering only 1.1% of all Toronto houses are eligible for laneway housing, we didn’t include this in our marketing because we didn’t want to be seen as providing an implied warranty.

Nevertheless, it led me down a rabbit hole (what else is new?) with laneway houses, and

There’s a company called “Laneway Housing Advisors” who publishes an updated list of houses for sale in Toronto that are eligible for laneway housing.

Read that list HERE.

There’s one property currently available on MLS that I’m fixated on.

Here’s a photo:

 

 

Now the first thing you’ll notice, is obviously those two people walking by.  Trendy, hip, chic, and all the synonyms for essentially the same thing.  They’re just people who walk down laneways and maybe wear Converse All-Stars…

But the second thing you’ll notice is that this is actually an artist’s rendering of a laneway house (spoiler alert: those hip people are also renderings!), and it looks like a house that every single one of us would be proud to own!

Now, is that because it’s an awesome house?  Or is it because it’s between two garages?

The second photo from this array basically makes this house look like the Taj Mahal:

 

 

Firstly, how come everybody on this street has such lush, healthy grass in their backyards?

But a close second, how amazing is this house?

It’s not a garage, folks.  It’s a house.

 

 

Kudos to whoever “rendered” these, because they make me want to buy it.

How much for the garage, that could, one day, become a laneway house?

$1,250,000.

This is a 19.7 x 55 foot piece of land in Harbord Village and the “laneway” it’s on is really a “street.”

Because of TREB’s archaic rules about “unauthorized advertising,” I can’t provide the address and details.  But this is actually a street, even though, well, it’s a laneway.

From the listing, minus the street name:

Laneway House Opportunity On Famed (Street Name) Street.  This Ultra-Rare Severed Lot Has Permissions In Place To Construct A Detached Freehold Home With Integrated Parking, A Private Yard And Rooftop Terrace. Design This Home To Suit Your Needs, With Preliminary Plans From Brian Kucharski (Gilead Place).

A Unique Urban Home – In The Making. This Is Not An Ancillary Rental Suite, But Rather A Fully Separate Lot With Planning Approvals Consented To By Lpat. (Street Name) Is A Serviced Laneway With A Handful Of Special Residences.

Typing “street name” in place of the goddam street name is so annoying, but I know that people at TREB don’t like me (because I’m such a bad person???) so I try to picture myself defending this at RECO Ethics one day every time I redact a name or building.  Anyways…

Are we ready to start paying $1,250,000 for laneway land value?  That’s BEFORE we build houses?

Are there any precedents for that?

Well, yes, in fact.

There’s one particular house that comes to mind.  It never did sell, but it was on the market for $2.9 Million in early 2019:

 

 

It actually looks better from this angle, and with this lighting:

 

Kinda cute, right?  Somewhat cottage-like?

 

Great view from the rooftop:

 

Laneway houses are supposed to be small, right?

This house was only a 1-bedroom, but they managed to find room for a sauna:

 

Oh – and they squeezed in a modest 100-bottle wine cellar:

 

This never did sell on MLS, but it sold privately one year later for a lot, lot less than the original list price…

For those of you that have been touting laneway housing as one of many possible saviours of the Toronto real estate market, I’d love to hear from you today, and see if your opinions have been shaped at all over the past few years.

And for those of you pushing seventy-years-old now, just gimme some idea of what it was like in 1963 when you heard the Beatles for the first time.  Anybody at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1965???

Back To Top

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

26 Comments

  1. Jill

    at 9:22 am

    David, I’m with your mother on this one: I always enjoy your folksy intros! Lol

  2. Graham

    at 9:23 am

    Fun topic.
    I remember writing my grad school admission essay on laneway housing in 2005. The CMHC had produced a document on Toronto laneway housing in 2003. I can’t seem to find a copy of it online. I remember the fire department being a major hurdle and laneway housing being touted as an affordable option.

    1. Marty

      at 10:31 am

      Fire access is still a hurdle that disqualifies some (25-40%?) of properties. The industry is working on that.

  3. Kyle

    at 9:54 am

    I think there is a lot of potential for laneway houses to contribute to Toronto’s housing crisis and to improving the City’s built form and livability. There are tonnes of pros:

    1. Because of Toronto’s terrible zoning rules, the City is 75% low density, low-rise and 25% high rise, with very little in between. The low-rise neighbourhoods are where good schools, parks, amenities, walkability, libraries, recreation amenities and community centres, etc are concentrated, but unless you’re wealthy enough to own or willing to rent an illegal basement apartment, living in those neighbourhoods is just a pipe dream for most. Laneway houses create another option for people to get into these neighbourhoods.

    2. Laneway houses provide a lot of flexibility for the homeowner, they can earn income from the laneway house, while living in the main house. And then as they get older and want to down size they can do the reverse and live in the laneway, while earning even more income form renting out the main house. All while still keeping all the equity in the property intact and not having to pay transaction fees for moving.

    Other benefits that come with the uptake in laneway housing is that there will be far more eyes on the laneway to keep crime down, much needed supply of housing, increase in the property tax base, more people to support main street businesses.

    1. Appraiser

      at 10:15 am

      You make some excellent points Kyle. It must be remembered that expanding upon laneway housing on its own will not solve the existing housing shortage. It is but one arrow in the housing supply quiver, of which all should be utilized as soon as possible, lest housing prices continue to climb out of reach.

      1. Kyle

        at 10:28 am

        Agreed, as much as the City is “encouraging” them, actually getting approvals to build a laneway house is a Sysaphean task. And very few actual permits are being issued – Only 52 had been issued as of Jan 2020. Since it’s such a new housing typology, the City’s building and zoning Examiners are struggling to interpret the new rules and are being very cautious of setting precedence. From a supply standpoint it will be very slow to come to market, and because of the stringent fire rules, only a small fraction of the houses that back onto laneways actually qualify.

        There is a movement to introduce rules to bring Garden Suites to Toronto, which would contribute quite a bit more supply, but that is in the very early stages. But as you said, neither of these measures will actually keep pace with the net new demand for housing in Toronto.

  4. Appraiser

    at 12:40 pm

    Latest TERANET report is out today: First signs of market slow down in the head line must be referring to the number of transactions because otherwise …

    “In May the composite index was up 6.0% from a year earlier. It was a 10th consecutive acceleration of the 12-month gain, to its strongest since April 2018. The 12-month rise was led by Ottawa-Gatineau (13.8%), Halifax (10.5%), Toronto (9.7%) Montreal (9.7%) and Hamilton (8.3%). Lagging the countrywide average were Victoria (3.4%), Winnipeg (3.4%) and Vancouver (0.7%). Deflating over the 12 months were Quebec City (−0.2%), Calgary (−1.3%) and Edmonton (−1.7%).”
    https://housepriceindex.ca/2020/06/may2020/

    1. TokyoTuds

      at 2:21 pm

      Regarding Appraiser’s Teranet update, IIRC, Teranet reports closings not sales, so this reflects what sold 60-90 days earlier.

    2. Chris

      at 2:32 pm

      If you’d bothered to read Mr. Pinsonneault’s report, you’d have your answer.

      “There are two signs that data from land registries reflect the slowdown in home sales activity that started in the second half of March. The first is the 22% y/y decline in the number of sales pairs … The second sign is the slowdown in the seasonally adjusted raw Composite index … In our view, declines in home prices lie ahead. The Canadian unemployment rate went from 5.6% in February to 13.7% in May, and is expected to remain elevated at least up to the end of next year. In this context, demand for housing may decrease due to a reduction in immigration and would-be first-time homebuyers not being able to qualify for a mortgage loan. At the opposite, supply may be fueled by homeowners unable to meet mortgage payments and for that reason will look to sell their home.”

      https://www.nbc.ca/content/dam/bnc/en/rates-and-analysis/economic-analysis/economic-news-teranet.pdf

      1. TokyoTuds

        at 3:08 pm

        Chris, you are an argumentative fellow, aren’t you? I didn’t ask a question.

        If you “bothered” to read the methodology upon which Mr. Pinsonneault’s report relies, you would understand the point I am making: that Teranet measures in a completely different way from CREA HPI and we should remember that.

        I said, “IIRC” because I last read the methodology a few years ago and then again just after your comment.

        https://housepriceindex.ca/about/our-methodology/

        I didn’t comment at all on the report or its conclusions.

        1. Chris

          at 3:16 pm

          Tokyo, I’m definitely an argumentative fellow, no arguments there.

          But I was replying to appraiser’s comment, where he seemed unsure what prompted the “First signs of market slow down” headline. Not your comment, which as far as I know, is correct.

          The way comments show up on this website can make it confusing to follow at times. But you’ll notice when I reply to you, such as now, it’s both underneath your comment and indented to it. My previous comment was below yours, but at the same margin, which signifies that it was in response to appraiser.

          1. TokyoTuds

            at 7:55 pm

            Haha …. sorry I took offence Chris, which is why I mention a person’s name with he way this comment section confuses people. All good.

          2. Chris

            at 9:11 pm

            No problem, Tokyo! In hindsight, I probably should have specified that my comment was for appraiser.

  5. Francesca

    at 2:08 pm

    David, we also taught my daughter all the Beatles songs when she was your daughter’s age. Sadly now at age 13 she has forgotten them all. My dad who is 76 is a huge Beatles fan and had all the original records. He grew up in Italy and saw them in concert once in London.
    As for laneway houses, here where I live in Markham they are very common. We call them “coach houses” and they are on top of the garage of many houses backing into the laneways where the garages are. Our subdivision is more like old TO areas with front porches. and garages tucked at the back of the house backing onto a laneway. Many people rent these coach houses out to supplement their mortgage payments to either strangers or to family members. I have three friends whose mothers live in the coach houses which comes in handy for babysitting and housesitting and puts the seniors close but with their own separate entrance etc for privacy. We live very close to the hospital and many have health care workers live in them as they can walk to work and gives them the privacy of a detached house with no neighbours attached, most have a parking pad too. These coach houses are not allowed to be sold separately from the house they are attached to though. The value of homes with coachhouses is approximately 100-200k more than a house without and I believe it only cost about 50k more at the time pre construction. I believe Vancouver is doing a lot to increase laneway homes as well to increase affordable housing in more urban centres. I think it’s a great idea if TO increases density this way but realize there are probably many obstacles to overcome for this to become more common.

    1. Kyle

      at 6:27 pm

      Great points about how laneway houses can be used for multi generational living. Under Toronto’s new rules the laneway house is not meant to be sold separately from the main house either. To build a laneway house there is a $50K development charge that gets deferred indefinitely until you or a future owner tries to sever the property. The new rules also require that the services like water, gas, hydro all come through the main house.

      The lot posted by David above is a unique situation on Croft St (which if i’m not mistaken, is not technically a laneway), and that must have been sub-divided before the new rules came out. There are other examples of laneway houses that have been subdivided and sold off like 432 Clendennan that recently sold for 1.74M but those were built before the new rules came into effect.

  6. TokyoTuds

    at 2:28 pm

    Can you cite your source for “considering only 1.1% of all Toronto houses with laneway access would qualify for laneway housing”? I’d like to explore how that might mean there’s an incredibly tiny number of homes that will ever ever have a laneway house.

    1. TokyoTuds

      at 3:31 pm

      I see in Kelsey Carriere’s amazing report linked above, there are 6,000 to 10,000 properties in Toronto that back onto an appropriate laneway. If 1.1% can get the permits, then that is 66 to 110 new homes: too few to waste ink on.

      So I think perhaps you meant to say 1.1% of all SFH in Toronto of which there are about 398,000 or 438 laneway homes that can be achieved. I’ve heard only 52 permits to date and those are the most keen owners. I bet 1/3 have no interest and 1/3 have no money to do so in which case we are looking at about 150 new laneway homes over perhaps the next 10 years.

      I think it is great that they are now permitted, but our efforts should be spent on more productive changes to the yellow belt.

      1. TokyoTuds

        at 3:33 pm

        Sorry, I skipped. decimal.

        4380 laneway homes can be achieved and in the end perhaps 1,500 new laneway homes. That is much better but is still only equivalent to 3 condo towers.

    2. David Fleming

      at 4:27 pm

      @ TokyoTuds

      You are correct – this should said 1.1% of all Toronto houses, not Toronto houses with laneway access.

      Thank you for catching this, it’s been updated.

  7. George P.

    at 4:23 pm

    David, my wife attended the fourth Beatles concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1966. She has no photos to her credit so I have long since teased her that she made it all up. The sad part is, the acoustics were terrible at the Gardens and it did little justice to the fantastic music, although I am told that during the first two concerts in 1964, the young ladies screamed so loudly that the music could barely be heard. Good on you for providing your children with some culture they would otherwise be unlikely to experience.

  8. Fearless Freep

    at 9:25 pm

    “Roadhouse Blues”? Awesome! She’s gotta be the coolest three-year-old around (not that her friends will realize it).

  9. Libertarian

    at 10:44 pm

    I wonder if the city will be taken over by laneway house developers as it was by condo developers. Here’s hoping the city does a better job of managing this than it did condos.

    We shouldn’t build more houses simply for the sake of more housing. City planning needs to be better than that. Just because someone can’t afford to live in their desired neighbourhood doesn’t mean we should build homes that they could afford in those neighbourhoods. There is more to communities and neighbourhoods than simply housing.

  10. DT

    at 8:46 am

    I live in Harbord VIllage, so am pretty sure I know which street this laneway is. It’s a great street, and I’d be happy to live there. But it is very different from many lanes.

    It is open to the main streets at both ends and is pretty wide. So it’s easy for garbage trucks and fire trucks to access it. In contrast, the lane behind my house is much narrower, with entrances placed in between houses. Visitors often ask me to drive their car in, to be sure they won’t scratch their car.

    That nice laneway is well paved, and has speed bumps. That makes it a great route for biking with kids, since you can easily ride side by side and not worry about getting hit by a car. My kid can zigzag to his heart’s content. It’s also very common to see kids playing hockey in that lane.

    It’s a great example of how, if you remove the threat of frequent & fast cars, a street can be really inviting to everyone. Would be great if there were more like it.

  11. Joel

    at 1:43 pm

    What happens when a builder and their crew are parked in the laneway for months? Do the other residents not get to use their garages? I think these are going to cause a lot of annoyance for everyone else around. I don’t imagine the laneways are setup in most places to accomodate cement trucks and booms.

    I really dislike the idea of full size houses on already lagging infrastructure where the lots can be severed. Much better if the owner of the house is sharing the space with the tenants.

    We see all over the city where a sfh has been converted into 3 small crappy units, where the owner doesn’t live there. Something more similar to the air bnb guidelines, where the owner of the home has to live there in order to rent out the laneway house makes more sense to me.

Back To Comments