Multi-Generational Living, Co-Housing, & Laneway Dwellings Are Trending In Canada

Welcome to, my blog on architecture, landscape, design, products and real estate in Canada. This site is about exploring all the facets of housing and home in Canada, in all their incarnations, and whenever they present themselves. I consider the site an incubator for Canadian shelter, and what it represents at this moment in time. Right now, the Canadian housing market is experiencing a growth in multiple-generational living, demand for laneway dwellings, and the emergence of non-familial co-housing living arrangements.

Thanks to economic uncertainties and soaring real estate prices in urban centres, the decades-old North American dream of starting and raising your nuclear family in a home of your own... is fading. It has become increasingly difficult for young couples  - particularly in the low- and middle-income brackets - to afford a property of their own, and on their own. The increase in Canadian housing prices, in combination with a host of varying city-specific mitigating factors, is fueling a movement amongst families: an increase in multiple generations residing under the same roof, and the necessity of older generations to loan or gift significant financial assistance to younger generations for homeownership; this inter-familial funding is often called The Bank of Mom and Dad.



Here's three statistics that may surprise you:

• Households having at least three generations under the same roof increased by over 37% from 2001 to 2016

• Between 2017 and 2018, the amount Canadians spent on renovations rose 46%

• Canadian homeowners spent $57 Billion on renovations in 2017 (almost the same as they spent on new homes)


The last federal census shows that multi-generational households are the fastest-growing housing category in Canada! So what exactly is happening at street level? First, a substantial increase in home renovations and new builds that accommodate extra bedrooms and in-law suites. Secondly, in urban areas, an uptick in the construction of laneway homes, which can serve as multi-generational 'outbuildings' of a sort; this housing solution allows for parents and their adult children to maintain separate spaces, but within convenient proximity.





Multi-Generational Homes

First, let's talk about the rise in multi-generational housing, achieved either through purchasing and modifying an existing dwelling or building a new residence from scratch. A Pew Research Center study published in April 2018 showed about 20 per cent of Canadians already lives in a multi-generational household. Surprising, right?

And that number is on the rise! Recently, the Vancouver Sun interviewed one of the busier builders in the Greater Vancouver area, Novell Design Build, who was quoted as saying that "over 90 per cent of the potential clients that we meet now want to accommodate three-plus generations.”  [Vancouver Sun]   If the proof weren't already in the proverbial pudding, according to Stats Canada, building permits for single-family homes have severely declined - by almost 50% - since 2004.


Here are some numbers presented by Point2Homes:

• Over 1400 permits were issued for interior renovations including some form of additional living space in Vancouver. Of the 741 permits for new homes, 423 included a secondary suite, meaning just over 300 of those permits were for single-family homes and duplexes without a suite.

• Data from Altus Group shows Vancouver homeowners are planning more renovations than usual this year. About one in three homeowners who responded to the survey completely or somewhat agreed that they are planning renovations of $5,000 or more in 2019. That’s up from about one in four in 2018, and one in five in 2017. 


Given the constraints of supply, along with eroding affordability, there has been a definite uptick in multi-generational housing purchases. And, by most accounts, it's a sensible pursuit. Multi-generational living helps ease the affordability challenges of the younger cohort while allowing the elders to use the property purchase both for shelter and as a vehicle to transfer their wealth to their children. Living together can also be helpful to the collective whole; parents benefit from their parents providing childcare for their kids, reducing the costs of daycare; ageing parents benefit from having onsite care from adult children; the entire family unit benefits from the strong family ties that are fostered when your lives are intertwined with extended family.

Right now, as a realtor in the original City of Toronto, I'm having a lot of conversations with clients in their late 40s and up actively exploring how their future will look in their elder years. As we each navigate how we might age-in-place, it's critical to investigate strategies to live in a space and community safely, independently, and comfortably. This includes reconciling potential issues of mobility, as well as ease of access to family, services and amenities. The movement to merge with younger family members is not unusual, but the exploration of different ways and options - including living with friends rather than one's children - is extremely topical. Today it's not only about converting a single family dwelling that offers sufficient space for communal living, but purchasing dwellings nearby (like on the same street), buying a multi-unit property, or even multiple condominiums in one complex.

The most recent Census shows that there has been an increase of 37.5 per cent in multigenerational housing in Canada since 2001, with the highest proportion happening in Toronto and Vancouver (17 and 16 per cent respectively) where real estate is most expensive, not surprisingly. This no doubt influences the market because of specific housing stock requirements to house multi-generational housing. Watch for the rise of the multi-generational family who is buying the large vintage 3 storey dwellings for their own occupancy of three generations. They have wealth, and they want central locations near shopping schools, health care, green space, bike lanes, cafes and recreation centres. Want to see an example? I sold this Heart-Grabbing Edwardian In Downtown Toronto in October 2018 for over $2mil when 8 sets of Buyers competed for it. All of the buyers were families, and half of them were multi-generational. 

Another interesting example? Here's the story of a couple who bought the loft condominium next door to their studio apartment when they became pregnant with their first child, and a few years later her parents purchased the unit across the hall so they could be nearby (Mom can open her unit door and watch her toddlers walk across the common hall to their grandparents). Incidentally, if you're considering combining two condominiums, this has some tips to be aware of too in the Purchase Of Three Condominiums In Toronto's Kensington Market Lofts.

Given this trend is building momentum, we're seeing more new dwellings designed and constructed to accommodate the multi-generational market. Click here to read: "FlexHouz Is A Home Built For Multi-Generational Living".

Given the chatter I'm hearing at a lot of social functions, co-housing is very much on the radar of singles as well. They're exploring how they might collectively cohabitate so they can age in place with their 'chosen family' and bypass the need to go into expensive long term care facilities. I'm seeing more and more groups of individuals and couples pooling their financial resources to purchase properties in the city - or outside - ideally on the larger lots (and often dwellings which are near obsolete and therefore sold mostly for land value) that can be transformed into co-housing residences. While it's not unusual for retirees to initially head to more remote locations outside the city to embrace a quieter and more economical life amidst nature, there inevitably comes a time where being in an urban centre is necessary. Proximity to health care specialists, access to public transportation (or uber), and being able to walk to daily amenities like pharmacies and grocers becomes really important as your mobility decreases. And engaging consistently with a community becomes increasingly important - whether it be participating in cultural events, social clubs, or fitness groups. As one ages, isolation no longer is your ally. It becomes critical to cultivate being mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically in top form, or at least having a support network who can both nurture your well-being while taking care of you.  

If you're a fan of pop culture, you'll know co-housing has been on the collective radar since 1985 with the hit sitcom 'Golden Girls'. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centres on four mature women sharing a Miami home. Although Toronto doesn't have the climate for a lanai, it does offer a range of housing stock suitable for conversion into co-housing spaces, though you'll have to pony up considerable amounts of cash. The right sized city lot can accommodate a 3000 to 4000 square foot 4 floor dwelling (of which 25% is partially below grade to comply with planning regulations) containing four to six private zones of around 400 to 600 square feet each having a sitting room with beverage bar (toaster oven, bar sink and fridge), accessible spa washroom and sleeping sanctuary plus balcony - all which would share the ground floor domestic space containing a communal kitchen, dining and lounging areas. These mini estates - either newly constructed or substantial renovations/expansions of existing housing stock - would be home to a collective of singles and/or couples, including space to potentially house a live-in caretaker. I envision these dwellings will be kitted out with all the latest gadgetry like elevators, voice-activated communication systems and defibrillators, embrace sustainable materials and design programmes, and be custom tailored to suit. As our health care system becomes overwhelmed the affluent will find it to their advantage to band together in multi-unit homes that they collectively operate in a holistic self-care manner.  



While that level of sophistication is still in its infancy in a co-housing arrangement, here's an example of a property which was built in 2003 for $1,500,000 for three women who wanted to live under one roof, but with their own private spaces. It recently came to market and was featured in Toronto Life --> This Mississauga Home, Built With Co-Ownership In Mind, Is On The Market For $2,700,000

These multi-generational families and ageing-in-place cohousing comrades are potential trends that will reinvent our centrally-located single-family vintage merchant-class housing stock. This demographic cohort of Torontonians - many who are part of the greatest transference of generational wealth Canada has ever witnessed - will funnel it into supporting each other, and/or their families through shelter. As equally critical, and in fact more common and worth mention, is the increase in condominium purchases by middle-class residents, buying for their children to use during post-secondary education which they, themselves may occupy in retirement as a pied-a-terre.

There are issues which are impeding the growth of co-housing. The first is for policymakers to allow the intensification of single-family neighbourhoods into multi-unit dwellings so they can be constructed as-of-right, the second is for the City to recognize the high permit fees associated with redevelopment can be prohibitively expensive and impede their creation, and the third is that lenders need to develop a financial model that allows individuals to carry a mortgage on their share without their co-owners having to also qualify for said debt, and be liable for it. At the moment financing options are limited for those exploring co-housing, as I recently wrote for my Dear Urbaneer series on my real estate site --> Can I Sell Part Of My House For Co-Ownership?

By the way, if you are looking to downsize, this Houseporn post is a great resource about preparing yourself for the move: How To Successfully Navigate Downsizing.




Laneway Housing

Throughout 2018 in Vancouver, the city issued over 700 permits for laneway homes!  Officially, a laneway housing is officially defined as “a self-contained living accommodation for a person or persons living together as a separate single housekeeping unit, in which both food preparation and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the suite and is in an ancillary building abutting a lane.” Permitted uses include home occupations and short-term rentals (as long as the laneway suite is exclusively and separately occupied as a principal residence). No more than one laneway suite is permitted on a lot, but already having an in-law or income suite inside your principal residence has no bearing on laneway suite inclusion.

This provides an amazing opportunity for property owners to unlock hidden value in their own backyards and simultaneously enables the city to increase density in transit-accessible neighbourhoods with minimal intervention. But more than that, it opens up the opportunity for parents, grandparents, or adult children to reside on the same property without being underfoot. Therefore, it's unsurprising that laneway housing has piqued the curiosity of a lot of homeowners.

According to Point2Homes, laneway dwellings are embraced by the residents of Vancouver! Typically, a laneway home is a modestly sized space facing the back lane of the property. Nearly half of recently-built homes include them. But Vancouver isn't the only city that is experiencing 'laneway fever'! Interest in laneway housing ramped up significantly when, on June 28th, 2018, Toronto City Council passed a series of by-law amendments permitting laneway suites within certain zones in the City. If you're curious about the new rules and allowances for laneway and infill buildings in Toronto, here's my post on The Laneway Housing Guidelines For The City Of Toronto!

As a realtor working in the original City of Toronto for 26 years (including all of the city's geographic boundaries for laneway housing), I'm being contacted weekly by existing property owners trying to determine whether a laneway dwelling makes sense for their particular property, or by prospective purchasers seeking a site that can accommodate their particular laneway vision. However, I've discovered the 'as-of-right' criteria for a laneway dwelling is actually quite limiting, in particular, because a property has to be within 45 metres of a fire hydrant and have a 1-metre wide right-of-way between existing dwellings. In the original City of Toronto where the inclusionary zone is situated, the propensity for narrow city lots with limited side access (often 30 to 36 inches), makes finding a property that complies quite rare to find. Certainly, there are sites which do meet the criteria, but when one goes to City Hall to confirm the powers that be refuse to offer any guidance or assurance. Instead, they say a full application with appropriate documentation (basically plans) must be submitted and processed through the appropriate channels. Unfortunately, because the demand for property is strong, and dwellings can sell in days rather than weeks, it's unnecessary for sellers to sell their property conditional on an approval process for a laneway dwelling which could take 60 to 120 days plus. As a result, although there are Buyers keen to embrace laneway living, the lack of a streamlined approvals process for laneway housing renders it impossible for risk-averse Buyers to secure suitable sites. For now, Toronto's laneway housing is an opportunity limited to property owners within the inclusionary zone.




New Family Structures

Some Canadian news outlets are reporting some resistance to the co-housng movement, primarily driven by social stigma.

In recent decades, co-habitating with older family members was deemed uncool, a privacy nightmare, a symbol of financial failure, and - ultimately - something to be escaped. "You still live with your parents?" is still a dreaded question. And why exactly? Simply this: the social climate and mores of the mid to late 20th century, in a time of prosperity, evolved to view co-habitation as suspect. And unfairly so. After all, throughout history (and as recently as the early 1900s) co-habitation was completely commonplace. And our guess? It will be again - soon.

After all, the ability to buy one's own homestead, away from relatives - was it really all that fantastic? Family units became more fragmented; kids move away from their parents, more people preferred to live alone and isoltaed, and our capacity to take care of senior members of our families decreased. Here's an excerpt from a Toronto Star article, entitled, The Solution To Canada’s Housing Crisis Is Right Under Our Roofs:


The Canadian culture is, ‘You leave home at 18 and you don’t come back,’ ” says Brea Mann-Lewis, a Toronto-based intern architect who researched architecture that facilitates multi-generational living for her 2014 master’s thesis at Carleton University. “Independence and owning your house is considered so important today, so it’s almost taking a step back if you move in with your family and children.”

Mann-Lewis calls this an unfounded “stigma.” Life in the city has become less affordable, forcing family structures to increasingly evolve to more multi-generational models. Young adults are moving back in with their parents, and the population of senior citizens 65 and over — the largest it has ever been in Canadian history — is looking for ways to continue living on their own. “It seems like a stigma because you’re losing your independence. But it’s actually extending it,” she says.


Peter Drucker, founder of the Drucker Institute, once said, "The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic."  Cultural upheaval, economic hardship, and political tug-of-war - these are things we cannot stop or change. They will inevitable alter social constructs, including how we reside in this world and how we raise our families. We can only adapt our way of thinking, and how we view what is desirable, acceptable, and smart, in order to reach our same goals.


Much thanks to Point2Homes and their piece entitled Vancouver’s Multi-Generational Household Trend.



Here's a multi-generational home featured on Houseporn!

Toronto’s Grange Triple Double By Williamson Chong Architects


And Several Laneway Residences!

A Toronto Laneway Dwelling By Kohn Shnier Architects

Jones Avenue Laneway House by Sustainable.TO

Vancouver's Laneway Homes By Lanefab Design/Build

Vancouver's Laneway Home Tour 2016 Shows Off Unique Housing Solutions This Weekend


Here are a few complementary posts you may also enjoy!

Canadian Housing & The High Costs Of Homeownership

The Laneway Housing Guidelines For The City Of Toronto

How Our Housing Is A Symbol Of Self, And How Condominium Marketers Know This



Thanks for reading!

Are you looking to purchase or sell a property in Toronto? With training in finance, construction, urban planning, urban design and the psychology of housing and home - Celebrating Twenty-Six Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor - I'm your guy to help you navigate the changing tides of Toronto's real estate market. If you need guidance, please know I and the team welcome being of service. Contact!


~ Posted by Steven Fudge, the purveyor of and proprietor of Urbaneer, a division of Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage.

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