Laneway house projects in Ottawa and Toronto target students

Ottawa has opened the door to a new type of affordable housing that has gained popularity in other cities like Vancouver.

Coach houses—small residential units built on existing lots—were made legal in Ottawa last year, a first for Ontario cities.

People don’t have to buy more land, and they get more housing at a reduced cost,” said Tim Moerman, a city planner that helped bring coach houses to Ottawa. “But to me the real benefit is that it allows people to get more creative with housing.”

The University of Toronto (U of T) is one such organization exploring affordable housing options. The school has announced a pilot project to build two laneway houses near campus, according to a recent release from the school.

Laneway houses are a type of coach house where a garage or shed that lies on a laneway is converted into a living unit.

U of T’s plan to build laneway housing for students might be an indication of the future of student housing, according to Graham Haines, research manager at the Ryerson University City Building Institute.

“Seeing some of our universities pilot and test these projects would be a great way to expand neighbourhoods near universities, and hopefully beyond that. U of T doing this is a great step, Haines said.

Haines added that the areas surrounding campuses like U of T and Carleton are already well suited for coach houses.

“Central neighbourhoods in our cities that have good access to transit, and predominantly single houses, are ideal,” Haines said. They are areas where you have big lots, places where people really want to live . . . Laneway houses allow an opportunity to add density to our neighbourhoods without creating major changes to the character of those neighbourhoods.”

As of now, laneway houses are still illegal in Toronto, but special permits can be obtained on a “case-by-case basis” to build them, according to the U of T press release.

In Ottawa, Moerman estimates that only a few permits for laneway houses have been issued so far.

But he said that part of this might be logistical difficulties, not lack of demand.

“When the coach house proposal went through, a lot of people got excited and were like ‘great, I already have the structure, now I can build an apartment.’ Well, theres more to it than that. It still has to meet the building code and the fire code and that can mean a significant expense,” Moerman said.

Moerman said he agrees that transit hubs are good spots for coach houses, so the completion of the O-train extension could lead to more permits being sought.

But whether or not that happens, he said coach houses are here to stay in Ottawa.

“Ottawa housing prices are rising, but not to the crazy degree of Toronto and Vancouver, and I think with the right set of policies, we can stop that from happening. This is just one part of that, he said. “It’s not a pilot project, we’re doing it. And hopefully other cities can learn lessons from us. We’re happy to be imitated.”