Multi-generational housing is a phenomenon that we are seeing more and more of in the City of Toronto and across Canada. The combination of high housing prices pushing the bounds of affordability, along with challenges in finding the right home in the right price point and/or location, is causing homebuyers to seek more creative solutions to homeownership, I actually touch on a number of these, when I break down what different segments of the market are buying in Part Two of my most recent real estate forecast.
As far as multi-generational living goes, there are a lot of upsides. If parents are involved in the purchase, the purchasing power is expanded, raising the odds of you finding a suitable home in a desirable location. There is also the fact that having parents close by can help with another major cost: childcare. Similarly, there is the peace of mind as parents age, knowing that you will be able to support them as their health and lifestyle alter.
But there are obstacles as well. One challenge with this approach is finding a property that suits everyone. In addition to the usual features that homebuyers seek in a home (i.e. proximity to amenities, storage, thoughtful layout, etc.), multi-generational buyers may have some other, very specific requirements with properties that require special consideration. For example, the home must be spacious enough and laid out appropriately to accommodate all family members, or at least have the potential for specific renovations that could accommodate more family members over time.
Looking At The Trend Towards Multi-Generational Housing
Because of today's 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 among 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, which I have written about extensively.
The last Federal Census shows that multi-generational households are the fastest-growing housing category in Canada! Did you know that households having at least three generations under the same roof increased by over 37% from 2001 to 2016?
That same 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. This no doubt influences the market because of specific housing stock requirements to house multi-generational housing.
A Pew Research Center study published in April 2018 showed about 20 per cent of Canadians already live in a multi-generational household.
And family structures are changing. The Canadian culture has traditionally been, “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.
Historically, housing has evolved to meet the changing needs of our society, technology and our lifestyles. It’s not surprising to see that housing stock is starting to evolve to meet the needs of this buyer segment.
A Vancouver Case Study
In terms of market activity, Toronto has mirrored another hot Canadian market in many ways: Vancouver. It is always interesting to see what is transpiring in Vancouver, as it is usually indicative of trends taking place here in our fair city as well.
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.
According to 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.
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. Times are a’changing, which means that creative solutions to homeownership must follow suit.
I'm already witnessing 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.
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".
* The Flex Houz by Marshall Homes is a great example of design for multi-generations
Challenges Around Multi-Generational Housing
There are issues which are impeding the growth of the housing stock to fill this need in the marketplace. Putting on an addition or doing major renovations to your home isn’t as easy (or as cost-effective) as you might expect. I have experienced this myself - which I share in my Tales From Tennis Crescent series as I navigate getting a building permit to expand my own purpose-built duplex into a larger space for my future needs.
To aid with the development of appropriate housing stock for this target market (and others that require multi-units or co-housing type of arrangements) I genuinely wish the City would introduce programs to offset the costly permit fees associated with redeveloping existing housing to accommodate more than one household. Of course, if the dwelling is limited to contain just your family such that you only require one kitchen, then the process can be much easier, but for those who want to create multiple units in one dwelling so that your family can collectively live together but have your own self-contained suites, it's much more problematic and costly. My post called The Pitfalls Of Permit Fees And Toronto Real Estate shares exactly how shockingly expensive it can be if you're wanting to create a legal multi-unit dwelling.
A lot of property owners has the vision of converting their existing dwelling into one which can have several legal units within it that can accommodate family and, at times, be an income supplement as required. This kind of flexible living arrangement is what's needed in our urban centres, where property owners can ensure their property serves both the highest and best use of their own particular needs and the community its part of. Did you know in Toronto the land allocated to single-family residential use comprises 1.8 times more space than the land area of all other high-density residential zones in the City? It totals 70 per cent of all the residentially zoned land in Toronto, where prices for a property are generally in excess of $1,000,000 for a detached dwelling. These neighbourhoods - called yellow belt because they're the colour yellow on the city's zoning maps - are rich in their history with reputable schools, recreational spaces, cultural amenities, green spaces, village shoppes and convenient public transportation, all of which improves the quality of life. The housing stock - while in varying degrees of condition - are often generous in size with much of it constructed over one hundred years ago for the merchant class. They're ideal in size for a multi-generational family or those who want a multi-unit dwelling extended family can move into at a later date. Unfortunately, the City of Toronto hasn't been open to higher densities in these areas which could accommodate more units of mixed sizes suitable for extended families or income supplements.
It's unfortunate, given a 2017 Ryerson University report found the majority of Toronto's 140 residential neighbourhoods have had a stagnant or declining population for the past 30 years because households are having fewer children and residents are choosing to age-in-place rather than sell their homes. This translates into a reduction in the use of amenities (like schools, libraries and recreational facilities) which are coveted by families, diminishes community engagement and vitality (fewer residents supporting local retailers & fewer kids playing road hockey) while restricting the filtering of housing stock necessary to maintain a balanced real estate market. Clearly, this 'hollowing out' of once vibrant neighbourhoods would be well-served if multi-unit dwellings were allowed, which would surely reinvigorate these urban neighbourhoods.
What Type Of Housing Works Best For Multi-Generational Housing?
Remember when you are talking about multi-generational homes, you are looking at several different stages of life - from the issues of creating safe and connected spaces for babies to having mobility-friendly space for aging parents. And let’s not forget the couple in the middle generation, who will want space to serve their own needs and use.
If you are lucky enough to find a home with all of these attributes, including a space plan that permits inclusiveness and privacy, you’ve hit the jackpot! If not, there are other housing types and/or configurations that you can consider. In our November 2017 - Home Of The Month - Scarborough post we share the journey of a couple who ended up buying a bungalow perched on a ravine with their adult children. The generous lower level had a full walk-out to the rear garden, so it was reconfigured into an independent suite for our retired clients while their children and grandchildren occupy the upper level. In this instance, they installed a kitchenette on the lower level rather than a full kitchen so that it complied with zoning. Given it also had an outdoor kitchen with barbecue, our clients didn't have to compromise in any way, though the dwelling cannot be sold as a legal 2-unit dwelling in the future. At the moment this is often how multi-generational families are making it work within the limitations of City zoning and bylaws.
Having a home with multiple units (i.e. a triplex or a duplex) can work very well too, as is finding a home that has a footprint that will allow you to build up or out to accommodate additional generations. Making use of unused space in your laneway to build a suite is a new option that is just gaining traction now that it's been approved as-of-right by the CIty. I am certainly seeing this at street level. Here's my co-authored post called About Laneway Housing In Toronto, By Sustainable And Urbaneer which illustrates how a laneway dwelling can serve as a multi-generational 'outbuilding'. This housing solution allows for parents and their adult children to maintain separate spaces but within convenient proximity.
Another interesting example? In my March 2019 - Home Of The Month - Kensington Market, I share he 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!)
* This loft is one of three purchased by the same family so they can be in proximity to each other while having their own independent spaces *
Are you seeking creative solutions to help find that home that will really make all of your housing dreams come true? Having spent more than two decades in the real estate trenches in Toronto, I’ve seen the establishment of trends and the shifting of buyer behaviour in real-time. I can help you find the home you desire for today and to meet your needs in the future as well!
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