As it stands, the city’s current urban infrastructure is incompatible with the demand for affordable housing in Toronto. Combined with this, rising land costs point to the importance of the self-solve model. Property owners looking to improve upon their existing lots or create an additional flow of rental income can do so quickly, conveniently and smoothly – without needing to expand or move around in the GTA.
Neptis (2010) identifies this type of infill development, along with gentle densification and scaled growth, as key practices that help contain urban sprawl. Simultaneously, these flexible housing solutions will also help realize economies of scale in delivering city services by concentrating the urban population. Filling in these important gaps in urban housing markets will ultimately encourage the sweeping use of public transit, walking and cycling. As it exists now, our reduced capacity for government intervention and investment directly undermines urban development and the necessary maintenance of our city centres (Filion, 2010).
Exploring the broader social benefits of gentle densification
Toronto is a diverse city in terms of socioeconomic status and country of origin, but our current housing framework and existing housing supply automatically excludes a large portion of newcomers and lower-income residents. Steep prices and an everlasting demand for localized housing mean that the majority of Toronto’s residents are unable to purchase an affordable home, with condo prices increasingly unattainable and these smaller spaces incompatible for larger families. With about half of the GTA population composed of foreign-born individuals, the inclusion of newcomers and other marginalized or underrepresented populations is imperative in this discussion.
Accordingly, R-Hauz has subsumed the notion that people should be able to choose how to enhance their own properties, and offers a quick, customizable turnkey solution that meets their needs (Moore, 2019). As they work to create gentle density along established transit lines and urban laneways, their products could provide an influx of cheaper housing opportunities – without needing to free up any additional land. In centring the potential demands for a diverse range of demographics from the start of our initial design stages, R-Hauz created a range of flexible products that can be suitable in a multitude of different contexts.
Social benefits & R-Hauz products
Our city’s fortune is increasingly tied to a globalized economy, which scholars point out leaves space for inherent inequalities – like the growth of existing income disparities. Thus, the introduction of R-Hauz products and subsequent added density can facilitate improved social benefits.
Walkability and transit-oriented development encourages connectivity and movement
- R-Hauz’s Six Storey Townhomes support embedded transport links along the avenues (a key aspect of Toronto’s official plan).
- Both families of housing products support pedestrian friendly design.
- Building up, not out can intensify areas that are already served by municipal infrastructure.
Enhanced social cohesion and mixed-use neighbourhoods from scaled growth
- The introduction of soft densification can create a greater sense of community, decreasing crime rates and fostering strong social connections among urban residents.
- A multi-stakeholder environment is needed for strong social ties and crime prevention (PcW Report, World Economic Forum 2019).
- Improved social cohesion has significantly impacts physical health from newly walkable areas.
Reduced reliance on social services by aging populations
- Senior citizens and those who are dependent on external care can stay close to caregivers.
- A secondary laneway suite can be added in lieu of finding outside accommodations for those needing continuous care, creating less pressure for extended families, local retirement homes and elderly housing systems.
Provision of decent and equitable housing solutions for everyone
- In Toronto, growing family dependence on food banks is driven by lack of affordable housing (TCSA Report).
- There are increasingly long waitlists for an inadequate supply of social housing.
- Municipalities are forced to pit physical infrastructure needs against social infrastructure needs and police budgets against community services grants (TCSA Report).
- R-Hauz products increase the supply of small and mid-rise housing without purchase of new land.
- Residential stability and mixed-tenure opportunities are critical for the success of self-sustaining neighbourhoods.
- Introduction of diverse forms of affordable housing as a means of poverty reduction in urban areas, and laneway housing can strengthen supply of local housing opportunities outside of expensive high-rises and freehold houses and provide landowners with additional stream of rental income.