HOMES THAT WORK FOR THE LONG HAUL, TRANSITIONING TO ACCOMMODATE ADULT CHILDREN AND AGING PARENTS, ARE GAINING IN POPULARITY
When newlyweds search for their first home, it’s rarely with their parents. The traditional trajectory is get married and move out. But for 27-yearold Mel Simon, she moved out, got married, then bought a house they could all move into together.
The Toronto resident and her husband spent much of 2020 searching for a home in the city’s east end, but the prices were prohibitive. Tiny semis within their price range were selling well over asking. Even though the couple both have decent jobs in tech, they don’t have a million dollars for a home.
Simon and her family came up with the most practical solution: they’ll all live under the same roof. Her parents said they could help contribute to a more sizable down payment in a multigenerational home since they would be living there, too. They found a house in Moore Park that was already divided into two units; Simon’s parents live on the main floor and Simon and her husband occupy the second and third. The financial benefit was the driving factor behind the decision, but being close to Simon’s parents was another.
“We have seen things happen in our friends’ families where an older relative will end up getting sick, and someone will have to move in with that relative who may live further away, and it’ll be something that causes tension in a relationship,” Simon said.
“If something happens to one of my parents, or something happens to one of my partner’s parents, we want to be able to have them all under one roof. Our families are super important to us.”
More Canadians like Simon have been gravitating towards family-friendly living arrangements in recent years. Based on the latest available data, multigenerational households — defined by Statistics Canada as three or more generations living under the same roof — were the fastest-growing household type in the country between 2001 and 2016.
CLOSE TO HALF OF OUR PROJECTS NOW ARE GEARED TOWARD EITHER RETIRED PARENTS THAT ARE BUILDING FOR THEIR ADULT CHILDREN — BECAUSE OTHERWISE THEY JUST SIMPLY CAN’T ACCESS THE MARKET — OR BECAUSE HOMEOWNERS ARE DOWNSIZING.
— TONY CUNHA
Multigenerational homes are most common among new Canadian and Indigenous families, data shows.
For many, the global pandemic has highlighted both the importance of being close to family and the systemic issues in long-term care homes. Throw in the climbing cost of Toronto housing, and a multigenerational home is a practical and prudent option. The average price for a home in Toronto rose to $918,883 in 2020, up from $819,832 in 2019, according to RE/MAX data.
Dividing up a detached or semi-detached house is one option; but so is adding another building to a plot they own. Since the City of Toronto approved laneway-home bylaws in 2018, some Torontonians are looking to their backyards for a multigenerational housing solution, said Tony Cunha, an architect and project manager at the laneway home firm Lanescape. Laneway homes are already popular in cities like Vancouver, which adopted regulations in 2009, as alternatives to basement suites, since the cost of housing there, too, locks a lot of residents out of home ownership.
Cunha estimates a good chunk of Lanescape’s custom builds are for family members, while the other half are built as rental units to generate additional income. The laneway units cost anywhere between $350,000 to $500,000, Cunha said, with projects ranging from 500 to 2,500 square feet.
“Close to half of our projects now are geared toward either retired parents that are building for their adult children — because otherwise they just simply can’t access the market — or because homeowners are downsizing,” Cunha said, explaining that some retirees want to spend most of the year at a cottage, but still keep a place in the city. ” are electing to move into the laneway home that’s custom tailored to their needs, and then handing down the main house to the children.”
Leith Moore, the founder and developer at R-hauz, a Toronto firm that builds prefabricated laneway homes as well as townhomes, said laneway suites are more accessible — and bright — options than basement apartments and also offer residents privacy. Moore said R-hauz’s laneway homes cost around $320 to $325 per square foot, making them much more affordable than condos that require condo fees.
He believes more Toronto residents will adopt laneway solutions as they gain popularity and see how designs can be multi-functional; R-hauz’s prefabricated homes can be used as rental units, home office spaces, apartments for family members, and partly as garages.
“We keep building houses as if they’re a commodity, so then when your needs change, you sell that commodity and buy another commodity,” Moore said.
“COVID has been a good wake-up call in a lot of ways because, if you think about it, why wouldn’t our housing be able to evolve with us and change with us, rather than us having to change our location as our lifecycle moves?”
Becoming a parent herself is something Simon considered when buying a home with her parents. The cost of childcare in Toronto is some of the highest in the country, and having grandparents around would help a lot, she said. Simon isn’t alone in her thinking. According to a report by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the senior members of a multigenerational home often offer support in the form of caring for grandchildren.
Toronto-based RE/MAX real estate agent Samantha Sheppard says that while she hasn’t had clients come to her specifically for multigenerational properties during the pandemic, COVID-19 has caused more first-time homebuyers to look for larger spaces across the GTA or outside of it. Working from home and spending time indoors is part of that push, but she also believes peoples’ desire to accommodate family members should they need to is a factor.
“For first-time homebuyers that would probably have bought a condo downtown ...now they’re looking at three-bedroom houses” outside the city, Sheppard said.
For Simon, the decision to move into a household with her husband and parents is already paying off. She said her parents were socially isolated before and the pandemic made seeing them harder.
“My parents were living in an apartment building with a lot of people around them, which was really stressful for them because in a pandemic, you don’t want to be around tons of people all the time,” she said.
“For them to be able to move out into a bigger space, and for me to be able to come over by going downstairs, that’s been really good for them.”