Residents fight backyard homes plan
Neighbourhood groups object to Toronto’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to allowing garden suites
A group of seven residents associations in Toronto are appealing a new bylaw that would allow backyard homes to be built on residential properties — a move affordable housing advocates say will delay the creation of needed housing.
The city expanded permissions on Feb. 2 to allow residents to build so-called garden suites on their properties by amending a zoning bylaw. The bylaw is not yet in effect and the appeal means there will be delays, said Coun. Ana Bailão, the deputy mayor of Toronto and the chair of the planning and housing committee.
A garden suite is a home typically built in the backyard of an existing house that is detached from the main building, according to the city. They are often used for extended family members or as rental units.
The group says they’re not against garden suites, but feel the current guidelines are “one-size-fits-all” and don’t adequately protect green space.
Affordable housing groups see the group’s appeal as an attempt by those who own single-family homes to resist needed change to usher in more accessible housing.
Building Better Neighbourhoods, an organization representing multiple residents organizations, has submitted the appeal of the bylaw, stating it should be adjusted for different neighbourhoods, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Christine Mercado, who is a spokesperson for the alliance and chair of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association, told the Star the group supports “good planning principles,” and that current policies allowing all neighbourhoods to be redesigned is the abandonment of “good planning principles.”
She added the group believes its suggestions during the garden suites consultation process were not incorporated.
“There’s no planning that’s required, they’re just letting the city organically grow,” she said. “What the city has done is the overreach … without looking at whether that’s a good planning decision.”
In a press release Tuesday, the organization alleges the city overreached regulations set by the province, by allowing garden suites for multiplexes and lowrise apartments.
In a statement to the Star, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said municipalities are responsible for implementing the additional residential units provisions included in the Planning Act. He explained they have the flexibility on how they adopt the province’s official plan and policies around zoning bylaw provisions.
They also “may tailor the application of provincial policy and legislation for (additional residential units) to fit local circumstances,” he said.
Prior to the passing of the bylaw, the city engaged in “considerable consultation,” including with residents associations, said Bailão, noting there seemed to be support for “gentle intensification” in neighbourhoods.
“It is disappointing to see this being dragged out for longer, given the housing situation that we have in the city. It could mean that families that have been waiting for this opportunity to create housing for their family members, or for rental income … to have to wait again,” she said.
“I’m really hoping the conversation turns around the need to manage the change happening in our city and the growth ... in an inclusive way that doesn’t benefit only some in our city.”
Bailão said the city is examining the appeal and whether it has a legal basis to move forward.
The alliance of residents associations explains in their press release that they support “community renewal” and affordable housing along with garden suites. But they say the city’s bylaw for garden suites is “poorly written” and “ambiguous.”
Their qualms include that the city’s planning should also include “better protecting existing trees and green space,” said Mercado. She said their legal consultation has told them they do have a basis for an appeal.
There are also concerns that garden suites are market-based housing and will not be affordable, she said.
Saeid Hashemi, one of the volunteers at More Neighbours, an affordable housing advocacy group, said there was substantial community input involved in creating the bylaw.
“We’re very disappointed to see (the appeal), because appealing a decision like this is really anti-democratic, it’s much worse than opposing individual or smaller scale housing developments … in case this is a city decision made at city council with a majority vote.”
Garden suites add new housing to a variety of neighbourhoods and can be flexible. For instance, a senior can retire and rent out their residence, and then live in a garden suite, he said. It also increases the rental supply, which “prevents a price escalation at the margins.”
Mark Richardson, a volunteer technical lead with advocacy group Housing Now TO, said it’s true that garden suites aren’t considered affordable housing, as they often benefit intergenerational and family development.
But for a group to appeal something so minor as garden suites is concerning, as it’s an indication of their abilities to fight any densification proposals, he explained.
Richardson noted the groups that have appealed — which include the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association, the Swansea Area Ratepayers’ Association, the Cliffcrest Scarborough Village SW Residents Association, the South Armour Heights Residents’ Association, the Confederation of Resident and Ratepayer Associations in Toronto, the Bedford-Wanless Ratepayers Association and Don Mills Residents Inc. — are suburban and are used to having large houses and backyards.
“It’s hard for them to understand that in a growing city, that lifestyle that they’ve been used to for 20, 30, 40 years is going to change,” he said. “Scarborough can’t grow out any more, we consumed all the farmland … now we have to infill those oversized lots in the suburbs with additional housing. And that’s going to upset people.”
But it’s time to give housing opportunities to the families who weren’t as lucky to arrive in Toronto when a house cost less than $200,000, he said.