Toronto Approved Multiples Everywhere; Ottawa Should Too

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Toronto city council recently approved changes to the city’s zoning by-laws that will allow the new construction of two-, three- and four-unit multiplexes in all residential zones, which were not previously allowed in many parts of the city. Although the very development of multiplexes does not guarantee affordability, building new multi-unit low-rises in the less dense areas of the city will certainly help to alleviate the city’s massive demand for a fairly scarce housing supply. Although the housing crisis will not be solved by any one policy or approach, Toronto’s example here is one to follow as the population continues to grow and the cost of living in major cities remains prohibitively high.

Toronto Council’s order for new housing and their reversal of the ban on multi-unit housing in certain areas will help to densify the city. This change will, of course, have the benefit of maximizing the use of precious space in the increasingly dense environment. The kind of densification this change introduces will be a solid step toward 15-minute neighbourhoods, for example: more people means a demand for a range of businesses, amenities and greenspace in the vicinity with no need for car use. It also means easier and more efficient provision of city maintenance, paramedic and other services. In short, soft densification is the kind of innovative solution that this moment of rising population and housing cost calls for. 

The Toronto council’s decision comes to address the towering cost of living as the population continues to grow, with the city expecting 700,000 new residents by 2050. Ottawa, for its part, is expecting a population increase of nearly 350,000 by 2046 – a comparable level of growth, given the city’s smaller size and lower density when compared to Toronto. To accommodate this growth in a sensible – not to mention sustainable – way, Ottawa should imitate Toronto’s example by allowing multi-unit housing in all areas of the city.  

The new permissions vis-à-vis multiplexes also constitutes environmental action. Higher-density housing can be built along new or existing transit routes to reduce the use of personal vehicles and maximize the efficiency of the transit system as the population grows – what’s known as transit-oriented communities. New housing developments can also be equipped with efficient green energy technology to reduce carbon emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council notes that low-income housing in major cities can often be old and outdated, containing energy inefficient appliances; ensuring that lower-income renters can access housing with clean energy solutions would save on costs as well as carbon emissions.  

By commissioning multiplexes all across the city, Ottawa can address its worsening housing crisis while simultaneously gaining a new opportunity for green development that can help the city meet its climate goals. 

Matthew Slevin is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton and a volunteer with Council Watch.

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