In real estate terms, zoning refers to what’s permitted to be built and the uses allowed for a property. Most of Toronto is zoned for low density housing, like single family homes.  That’s about to change.

A new pilot project in Toronto’s Ward 19, Beaches-East York, is experimenting with ways to address Toronto’s problem of the missing middle.

The missing middle refers to housing that’s medium scale and density and therefore in the middle of affordability compared to other options.  It’s basically homes that aren’t high-rise condominiums or houses priced out of the reach of the average Toronto residents.

While we have lots of condominiums, they are clustered in the limited areas that has zoning that permits such dense use.

In the majority of Toronto (around 70% of the city), we have what is called the yellow belt.  This is the term for the areas coloured yellow on the city’s Official Plan map and have policies that prevent densification.  If you’re curious about what it looks like and your zoning, take a look at the City of Toronto interactive zoning map here.

From a community perspective, the yellow belt is mostly referring to the City of Toronto that isn’t the downtown core (old Toronto) and York.  Think Etobicoke, North Toronto, East York and Scarborough.

These areas have almost exclusively detached housing because that is what is permitted to be built there since the 1960s.  As a result, they have been less popular with developers, with a lower number of units per developable lot and therefore lower profit margins.

In July, 2019, Toronto City Council considered a motion presented by Mayor John Tory to expand housing options and types in the city by reviewing planning permissions in low density areas.  After consultation, it was agreed Ward 19, Beaches-East York, would run a pilot project to explore this approach.

In the past, many neighbourhoods have fought back against the sort of development projects pursued by builders that would substantially change the feel and look of the neighbourhood.  These have largely been more intensive uses than what the missing middle is focused upon.

Rather than building more large condominiums, it would involve smaller multi-unit residential properties, from triplexes, fourplexes and multiplexes up to small (perhaps 20 unit) low-rise housing.  Such housing types do exist in parts of Toronto, but they were almost all built before the current zoning regulations were put in place.

A new generation of medium density housing, with medium level pricing, would go a long way to alleviating the lack of housing we have in the City of Toronto.  Increased density that fits into neighbourhoods encourages more retail and restaurants and allows them to be successful.  It creates livable communities where there are more options than simply massive high rises or single family homes.