Laneway Suites

Laneway housing sketch by Lanescape

Evergreen has been working to transform Toronto’s laneways to support new forms of housing that increase housing supply in the GTA and demonstrate examples of sustainable construction and design.

In partnership with Councillor Ana Bailao (Ward 18, Davenport), Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32) and Lanescape we hosted three community consultations and launched a city-wide survey to gather feedback from residents about the potential of laneway suites in Toronto.

As part of the consultations, we worked with Crazy Dames and created small laneway suite prototypes using clay!

Laneway Suites Consultation Report

Our consultations showed a majority of residents are interested in seeing how laneway suites could be part of Toronto’s future. Community participants identified a number of important ideas that include:

  • Sustainability and maintaining green space
  • Reducing red tape
  • Flexible design guidelines
  • Parking considerations
  • Integration with the public realm

Several questions were raised by residents and we are working hard to address these key issues through conversations with city technical staff and councillors in the Toronto and East York District. The highlights of the conversations can be read in this report.

An exisiting Toronto laneway

What is a laneway suite?

A laneway suite is a small dwelling at the rear of a residential lot that is detached from the primary home.  All of its services (water, sewer, electricity, gas, garbage, mail, etc.) come from the front street, not the laneway.  It can be used for family, or as a rental, but is not severable.

Why is this important?

  1. Equity.  The affordability and availability of low-rise housing stock has been rapidly changing in our city. The City of Toronto is constantly working to unlock new housing opportunities for residents. We believe that laneway suites should be one of those opportunities.
  1. Underutilized spaces. Toronto’s laneways have the potential to become more active, useful spaces in our urban fabric. Unlocking these assets is a key part of creating safe, accessible spaces for residents to enjoy.
  1. Sustainability.  Providing housing opportunities in liveable, walkable neighbourhoods will enhance our communities, giving more residents the option to live near jobs, services, and public transit. It will also improve access to light and air for renters, and improve acoustic and spatial privacy for units sharing a lot.

Benefits of laneway suites

Secondary suites are an important part of rental housing supply in Toronto.

Secondary suites incrementally, responsibly, and “invisibly” increase density, while preserving neighbourhood character and scale.  By allowing secondary suites to be located on laneways, privacy from the main house is improved, and it allows the secondary suite more access to light, air, and views.

  1. Respect character. Laneway suites present the opportunity of creating more homes in neighbourhoods without changing the look, feel and character of these low-rise residential streets.
  2. Access to established neighbourhoods. They increase the supply of rental housing in established neighbourhoods that have access to transit and key amenities. They do this without requiring any new infrastructure, as branching of services is the homeowners' responsibility.
  3. Increase income and viability of home ownership. More and more, first-time homebuyers are seeking extra income and security to cover escalating home costs by creating secondary rental suites.  Laneway suites provide an enhanced opportunity for home ownership.
  4. Co-habitation and multi-generational living. Laneway suites present an opportunity for multigenerational households — with adult children, empty nesters, and care-takers living in the same home.  Security, care, and family-closeness can be provided while retaining privacy.
  5. Safety. Laneway suites improve the look and safety of a laneway by bringing lighting infrastructure and more eyes to the streets.
  6. Slower pace of development. Laneway houses are usually built at a much slower pace than a neighbourhood or high-rise development. Change will occur gradually.

Photos of laneways how they exist today in Toronto

Possible barriers to laneway suites

Although the province has required secondary suites policies throughout Ontario, municipal policies are inconsistent. Many municipalities still maintain prohibitive barriers to secondary suites. This has slowed the expansion of secondary suites in many areas.

Municipal zoning bylaws

The primary barriers to constructing laneway houses are municipal zoning bylaws that forbid a “house-behind-a-house” scenario. Currently, laneway development is handled on a case-by-case basis, with wildly inconsistent and unfair results.  A cohesive framework will ensure everyone is entitled to the same rights and limitations to building on a laneway.

Examples of laneway housing from across Canada and internationally

Common concerns

  1. Privacy. Privacy from overlook is a common concern, and regulations must be put in place to limit windows with views of neighbouring rear yards.
  2. Servicing. Since services do not exist on most laneways, laneway suites must be serviced via connections to the main street.
  3. Waste & Emergency. Waste collection and emergency vehicles also require access routes. Many laneways in Toronto are too narrow to accommodate these vehicles, so access from the main street may be required.
  4. Fire. Ontario’s building code has strict requirements for non-combustible construction, and life-safety systems in buildings of all shapes and sizes. Laneway suites will be required to protect their neighbours and their occupants from fire-related danger.
  5. Parking. Parking supply and congestion are often perceived as a problem when secondary suites are introduced into a community. These issues can be mitigated by managing the supply of Municipal Street parking permits, promoting car sharing and adjusting local parking standards based on transit proximity.

Want more information? Review the presentation (PDF 11MB) from the city-wide consultation held in December at Evergreen Brick Works.

Share your feedback

You can let us know what you think by completing the survey