In Toronto, even a floating house costs close to $1 million.
Or $965,000, to be precise. That’s the current list price for a 1,552 square-foot home in a small, little-known enclave in the Scarborough Bluffs, made up of a row of 24 houses on floating concrete barges, moored to a dock and anchored to the lake bed.
“It’s like no other community I’ve lived in or known,” says Denise Doucet, the real estate agent selling the home on Brimley Rd. S. Doucet bought her own floating home in the neighbourhood seven years ago.
“You’ve got a place in the city that feels pretty much like a cottage all year round,” said Doucet.
“You have a GO train, which is two minutes up the road that takes you to downtown Toronto. You can boat to the city area and have lunch or go grocery shopping; you’re a 20 minute boat ride to Queens Quay. So it’s very much a lifestyle.
“And lets face it, no one wants to drive two, two-and-a-half hours to the cottage only to spend three, three-and-a-half hours on the way back.”
Floating houses are not houseboats, which are equipped with motors and meant to move through water. Floating homes are moored, though they do tend to move a little on the water in high winds, said Doucet.
The houses have bumpers so they don’t get damaged if they bump into one another in a storm.
Generally though, the floating homes in Bluffer’s Park Marina at the foot of Brimley Rd. are sheltered by the towering bluffs and a breakwater protects them from rough waves. In winter the water around them freezes, providing a natural outdoor skating rink.
Floating houses have no basement, attic or garage and virtually no property, the good news is that means property taxes at 7 Brimley Rd. S., Slip 12, are about $1,000 a year, to pay for services including parking and garbage collection.
Monthly mooring fees for the homes are about $750 a month. Small personal watercraft can be moored at the homes for free.
Twenty years ago when they were sold, the homes were registered as boats and subject to the design and safety requirements of the Canadian Coast Guard. They sold for $91,000 to $175,000, depending on the model, according to stories published at the time.
Most of them have since been deregistered as boats, said Doucet. Their official title is floating home.
Paul Peic, a float home advocate and sales representative, who sold his home in the neighbourhood two years ago, thinks they are a good housing solution in a city like Toronto, built at the water’s edge.
“You feel relaxed there, even though you’re surrounded by a stressful city.”
Floating homes are popular in Vancouver, where real estate is similarly expensive, and in Seattle, but the neighbourhood at Bluffer’s Park Marina bills itself as the only float home community in Ontario.
Toronto moved to ban the homes shortly after they were built by a developer at Cherry Beach and towed to Bluffer’s Park Marina for sale. It granted a reprieve to owners in 2002 but warned all marinas that lease land from the city that more floating homes would not be permitted.
Realtor and architect Mark Campbell thinks allowing people to live on the water would make sense at Ontario Place, the former theme park along the city’s western lakefront, which the provincial government intends to redevelop. He submitted his idea for a houseboat community to the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which is taking suggestions from the public.
“I am just interested in people living on the water, in this place in particular, to reinvigorate Ontario Place as a vital community in our fair city,” said Campbell, who is also co-chair of the Roncesvalles-Macdonell Residents Association.
With more people in the area, the existing pod structures at Ontario Place could become shared workspace, offices, studios or gyms, Campbell believes.
Peic agrees there is room for more floating houses in Toronto.
“They’re an amazing lifestyle.”
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF