A North York condo development is betting that families are ready to swap houses for condos — and is hoping to break new ground by offering three-bedroom units targeting families and multi-generational households.
In the M2M complex, which starts construction later this summer at the site of what used to be the Newtonbrook strip mall just north of Yonge St. and Finch Ave., what would have been a one-bedroom-plus-den is now a two-bedroom — and a two-bedroom now a three-bedroom with an unusual floor plan that includes two master bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Vlad Carelli, a senior associate with Wallman Architects, said they were tasked by developer Aoyuan International with fitting more into unit spaces to increase the number of two- and three-bedroom units in the building. Some of the larger units have two storeys with a terrace rather than a backyard, intended as an alternative to a more traditional townhouse or home. The units with the double master bedrooms were designed for families that include grandparents living in the home, he said.
“One of the things the client really wanted us to challenge is the perception that every family would want a house,” Carelli said. “The whole building was designed for family-oriented spaces.”
Keeping the needs of a family in mind, they made other smaller changes — adding more space around the washer and dryer and using glass partitions for interior rooms that can change from clear to opaque. Some of the units are designed with entry foyers that mimic what it’s like to enter a home. Building amenities include an interior courtyard, a co-working space and an indoor and outdoor kids play area next to a gym. The development will also include a new park, small community centre, grocery store and daycare.
Fan Yang, the deputy general manager in Eastern Canada for Hong Kong-based Aoyuan International, says this approach would only work in a location like North York, which is still close enough to downtown and the rest of the GTA that commute times are reasonable, and where the surrounding community is already geared toward families.
The two- and three-bedroom units are popular among downsizers and multi-generational families, he said, but also immigrant families who want enough space to host visiting guests.
The demand for multi-generational housing (where three or more generations of a family live together) has been discussed for years and, according to Statistics Canada, is the fastest growing type of household, in part due to high costs of living in and near urban centres, including the cost of child care, and the cultural norms of immigrants, particularly from South Asia and China, around living with aging parents, which extend into the first and second generations born in Canada.
According to the 2016 Census, there were nearly 404,000 multi-generational households with 2.2 million people across Canada. Many of them are in the GTA — one in four people in Brampton lives in a multi-generational household — as does 12 per cent of the population in Toronto.
While the numbers in the GTA continue to rise, the number of multi-generational households in Toronto has remained mostly stagnant, likely due in part to high housing prices and few options for homes large enough to comfortably accommodate three or more generations.
In some cases, existing homes are being renovated or rebuilt. The innovative FlexHouz design from Pickering-based Marshall Homes requires a 50-foot building lot for the 3,352-plus-875-square-foot, two-unit home that includes garage space for three cars and a total of five bedrooms.
Toronto is also in the midst of an affordable housing crisis and the homes that are being built — mostly investor-friendly one-bedroom condominiums — are not designed to house families.
Two- and, particularly, three-bedroom condos remain unpopular for developers because families are usually less inclined to buy a home pre-construction — in part because families can change so much over the two to five years it may take for a condo to be built, said Murtaza Haider, a professor specializing in housing and real estate markets at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. The larger unit sizes also mean higher condo fees which, when added to a mortgage, may make a buying a house preferable to a condominium, he said.
“From a condominium financing point of view, the numbers are not in favour of such construction,” he said, which effectively limits the number of such units in a condo building.
Phase One of the M2M development is two towers with a total of 810 units, of which 80 per cent are sold, according to the developer. Of those units, 180 are two-bedroom-plus-den and three-bedroom units, which are 63 per cent sold. The townhouses and penthouses go on sale in the fall.
The three-bedroom units would not be considered an affordable alternative to a home even by Toronto standards — location and convenience would matter more since the pricing for the 1,101-square-foot units start at more than $1 million. The two-bedroom-plus-den condos start around $650,000.
Yang said the sales from the first phase show there is a demand from families for living in a three-bedroom condo — something he was looking for with his own family when he moved to the city.
“They come with their children, they come with the grandparents (to the model suite),” Yang said. “The demand from North York is there. Compared to a few years, more families prefer condo, urban living.”
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Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati