With the average price of a detached house in the city pushing $1 million, the idea of raising kids in a Victorian rowhouse with a garden in the backyard is a pipe dream for many Toronto families.
For young parents who can’t afford a massive down payment or mortgage, there are few options: move to the burbs, rent a house or squeeze into a condo.
While the last option might not seem desirable, more and more families are laying down roots in high-rises.
Between 1996 and 2011, an additional 10,000 families with children lived in high-rises, according to the 2017 city of Toronto report Growing Up: Planning For Children In New Vertical Communities.
And in the past two years specifically, real estate agent Jamie Sarner says he has seen a striking rise in young parents moving into condos.
That’s partially due to the expensive housing market, but also because some families enjoy the minimal upkeep of condo life.
“There are people who like one-floor living and the fact that after a long workday, they don’t have to worry about mowing the grass or shovelling snow,” says Sarner.
Growing Up recommended how condo buildings, individual units and neighbourhoods can better accommodate families with kids. The result of a year-long study, the proposed guidelines included buildings having at least 25 per cent units with two bedrooms or more, multiple shared spaces for homework groups, crafts and youth fitness, as well as lobbies with stroller storage.
And while three- and four-bedroom condo units are still unicorns in Toronto, some architects and developers are designing buildings catered to families.
This year, 25-year-old University of Toronto architecture masters student Yupin Li won a Toronto Urban Design Award for Flex, a prospective condo at Dundas and Palmerston with flexible multi-bedroom units that would allow families to rent out a section.
“The inspiration came from homeowners who rent out a portion of their home to afford the mortgage,” she explains. “Flex takes that concept and applies it to a mid-rise condo in the city.”
The units would each have at least two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two entry points that would allow the owners to convert the space into two bachelor units.
To inform her design, Li studied how older European cities like Paris and Amsterdam achieve what she calls “gentle density” or a middle-ground between hyper-density and sprawl.
“My generation is struggling with affordable rent and home ownership, [so] we’ll have to look more at living in condos and not houses,” Li says. “Land ownership is a very North American concept. In most major cities around the world, apartments are how families live. It’s a new-ish concept for Toronto, but as a rapidly growing city it’s something we’re going to have to come to terms with.”
Yupin Li’s Flex, a prospective condo on Dundas West with multi-functional units.
Last month, residential builder Devron Developments broke ground on the Vanguard, a 25-storey condo in Thornhill almost entirely made up of two-, three- and four-bedroom units.
In addition to those extra bedrooms ideal for nurseries and toy storage, the building will contain a large communal children’s playroom and 7,000-square-foot terrace, as well as an adjacent half-acre park. Whereas investors usually make up a large portion of unit buyers, Devron had “end users” in mind: families who will actually live in the units for the long-term.
This is a dramatic departure from the past decade of condo building.
According to Charles Jaque, director of sales and marketing for Milborne Group, the firm that led the sales of the Vanguard, in the last 10 years in Toronto, condos have been made up predominantly of one-bedroom units, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has recently browsed listings.
From a developer’s point of view, multi-bedroom units are a risk since they have higher price points and therefore a smaller market of buyers. However, that market is becoming more competitive.
“From a sales perspective, we found that there was a higher demand at the Vanguard for family-sized suites. It was so significant, we were able to increase pricing,” says Jaque. “We only have seven one-bedroom units, and they were some of the last to go.”
As such, multi-bedroom condos are still expensive.
The Vanguard units range from low $300,000 to $2.4 million. In Menkes Development’s the Eglinton, located at Yonge and Eglinton, family-friendly units start at $699,900.
If a family can afford those prices, condo living can be convenient.
Carmi Magnaye, 36, and Mark Mananquil, 39, live in a two-bedroom condo at Waterpark City near Bathurst and Lake Shore with their four-year-old and 16-month baby.
Their building doesn’t have the fancy playrooms or spacious terraces that newer family-focused developments boast, but it has something even better: walking distance to parks, libraries, restaurants and Ripley’s Aquarium.
“I grew up in the suburbs in Mississauga where you had to drive everywhere,” says Magnaye. “Here, my kids are exposed to so much just an arms-length away.”
Since the couple moved in more than a decade ago, they’ve seen the demographics shift in the building from single young professionals to stroller-pushing moms and dads. Each morning, their daughter takes a school bus with at least 10 other kids from neighbouring condos.
And while Magnaye and Mananquil plan to move into a ground-level townhouse in the next three to five years, they’re perfectly content in their condo.
“It’s instilled in us that to have a family, you need that white picket fence, a garage and backyard,” Magnaye says. “But condo living for parents is awesome.”
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