Should We Build Larger Condos like 3 Bedrooms?

November 21st, 2017 · 3 Comments · Rental Property

Recently in the news – What about larger suites in condos?

These are my thoughts, it’s exceedingly short sighted to build condos full of one bedrooms and one bedrooms plus dens that aren’t a den. Of course we need to build bigger suites for families in the downtown core for the people that work there and want to live there. This isn’t rocket science.

Dens

First some kind of consumer advocacy group needs to define den as advertised by developers. A six inch indent is not a den. The original term for den was an extra room without a window either designed as a bedroom or as a dining room or an office. This could be smaller than a typical room, but was usually big enough for a desk and chair and could accommodate a small kids bed. A reasonable minimum sizing would be an extra 60-80 square feet to be able to claim a “den”

Bedrooms

Minimum size should be specified to claim use as a bedroom. Just because it has a window and a closet, if all you can fit in there is single bed from Ikea and there’s no room for a dresser, it should be called punishment cell cause it isn’t a bedroom. Townhouse developers, you know who you are.

Micro Condos

Hell No! Here’s a story about who these condos appeal to, and it’s not the people that live there, no surprise it’s investors and their motivation is Mo Money, which is not bad, I like money myself, but I don’t think that profit should be the primary motivator behind suite design or approvals.

In the comments I was reading on Twitter someone mentioned that in a lot of the world people live in very small living spaces and that this is inevitable. I’m sorry the “race to the bottom” argument doesn’t really hold a lot of weight with me. They do a lot of things in other countries like lop people’s head off with swords, not eat beef, eat dogs and cats, live in stick huts, paint themselves with ochre and a whole host of innumerable circumstances that we are not and should not copy in Canada. In the one of the largest countries in the world, you can’t try to say that we are running out of land. It’s just not true. No one is suggesting we return to subsistence living off the land (despite the large number of edible squirrels and raccoons) and so no one should be trying to create large walk in closets and call them “investments”.

The Argument Against Larger Suites

The argument against the 2 plus den and 3 bedrooms suites is that they are too expensive, and no one wants to buy them. Developments are currently sold on a per square foot basis and so adding the extra space is cost prohibitive. Maintenance fees are also assessed on per square foot basis adding to the cost over time. I like David Fleming’s examination of the issues, and the problem is that the rare 900 square foot three bedrooms they are developing do not lend themselves to families. If your family layout doesn’t include a kitchen table and room for a living room with a proper couch (not a loveseat) it’s just not going to work.

The city of Toronto themselves could help by charging less per square footage for three bedrooms than for micro suites or even charge $80K for micro suites and charge $20K for three bedrooms. What the city charges can be changed, and provide pressure on developers to do the right thing, and because developers are motivated by the money a very loud and clear message can easily be sent. It should cost less to “build the right thing”.

My Take on The Situation

The reason we have so many housing problems is because our society runs like a popularity contest. Politicians who make the rules are more interested in placating people than making data driven choices. We need to make housing policy policy based not on what developers want/need or what the NIMBY crown want/need, but based on the actual documented needs and feedback of the people who need to be housed here in Toronto or Vancouver.

The reason we have so many small shitty one bedroom condos is because that’s what developers can easily sell to investors – local and foreign. Developers have ceased even pretending to appeal to end users. Investors do not care about what it’s like to live in the suite, they care about their profit margins and are sold the dream of lucre and get rich quick schemes. Here’s a perfect example.

Image 5-11-17 at 4.25 PM

However, anyone familiar with building design can tell you that you need a range of living accommodations and a lot less one bedrooms, and more two bedrooms, and three bedroom to have a proper stable community.

About Per Square Foot Prices

There are certain parts of the building process that increase the cost of construction, kitchens and bathrooms, common elements such a heating and cooling units. You know what’s not that expensive ? Bedrooms – because they are mostly empty space with a closet.

You cannot evaluate a three bedroom condo on the same per square foot basis as a micro condo or one bedroom, because the base costs for construction are different.

I can tell you how developers think… I could could put 2 condos here instead of one and get more money and make more profit. Not that profit is bad because it isn’t, but money isn’t everything when you building something that will last hundreds of years. Selling shoes by the pair is cheaper than selling them by the foot, but we don’t allow shoe manufacturers to sell us a left shoe and a right shoe, now do we?

Just like condos used to come with parking and lockers and now they are extra. Ask any real estate agent or any one who rents condos if it’s better with parking…but according to the developers and city hall, people don’t need parking even though 90% of the Province has no public transit to speak of. Where I come from the bus comes once per day and if you don’t drive, you walk and it’s 8 miles to town.

Price Isn’t Everything

Here’s a list of things that are more expensive and that the government forces people to add to cars, houses, boats for functionality.  It does increase the cost but would we really go back?

  1. Seat Belts
  2. Emission Controls
  3. Smoke/Carbon monoxide alarms
  4. Anti kickback devices on chainsaws
  5. Blade guards on Skill saws
  6. Incandescent light bulbs cheaper than fluorescent & LED
  7. Food Rules for Restaurants
  8. Life Jackets and life boats in Ships
  9. This list could go on forever…

We live in a capitalistic society, and our government has a consumer protection role to play to protect Canadians from people who would exploit them.

Build for the Next Hundred Years

Our politicians and city planners need to get a grip and adult. We will be dealing with these condos for at least 100 years, but they are built for until the ink dries on the sales contract to the foreign investor (Who bought 10 at a discount)

We cannot allow Developers to tell us what they will build and do, but rather tell them, if you want to build in the City of Toronto and build quickly, we will approve a lot of density as long as 60% of your building is 3 bedrooms, with a daycare on the main floor in the commercial space, with parking spots for the people who live there and a nice kids play area.

Imagine how much money developers would save if the city stopped charging development fees by the square foot themselves and charge instead less in fees for 3 bedrooms rather than micro mini condos.

The bottom line is everybody involved needs to stop thinking about what is expedient and easier, and make some real serious choices based on what works in other countries, our countries and base the design of our buildings on that. We are social beings and we need our neighbors and our friends so that too needs to be included in building design.

That’s why we won’t see our seniors go live in condos, because they have life long friends and support where they live now, and they’ll never have enough space in the current crop of condos to put their twelve seat hideous oak monster dining table at which they fed all their kids and entertained for the last 40 years. Frankly, the maintenance fees in a condo are more than it costs to upkeep their paid off house. This is one part of the narrative I just don’t get. Don’t kid yourself, seniors will go right into a care home, not a condo.

Even millennials don’t want to live in condos. If you showed them an old style condo like the Quantum buildings, or Empire Building downtown, that came with parking and a locker, have decent community space, they might change their minds.

In short we all need to decide what is going to be allowed to be built and how we will protect condo consumers from the asymmetry of power and information that developers have. By we, I don’t mean people who own single family homes, but people like city planners who don’t think Urbanation & the Toronto Real Estate Board are a source for anything except developer friendly pressers about how great the Toronto condo industry is.

Finally they need to think about what we need as homes instead of McMansions. I’m pretty sure we don’t need more subdivisions of 6000 square foot homes unless Canadians start having a lot more kids. While these are extremely lovely houses and you can show off to all your friends, when you need to heat that house in -20 degree weather…it’s hella expensive for 2-3 people.

Finally because we have an aging population houses and condos need to all be built accessible. All of them and why not? For instance in above mentioned 6000 square foot houses they have kindly put a bedroom on the main floor, and a bathroom, and none of those bathrooms have showers in them. They have like 3 baths with showers and one extra shower on the second floor, but what if stairs are a problem for mom? And why pray tell would you put steps in your house design when you know that the country you are building in is full of disabled and elderly people.

This is an example where the Province and the City needs to come in and say, this is how we are building now and there’s a time when everyone is grumbling and unhappy and then everyone gets over themselves and then disabled and old people can live among us. I know this is radical thinking but it really shouldn’t be.

We simply have to think beyond the next couple years and start thinking about the next couple hundred years instead. We need to ask ourselves, how will my grandkids live in this space?

NIMBYISM

Finally the city is not running out space, they are being stupid. Zoning needs to change, for instance all of the single family suburbs need to change to allow for up to 6 rental units just automatically. For example, my lot is 60 feet by 120 feet and so are all my neighbours.

I say this knowing exactly how terrible that change can be. My own house once backed onto a lovely ravine that backed onto a forest that led to a school yard. Around 10 years ago it was turned into a large mud pit which was eventually turned into a subdivision of townhouses. I was really unhappy to lose my private park but you know I survived. Now I have 76 new neighbors back there. The needs of the many exceeds my need for a park to walk my dogs right off my back yard.

My poor husband was part of a school committee where they were going to shut down a bunch of old schools and make one bigger better school. That proposal died because some people would have construction in their back yards on some one else’s property. The waste of money and time just discussing and planning that proposal alone, would house half the homeless in Toronto.

So yeah, I’m really sorry one old lady is going to be disturbed by the needs of many people, but suck it up buttercup, because we’re wasting our lives commuting from Bowmanville to the downtown core. Life is way too short for that. There is a middle way.

Purpose Built Rental Housing

Finally despite the home ownership craze that has 70% of people owning, there are times when you shouldn’t buy. As a rule of thumb in a society that isn’t in a giant asset bubble, you shouldn’t buy if you aren’t going to live in a space for 5 years. Generally you shouldn’t buy when you’re a student or in transition, not in a stable job, not when you can’t afford it etc. There are a lots of time you shouldn’t buy your place and for those times, you will need to rent.

It would be nice if an incentive program was developed and rental housing construction would take a higher priority. This is a viable and extremely stable way to house people. In contrast to condo sales, which result frequent tenant displacements, purpose built apartment buildings can keep residents living in the same apartment for 20 plus years no matter how often the building is sold.

Finally rental housing is run a lot more efficiently than condo buildings. There are lots of rental buildings that charge less rent than many condo maintenance fees, and people don’t have to buy anything. For all the city building audit programs there are, I doubt they find anything more hellish than Toronto Community Housing buildings.

While rental buildings are not perfect, they house a vast percentage of the economically vulnerable population and we need to build a lot more of these no frills affordable solutions for the average working person who is completely overlooked by condo developers.

Housing Solutions – Think long term…

 

 

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Potato

    Lots to agree with here!

    Larger condos are not just a downtown issue — even up in North York at the end of the subway line and along Sheppard there are a tonne of condos that have gone up and are going up, and even up here it’s largely small units (and even the big units aren’t really family-friendly, or wheelchair friendly for those boomers looking to downsize). Hell, friends had a place in Markham that was too small for even a couple to share.

    Lots of incentives and system problems contributing to it, and the financing system is a big one. Condos get to crowdsource to a bunch of small-time investors who may “just want a roof over their heads” and not be so concerned with due diligence or even returns and long-term maintenance. Whereas rentals takes institutional money. However, it’s way, way easier for a single person to have years and years of flexibility in their timeline of when to move in to a unit (esp. if it’s an investment), but I can’t see families signing up for a 4-year wait to get a 3/4-bedroom condo, which is another barrier to getting them built.

    • Rachelle

      I’m not even sure how you would go about building a purpose built rental building and if you had the deep pockets to do it, you probably wouldn’t do it in Ontario, you’d probably build in the United States or Alberta. That’s the problem.

      Some REITS have withdrawn entirely from Ontario.

  • Keith Cowan

    Hey Rachael
    It is always a treat to hear the voice of reason. But politics and money drive the world. Too bad your wilderness was destroyed by townhouses. At least it was not a highrise looking into your house.

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