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This couple shares a 335-square-foot micro condo on Queen St. — and loves it

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When Erwan Roux set out to work abroad in Canada, the native Parisian envisioned moving into a big North American house.

But when he and his partner, Mikael Martinez, arrived in Toronto this January, they instead opted to move into one of the city’s smallest condos — and they love it.

Erwan Roux (right) and partner Mikael Martinez recently moved to Toronto from France and are renting a 335-square-foot micro condo in the newly opened Smart House building.
Erwan Roux (right) and partner Mikael Martinez recently moved to Toronto from France and are renting a 335-square-foot micro condo in the newly opened Smart House building.  (Moe Doiron / Toronto Star)

“In Paris, there are a lot of very small apartments. It’s easy to find one that’s only eight square metres (87 square feet). We thought that living in Toronto, we’d have a big place. But when we saw this apartment, we fell in love and took it right away,” Roux said.

Roux moved into a “micro condo” in Smart House, a building that recently opened at Queen St. W. and University Ave. Their unit is technically a one bedroom, though it’s more of a studio because there’s only a sliding door that separates the bedroom from the rest of the living space.

It measures 335 square feet, and it’s not even the smallest unit in the building.

When Smart House, which bills itself as a place for people who love “small but well thought-out space,” was first announced in 2013, it garnered lots of press because its tiniest units, at 289 square feet, were to be the smallest condos ever built in Toronto. (Floor plans for current rental listings show a unit at only 276 square feet.)

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Critics called it a crazy consequence of the city’s red hot condo market and questioned who would ever live in such a small space. Urbanists countered that micro condos are the wave of the future because they’re cheaper, they have lower heating and cooling costs and they allow more people to live downtown.

“In the 1950s, the automobile and the creation of highways created this migration out to the suburbs. But there’s been a recent return of the population to the centre,” said Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson’s City Building Institute.

With more downtown jobs comes more people, and that in turn attracts more jobs, creating a “snowball effect” of people who want to move downtown, Burda explained. But this also creates affordability issues with skyrocketing demand for existing housing.

“Micro units offer affordability and an attractive lifestyle,” she said, adding that those who choose to live there trade long, stressful commutes for less personal space.

“Micro units shouldn’t be thought of as simply small, they’re better designed — a more efficient approach to managing space.”

Six years after it was first proposed, the Star decided to visit the newly opened Smart House to find out who ended up living there and why they chose the city’s smallest micro condos.

“Yes, it’s very small,” laughs Roux. “But we love the big windows and the view of the skyline. And you can’t beat the location.”

Living steps from Osgoode subway station and a short walk from numerous restaurants, bars, nightclubs and theatres means that you don’t actually spend that much time at home, he said.

“We are home to eat and sleep but the rest of the time we are out. It’s like this in Paris,” said Roux. “In the summer, it will be even better.”

Brian Persaud, real estate agent and author of Investing in Condominiums, said micro condos are the inevitable result of developers having higher land and construction costs, but wanting to keep the price of individual condos down.

“In Toronto, condos under $600,000 are more attractive and sell more easily than those priced at $700,000 and up,” he said.

But while development costs are rising across the city, micro condos will only fly in the heart of downtown.

“It’s OK for certain locations but you would not be able to get away with that outside the core,” Persaud said. “You will always get investors looking at them, but the question is whether end-users will want them.”

“If you’re on top of the subway in the core, you’ll always have people looking to buy or rent there.”

A floor plan for condo for a studio condo for rent in Smart House, with a floor to ceiling window in the washroom. It was listed on realtor.ca for $1,775 per month.
A floor plan for condo for a studio condo for rent in Smart House, with a floor to ceiling window in the washroom. It was listed on realtor.ca for $1,775 per month.  (Multiple Listing Service)

Mehrunisa Kadir has lived in a North York house and a downtown apartment tower. But when the York business student heard about Smart House, she knew she wanted to live there and put down a pre-construction deposit right away.

Three years later, she’s freshly moved into her two bedroom, 699-square-foot unit with her best friend as a roommate.

“It’s not that small,” she says. “They’ve distributed the space really well.”

In her previous lodgings, she had to buy shelves to store all her clothes and kitchen utensils. But at Smart House, the storage is so well designed that she doesn’t use all her closets and cupboards, even though she moved from a much bigger place.

“I’ve never had so much space — even in a house,” she said.

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Kadir says she has adapted her lifestyle to make more flexible use of her space. She uses the kitchen island as a dining room table, for example.

One bedroom is really small, she said, and fits a queen bed and not much else. But the other, bigger bedroom has a Murphy bed that converts into a couch, making it a living room when she’s not sleeping.

“We don’t need lots of room because we’re students,” she said. “It’s obviously too small for a family. But a young couple? It’s an ideal space for that.”

Like Roux, Kadir says the best thing about her apartment is the easy access to local restaurants.

“I used to use Uber Eats. But now I just walk out the front door to get my food.”

Three people who opted for micro living

"Essentially here you have to choose between price and space," says Larissa Costa, a resident of Smart House.
« Essentially here you have to choose between price and space, » says Larissa Costa, a resident of Smart House.  (Katie Daubs/Toronto Star)

Larissa Costa — ‘After I wake up I just close the bed’

Costa has been living in her compact studio apartment in Smart House less than a week. There is a Murphy bed that folds up into the wall. “After I wake up I just close the bed,” she says. The high ceilings also help to create space.

She wanted to live close to work and her office is a five-minute walk away. She moved to Toronto from Montreal. She had been staying in an Airbnb while she searched for an apartment.

“Essentially here you have to choose between price and space,” she says of Toronto. There were bigger apartments for the same price further out of the core, but she preferred location.

There is always something going on. She would be bothered “being in a place where there is nothing to do. Here and I can just go for a walk.”

Vanessa Hojda says her unit in the Smart House condo was more reasonable than other one bedroom and studio units downtown, but she does miss having a couch.
Vanessa Hojda says her unit in the Smart House condo was more reasonable than other one bedroom and studio units downtown, but she does miss having a couch.  (Katie Daubs/Toronto Star)

Vanessa Hojda — ‘When I start making more money I’ll get a bigger place’

The micro-unit is a small slice of freedom for Hojda. She lived with a few roommates at St. Clair Ave. and Avenue Rd. before moving into Smart House, and she likes the independence of her own place. Her commute to work used to take two streetcars and a subway ride, and now it’s a 10-minute walk.

Her unit is around 400 square feet and she found the price was more reasonable than other one-bedroom and studio units downtown, which were in the $2,000 a month range when she was searching in December. She pays $1,750 here.

When she walks in the unit there is a kitchen on the left, all tucked away in sleek cabinetry, with a washer/dryer combination machine (“I didn’t know they existed until I saw it in there,” she says.)

The bathroom is on the right, and then straight ahead down a small hallway is her bed, next to a computer desk, a storage shelf and the balcony (she’d trade the outdoor space for extra room in the unit.)

She does miss having a couch and a proper living room.

“When I start making more money I’ll get a bigger place,” she says.

Gulrez Khan and two of his friends are sharing a three-bedroom corner unit in Smart House.
Gulrez Khan and two of his friends are sharing a three-bedroom corner unit in Smart House.  (Gulrez Khan)

Gulrez Khan ‘Because we are new here … we don’t have a credit score’

Khan and two of his friends are sharing a three-bedroom corner unit at Smart House. He says the biggest room fits a queen-sized bed, but the other rooms are smaller.

Khan recently moved to Toronto from Bhopal, India. Because he and his friends are new to Canada, he said an agent helped them find this unit.

“We have visited quite a few houses, most of the times because we are new here we don’t get it. We don’t have a credit score.”

When he first moved to Toronto, he was living in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate he met on Kijiji, but now he is living with two friends.

“I feel like it’s one of the smallest houses that I’ve seen,” he says.

He hopes the building’s construction finishes soon. He says certain features and amenities, like the gym, are not ready for use.

— Katie Daubs/Staff Reporter

Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcooved

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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