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Five outside-the-box housing ideas that Toronto should try, according to report

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Toronto needs to think outside the box — or the condo tower — when it comes to solving its housing challenges. Put another way: “It’s time to hack the condo model,” says the executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute.

Its latest report surveys ideas that are creating more middle- and lower-income housing in other cities and at home — notions, Cherise Burda says, that bear further exploration.

Options for Homes, a social enterprise that helps home buyers with down payments, and a new modular design being considered in Hamilton, are among the ideas Toronto needs, according to a report from the Ryerson City Building Institute.
Options for Homes, a social enterprise that helps home buyers with down payments, and a new modular design being considered in Hamilton, are among the ideas Toronto needs, according to a report from the Ryerson City Building Institute.  (Gillian Foster photo)

“I’m tired of the same old conversations about supply, supply, supply,” she said. “It’s time to start thinking creatively. If you just keep doing things the same way, you’re just going to end up with the same housing.”

Architect and developer Heather Tremain agrees the housing industry needs to step up its game. She is CEO of Options for Homes, a social enterprise that builds what it calls “below-market ownership housing.”

“For us, one of the challenges is we work in a market context. Everything is more expensive — exponential increases of land values. Last year construction prices rose 12 per cent. All of those things make it really hard to deliver something affordable in this market,” she said.

It’s the reality in the gentrifying city.

“To some extent we are becoming more of a luxury market,” said Tremain.

Changes in the way people are living and creating families provides an opportunity for the real estate market, she said.

Here are five ideas that could help Toronto confront its housing affordability challenge, according to the City Building Institute’s “Rethinking the Tower” report.

Naked House affordable housing offers the finished shell of a house or apartment and furnish it at your own pace and price.
Naked House affordable housing offers the finished shell of a house or apartment and furnish it at your own pace and price.  (nakedhouse.org)

The Naked House

Most Toronto-area pre-construction homes are sold with a base package of fittings, fixtures and finishes with the opportunity to pay extra to upgrade features from flooring to countertops. But what if you could just buy the finished shell of a house or apartment and furnish it at your own pace and price?

A British-based not-for-profit, Naked House is supported by grants, investments and access to public land. It keeps building costs down by providing buyers with a nearly bare box at about 20 to 40 per cent less than standard market price. Purchasers get a livable home built to code with basic plumbing and energy-efficient electrics.

There are income qualifications, and purchasers have to live in the part of London where the housing is being developed. They must also demonstrate they have the know-how or money to finish their unit.

The Naked House website promises that the lowest-priced homes are affordable to those earning the London median income of about $59,000 (Canadian) and should never cost more than a third of the buyer’s gross household income.

It calls its target market “generation rent” — those with too much income to qualify for publicly assisted housing but not enough to buy a home at the going market price.

Mod cons’ calls for 250-square-foot lots to be sold, allowing buyers to purchase one or more to create units of up to about 1,000 square feet.
Mod cons’ calls for 250-square-foot lots to be sold, allowing buyers to purchase one or more to create units of up to about 1,000 square feet.  (superlofts.co)

The new ‘mod con’

Although it resists being labelled as “modular” construction, developer JvN/d’s design for a Hamilton apartment building calls for it to be sold in 250-square-foot lots, allowing buyers to purchase one or more to create units of up to about 1,000 square feet.

“The main word is flexibility,” said director John van Nostrand.

The concept — still in the planning approval stage — means the lots can be purchased individually or in multiples to create units. The lots can be individually titled under a mortgage so they can be purchased and sold separately, giving the owners the option of using the space differently at different stages of their life, including subletting parts of their units.

Van Nostrand calls it a vertical subdivision and says it’s similar to the way office space is sold and leased — with a recognition that uses and needs change.

It gives young adults the option of staying in the city when they might otherwise have children and look for a house somewhere else. It also provides an ownership opportunity for people with incomes in the $60,000-to-$80,000 range, less than you need to buy a typical condo in Hamilton.

All the units would be fitted up to building code standards but buyers would have the option of purchasing a unit finished or unfinished.

There are variations in other parts of the world. Pocket Living in London is using factory-made housing modules that are assembled on the building site for homes that sell for 20 to 40 per cent below market price.

Amsterdam’s Superlofts by Marc Koehler Architects is fitting a building shell with modular units that can be designed to the taste and budget of the occupants.

The line on assembly

Factory construction where some elements are built off-site can reduce construction cost by 25 per cent and reduce timelines by as much as 50 per cent, said Burda. That was the case with a Scarborough seniors home where 413 exterior wall panels were built by PCL Construction in Etobicoke.

“With windows pre-installed, the prefabricated wall panels reduced the number of building trades required on the construction site and increased worker safety overall,” said the City Building Institute report.

Prefab components also make it easier to work on smaller, harder-to-access building sites, Burda said.

“It’s like Lego. Some of these companies can build a floor a day because they build them off-site in a controlled environment. They’re energy-efficient modules. Then they transport them and they assemble them on site,” she said.

Family condos can also be brought down in size if the amenities in the building are the ones families need.
Family condos can also be brought down in size if the amenities in the building are the ones families need.  (Facebook)

Scaling down

The micro-condo has arrived in Toronto. But in many cases those small units come with a cost per square foot that veers toward luxury living because of the amenities. Burda suggests that family condos can also be brought down in size if the amenities in the building are the ones families need.

She likens it to the way families want to live in a single-family house.

“It’s a yard, a garage for your stuff and a play area for kids. That’s really becoming the thing for good co-living to build a big playroom for the kids that everybody can share and keep their toys in; outdoor spaces, and a lot of places provide a workshop, the alternative to a garage where adults can build stuff and fix your bike,” Burda said.

The report profiles a purpose-built rental in Vancouver that includes a DIY workshop, individual garden plots and a dog-wash, but with relatively small individual units.

At the Ollie at Carmel Place in New York, affordable units for low- and middle-income residents are integrated with micro-units at market rents. There was no city money in the project but the builder saved through modular construction, some relaxed unit size standards and sped-up timelines.

Options and shared equity

Options for Homes has already built 2,750 homes in 11 buildings throughout Toronto, including the first residential units in the Distillery District. It’s been around for 25 years and it’s the kind of program Toronto needs to expand, Burda says.

The social enterprise works with its not-for-profit Home Ownership Alternatives financial agency to provide loans that banks recognize as equity. Buyers don’t have to pay interest or repay the second mortgage until they sell their unit. The homes offer base finishes — carpets and ceramic tile — and appliances aren’t included, although they can be purchased as part of a group buy. Some buildings have basic amenities such as workshops and children’s playrooms.

Options’ latest project includes a building that is 60 per cent two- and three-bedroom units suitable for families, Tremain said.

“You would never have seen that even a couple of years ago,” she said.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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