Now is the time for Burlington to broaden housing options

By Mike Collins-Williams
July 26, 2021

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, which includes Burlington, has evolved into North America’s fastest growing region. A key challenge arising from this growth is delivering appropriate housing supply that is affordable for a range of households, sizes and budgets. Unfortunately, new housing supply has not kept pace with population growth and its changing demographics. In particular, there is a lack of suitable supply for young Millennial families looking to upsize, and seniors looking to downsize.

For households with young children that want to avoid long commutes from the few communities where it is still somewhat affordable, yet still want to live in an established neighbourhood with good access to services, schools and jobs, there are fewer and fewer options. Neither lower-density housing with a backyard that is affordable in smaller communities well beyond Burlington, nor condo units being built downtown or along the GO Transit corridor, meet this particular and growing demand for family-oriented housing.

In simpler terms, new homes with enough bedrooms suitable for families are not being built in central locations. Furthermore, the small proportion of mostly single-detached, family-friendly homes in our existing neighbourhoods, typically carry a price tag that is out of reach for most people.

Missing middle

This is where “missing middle” housing fits into the picture, as an opportunity to provide more family-friendly housing within existing communities. And the timing for introducing more of these options is perfect, as the City of Burlington is about to launch a new Housing Strategy to look at our housing policies and see what needs to change so we can better align planning policies with what kinds of housing Burlington needs to build over the coming decade.

So, what exactly is “missing middle” housing? And why is it missing? Missing middle refers to the emerging gap in housing typology that exists between single-family homes and highrise condo towers. This gap includes “middle density” housing forms such as rowhouses, townhouses, walk-up condos and small scale, lowrise apartment buildings. Missing middle housing offers opportunities to provide more homes in established neighbourhoods – and without changing the look, feel and character of these lowrise residential streets. Laneway houses, garden suites and townhouses are examples of small-scale housing options that can help address the affordability gap in the existing residential communities near downtown Burlington and communities near GO stations.

Any time new homes are built, some people are concerned about change. This is particularly true in established neighbourhoods that are considered stable, mature and historic. Yet, the reality is that many of our established neighbourhoods are not stable. Rather, they change along with demographic shifts and they are generally getting older, as fewer families or young people can afford them.

New housing options

Some older neighbourhoods are actually losing population, as families age and household sizes shrink. New housing options in established communities serve a dual purpose of slightly increasing density with more affordable housing units, while also halting population decline.

While downtown Burlington and the areas immediately surrounding GO stations are appropriate locations for higher density apartment and condo building, as well as mixing uses with restaurants and retail options, we need to do a better job of integrating new, smaller-scale housing options in our existing and established neighbourhoods.

We should be broadening housing choices, creating walkable communities and fostering the construction of smaller scale, more affordable housing options that are compatible with our mostly single-detached neighbourhoods. These housing types include duplexes, triplexes, rowhouses, laneway homes, secondary suites and, in some cases, stacked townhouses.

It is important not only for Burlington to remain a destination of choice for young Canadians and families, but it’s also just as critical that we don’t price out the younger generation and force them to move elsewhere, once they begin their careers and want to start families. Burlington needs to provide a wide range of housing options. Now is as good a time as any to discover the missing middle and make adjustments to our zoning framework to permit a great diversity of housing options throughout the entire city.

About Mike Collins-Williams

Mike Collins-Williams, RPP, MCIP, is CEO West End Home Builders’ Association.

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