Population growth means housing must grow up, in and out

By Mike Collins-Williams
September 22, 2021

The housing landscape across the Greater Golden Horseshoe is changing. This is due to incredible increases in population, which is expected to continue in the coming decades – from slightly more than 10 million residents today, to nearly 15 million by 2051. That is literally the equivalent of the entire population of Greater Montreal moving here over the next 30 years.

To provide sufficient housing for the sheer number of people we’re expecting, the cities and towns throughout this area need to grow up, in and out:

• Up – with taller buildings around transit stations and on main streets
• In – with denser infill projects in existing neighbourhoods; and
• Out – with new suburban communities in Hamilton, Halton and York

To be clear, our cities and towns need to increase housing supply through all three methods for growth to provide enough homes for our increasing population. The challenge will be to do all this and keep housing affordability as a top priority. The forces that direct where housing is built and how dense it will be are a mix of market-demand and long-term growth planning.


Cities and towns throughout the region are going to get taller, especially around major transit stations for both GO Transit and new LRT lines being built in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton and the recently completed LRT in Waterloo Region. These higher heights and densities are expected to support a move to living car-free, with more neighbourhoods featuring amenities within walking distance.

Main streets are also expected to see higher residential buildings, as planners encourage redevelopment, and some neighbourhoods evolve into 15-minute communities. These communities are intended to have a full range of amenities within a 15-minute walking distance.


To accommodate our population growth, planners are expecting more residents to live a more urban lifestyle, which is reflected not only in taller buildings and more apartments, but also in smaller, more densely packed homes in existing neighbourhoods. The redevelopment of lots that currently have single-family homes to ones with multi-family homes can be done by rezoning some areas to allow for more “missing middle” housing. This will range from singles that get renovated with added accessory suites, to semi-detached homes to townhouses. It’s this type of intensification that is going to require the biggest culture change within many communities.


The suburbs are not immune to market pressures. As anyone who has ventured to the edges of our urbanized area can tell you, suburban housing is increasingly compact, and more and more predominately features a variety of housing types – singles, yes, but rowhomes, stacked and back-to-back townhomes are providing similar density in housing you would find in older communities built before the automobile.

Areas around new transit stations and along main streets are also going to see taller buildings. New suburban communities are still going to be critical to providing housing affordability, and providing many of the homes needed for our rapidly growing population.

Putting it all together

More people means more homes. Moving forward, a growing proportion of the population will live in an urban setting, where the size of the average home is smaller and there are more multi-family buildings. The one thing that seems a certainty is that the absolute number of single-family homes may actually go down, and the price for such homes (or the land they sit on) is going to continue to go up.

In the end, people are going to continue to do what they have always done – balance their housing needs with their wants and budgets, and the lifestyle associated with different types of homes in different areas of the region.

About Mike Collins-Williams

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

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