Mid-rise is the Comfortable Fit for Regular Folks

Toronto’s chief planner and notables in Ontario’s building industry are calling on the province to allow for six-storey wood-frame construction.
Mid-rise is the Comfortable Fit for Regular Folks
Six-Storey wood-frame buildings, like this example, are already being built in British Columbia. (Courtesy of BILD)

Yes, mid-rise is a rather comfy style of blue jeans. They just fit a little better than low-rise, which seems to create the dreaded muffin-top for most people.

Muffin-top happens when the size of YOU is larger than the size of your pants, and you simply overflow around the beltline.

Sound familiar, GTA?

And so we batter the analogy into a solution for Greater Toronto Hamilton Area’s housing crunch.

Tall, slender towers are a great “slim-fit” solution for singles and very small families. Single-family dwellings are great for those with plus-sized incomes.

The mid-rise is the cut for regular, working families. So what’s the problem? Building mid-rise doesn’t seem to make financial sense to developers right now for a couple of reasons.

Why do we need it?

• The price of land in the GTA is never, ever, going to go down, barring a biblical event. 

• The population is expected to continue to grow due to both immigration and a surprisingly productive birth rate.

• Urban sprawl has, rightly and to serve the greater good, been severely limited by green legislation.

• Because the GTA is underfunded, both provincially and federally, development charges are seen as an income source for strapped municipalities. Naturally, these charges have risen steadily, jacking up the price of new homes. 

• Because of land prices, development charges, construction costs, and the need of builders to make profit (they are in business for that purpose after all), it only pays to build tall. 

• Most families can actually afford a mortgage in the $350,000-$450,000 range. Where in the City of Toronto can you get a house, or a family-sized condo, for that?! 

A possible solution

Why wood? As soon as you build above four storeys in Ontario, you are required to use steel and concrete, which are not only very expensive but leave a much larger carbon footprint than does wood.

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner; Bryan Tuckey, president of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD); and Leith Moore, president of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, gathered with a host of other stakeholders (for lack of a better word) to call on the province to amend the Ontario Building Code to allow for six-storey wood-frame construction.

Former City of Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford was commissioned by BILD to author a report on the viability of allowing for taller wood buildings. 

British Columbia has already gone ahead and started building wood-frame taller with great results.

“These are not townhouses on steroids,” said Moore. 

This is a new type of structure based on wood-frame but built to rigorous standards to be taller and still very safe. 

This is great for smaller towns that need denser housing but not concrete and glass towers. 

“There is absolute urgency to moving wood six-storey forward,” Jennifer Keesmaat said.

She feels six-storey wood-frame provides an affordable way to subtly increase density in neighourhoods that already have good infrastructure like schools and community centres.

Building along transit corridors means less traffic congestion, as does sufficient housing near employment, but not all areas need 30-story towers.

Keesmaat feels these smaller types of housing are “extremely sensitive” to the communities in which they will be built. Indeed, they are much easier for existing residents to welcome than a 40-storey tower.