Two city councillors say Toronto should permit laneway houses as a way to address a shortage in rental units while making home ownership more affordable for cash-strapped residents.

Beaches-East York Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon and Davenport Coun. Ana Bailão announced on Tuesday that they are working together to “advance the dialogue around” laneway housing at city hall and will host a public consultation on the topic in three weeks’ time.

“A lot of people have those old coach houses, a lot of people have those granny suites. Why not turn them into small rental apartments?” Bailão told CP24. “You increase the rental stock in the City of Toronto and you allow people to have a little extra income and maybe afford a home that they couldn’t afford before.”

Laneway houses are small, detached residences that are typically located behind an existing home, adjacent to a laneway, and serviced through the primary residence instead of separately.

Though the dwellings have become increasingly common in cities like Vancouver, they are not currently allowed under Toronto’s existing bylaws and are only considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We think it’s worth having a conversation with Torontonians. We know that we are having a lot of density added in our city with very high towers but not everybody likes that kind of living experience,” Bailão told CP24. “We think there might be something here if we do it proactively and create the guidelines to prevent big monstrous homes from being created.”

Laneway houses could improve rental vacancy rate

The rental apartment vacancy rate is 1.6 per cent in Toronto, which is significantly below the 3 per cent vacancy rate that is generally considered healthy.

McMahon said that by permitting laneway housing the city could add a significant number of rental units to its existing stock and improve affordability for homeowners.

“It actually adds more affordability to the city so people can stay in their homes and so first time buyers can get in,” she told CP24. “I know my husband and I had a basement apartment in our first home.”

The city currently has about 2,400 publicly owned laneways, which span about 250 kilometres.

McMahon said that many of those laneways should be home to new single-family dwellings.

“We are kind of behind the ball on this,” she said.

Bailão and McMahon will host a public consultation on laneway housing at Evergreen Brick Works on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. The councillors are also planning to conduct a survey as part of their work.