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New Lawrence Heights townhouses include built-in basement apartments to help with affordability

Dozens of new townhouses planned as part of the Lawrence Heights revitalization are set to include legal basement apartments.

The builders, Metropia and Context, approached the city and obtained a site-specific zoning bylaw in November that gives buyers of the townhouse units the ability to rent out basement space — about 640 square feet.

The developers saw a need for the units given the affordability crisis in the city and the hot housing market, the companies say.

The units were an option in 90 of 224 townhomes set to begin construction in Lawrence Heights in the fall and scheduled to start being completed in the summer of 2023. (City servicing capacity for things like water in the extra bathrooms limited the number of units to 90.)

Most of the 90 units have sold and about half of the purchasers opted for the secondary suites.

The price for the standard townhouse without the secondary suite is $1,189,900 and the size is just over 2,000 square feet.

With the secondary suite, the additional 640 square feet is the finished basement. The total cost is $1,289,900 Metropia says.

Theresa Le is one of the purchasers and says she feels blessed she’ll have the option of renting out her secondary suite to help pay her mortgage.

“It’s legal. I can do a lot with that,” she says.

Turning a regular basement apartment into a legal unit requires work by the homeowner, including ensuring proper windows, walls and doors, lots of paperwork and time.

Le only has floor plans and the site where her unit will be built — near Ranee Avenue and Dufferin Street — is an empty plot at the moment. But she’s looking forward to getting the key two years from now.

“Why did I pay $100,000 for a secondary suite? Most new units don’t have the basement done. Plus you have the warranty from the builder, from top to bottom,” says Le, 38, an accountant who works at an auto financing firm.

Secondary suites are self-contained residential units — typically basement apartments — in semis, detached homes and townhouses.

According to former rules, homeowners needed to have houses that were more than five years old before a secondary suite could be added (in older parts of the city up to 40 years old). But a city council amendment in the spring of 2019 removed these requirements.

The rules do, however, restrict the number of front doors. An additional front door entrance visible from the street can only be added after the homeowner obtains a committee of adjustment variance, which critics say is time consuming.

The units at Lawrence Heights will have one door. Once inside there will be a corridor and a separate entrance to the lower secondary unit.

“It’s important to provide these (secondary suite) options so people can afford to live in our city,” says Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, who chairs the city’s affordable housing committee.

“Their existence often means the difference between people being able to buy a house or not,” she says.

There are many in Toronto in the “sandwich generation” taking care of parents or supporting older children who rely on secondary suites, Bailao went on to say.

The Metropia and Context units are part of the massive revitalization happening at Lawrence Heights, a multi-year project that will see the demolition and replacing of about 1,200 Toronto Community Housing units and the construction of more than 4,000 new private market units including townhouses.

Lee Koutsaris, vice-president sales, marketing and design for Metropia, says the city was concerned about parking demands and traffic the new secondary suites would create.

“We pointed out that Lawrence Heights is walking distance to subway stops on the University Line, the Lawrence West and Yorkdale stops — so we can get people who are taking the subway,” Koutsaris says.

The city agreed that the site is a good location to add more density, she says.

The secondary units include kitchens, laundry, bedroom, bathroom and closet storage.

Purchasers can qualify for a mortgage pre-approval that factors in future rental income from the units.

The Riverside Residences, a development near Black Creek Drive and Lawrence Avenue West offered by builder Fernbrook Homes, has about 40 townhouses with ground level/basement secondary suites ranging in size from 1,878 to 2,100 square feet.

They were first listed in July 2019 and the latest sale price earlier this year was $1.09 million, according to Sharon Florian, vice president sales and marketing for Fernbrook.