416 770 7475
Changing Lanes – Second Laneway Consultation Meeting

Changing Lanes: Latest Overview

We had a chance to attend the second community consultation meeting last night as the City of Toronto is continuing its internal review process looking at how best to implement the permitting and regulation of laneway suites on the City’s many public laneways across the Toronto and East York area of the City.

How does the City of Toronto define a Laneway Suite?

A laneway suite is a self-contained residential unit located on the same lot as a detached house, semi-detached house or townhouse, and generally located in the rear yard next to a laneway.

Laneway suites are generally smaller in scale and completely detached from the main house on the lot.

Laneway suites may provide new rental housing opportunities within established neighbourhoods, providing a wider range of low-density housing options while enhancing neighbourhood and community character.

In Canada, laneway suites have been implemented in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. In Toronto, some laneway suites already exist, but are limited in number due to a variety of factors. This initiative is reviewing the laneway suites work of other cities and examining Toronto’s local opportunities and limitations.

The Toronto Laneway Initiative, (Changing Lanes), held its 2nd community meeting last night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre following the initial community meeting of November 30, 2017.

The purpose of this community meeting was to present a set of draft policy changes and regulations to allow the construction of laneway suites in the back yard of low-rise residential properties in the neighbourhoods in the Toronto and East York District. The City was seeking feedback before they are considered by City Council in a few months.

The initial Changing Lanes Kick-off meeting was held on November 30, 2017 and was attended by approximately 250 people. The meeting included a staff presentation, a town hall style question and comment period, and an open house. City staff from the City Planning, Engineering and Construction Services, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Solid Waste, Toronto Buildings, Toronto Fire Services, Toronto Water, and Transportation Services Divisions were present to respond to questions and listen to community comments.

Please review the enclosed initial Councillor Ana Bailao and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon Joint Background File and City Council Direction Report

https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-104570.pdf

http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2017.TE25.108

Additionally, here are links to the resources City of Toronto staff used in reviewing Laneway and Coach House guidelines from other Canadian Municipalities, including the following:

City of Vancouver  

http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/laneway-houses-and-secondary-suites.aspx

City of Ottawa

http://documents.ottawa.ca/sites/documents.ottawa.ca/files/how_to_coach_en.pdf

City of Saskatoon

https://www.saskatoon.ca/business-development/development-regulation/developers-homebuilders/neighbourhood-level-infill-development-strategy

City of Regina

ftp://ftp.regina.ca/web_files/design-regina/LGSuitesGuide.pdf

Look for further details surrounding this meeting as we will be presenting additional information via blog within the next few days.

End of Post

Robert Offenbacher is the President of Flatrock Inc, a multi-discipline, licensed design and construction firm located here in Toronto. Robert has been involved in Toronto’s design  and construction industries for almost 25 years. Have you thought about a Laneway Home or a potential Laneway rental property? Please give him a call at 416 770 7475

 

Toronto vs. Vancouver – What’s happened since their experiment began?

Toronto vs. Vancouver – What’s happened in 8 1/2 years since their Laneway Initiative began?

As we move towards approval of our own Laneway Housing Initiative it’s interesting looking back to when Vancouver faced their own unique concerns and where their Laneway Initiative stands today.

Background

Following the decision in July 2009 by the Mayor and Council to rezone portions of Vancouver one of the primary concerns was whether not this was the way the single-family neighborhood ended, not with a bang but with a whimper. In one instant, the single-family neighborhood became or acquired the permission to become the triple-family neighborhood. Each lot (33 feet or wider) could now contain three residences: the principal house, an enlarged rental suite in that house, and, where the back yard used to be, a Laneway House.

The primary concern was that this was essentially densification on steroids, with all the hazards that artificially induced growth threatens and entailed. Opponents to the initiative positioned that no other City in North America had similarly decided to destroy one of its most treasured and long-standing assets – the single-family neighborhood, with its values, traditions, and ambience, all supported by tax-paying homeowners. Even staid old Toronto was put forward as an example of a City that came to its senses. It experimented with Laneway Housing, but, after the construction of approximately 200 of these structures, decided that continuing the program would be counterproductive and imprudent.

Further, some Vancouver residents believed that Toronto’s earlier approach was one of prudence and balanced evaluation and that the handling of Laneway Housing by City Council in Vancouver showed undue – some even say reckless – hastiness. Calls for a moratorium emanating from one dissenting member of Council were rebuffed, and Council refused to consider any delay in the implementation of its extremely controversial and, “potentially ruinous policy”.

Many believed that in place of due diligence, Vancouver Council’s preferred administrative tool was the battering ram overruling calls for prudence from one of its own members. Others felt that Council ensured that input from its on residents was both thwarted and ignored. There was no process for collecting neighborhood opinion and therefore no attention or weight to neighborhood opinion could be given.

The Eco-Density Charter, approved by Vancouver City Council on June 10, 2008, epitomized the battering ram approach to city cramming or densification. Concerned citizens felt that the manipulation took two forms: false promises and misleading descriptions. With respect to false promises, the Charter assured residents of full access to “consultation . . . engagement and dialogue with all voices” accorded representation, whereas, as already noted, no such access is available, and no interest in it on the part of Council has been displayed. Instead of consultation, there was conning or the deliberate attempt to placate opposition through the use of misleading and patently false characterizations.

They even went as far as to state that the very term, “Eco-Density,” constitutes a false characterization, designed to clothe the wolf of densification in the sheep’s clothing of eco-trendy jargon.

Remarkably, some particularly vociferous residents went on to compare the approval of Laneway Housing to a Trojan Horse. To approve that type of initiative into the quiet tree-lined streets of the Downtown would be to threaten the single-family neighbourhood with abolition and destruction. In a laneway housing neighbourhood, there would be no more backyards. In place of backyards, there will be rows of laneway houses, separated from the principal houses by secondary lanes – smaller versions of the primary lanes from which the term, “laneway house,” is derived. Moreover, it was put that in a laneway housing neighbourhood, there would likely be increased crime. For increase in crime rates has been empirically linked, by the Calgary Police 2008 Environmental Scan (a document available on the Web), to increase in densification and to increase in the ratio of tenants to homeowners.

And going even further than this, (who ever thought there was such venom in Vancouver politics?), they believed that there would be a further unrecognized danger.

As formulated in Vancouver, they believed Laneway Housing was not a stable policy. Nothing would prevent the Mayor and Council from further altering residential zoning at any time. First zoning would be changed to permit construction of laneway houses, but with requirement that each laneway house be owned by the owner of the primary house whose backyard it occupies. Next policy would likely be a change to permit laneway houses to be sold separately, without linkage to the primary home in front of them. At that point, laneway housing will be ready for stratification – division, that is, of each laneway house into a collection of condominium apartments to be sold individually.

What happened?

With more than 2,000 laneways now built, complaints down, and other municipalities following Vancouver’s lead

In a city full of stories of families priced out of the city and driven out to the suburbs, the laneway house is a rare example of young families finding a way to cheat the city’s exorbitant housing costs.

Families get to live in a detached house without the price tag to match. Vancouver’s benchmark price for a single family home is between $1.5 million and $2 million while laneway home costs, on average, $350,000 to build.

With most of Vancouver’s single-family neighborhoods situated on streets with back lanes, there’s ample room for homeowners to squeeze in a small house into the backyard. The downside is city rules forbid residents from selling these small homes. 

Chan’s parents own a home near Commercial Street, a trendy East Vancouver neighbourhood close to shopping and the SkyTrain. The size of any laneway home depends on the size of the property. In the couple’s case, city regulations allowed them to build a 940-square-foot home, which is on the larger side for laneway homes in the city.

One year after they moved in, Lee and Chan feel they hit the laneway lottery by having their own home in a great neighbourhood and with that coveted third bedroom and space to spread out.

“We wouldn’t have had this amount of outdoor space with a condo or townhome,” said Lee, 32.

It’s not the super-high ceilings or the ultra-modern design Jasmine Lee and Vincent Chan love most about their home. The first feature they’re eager to point out in their East Vancouver laneway house is the third bedroom.

“It’s super important,” said Chan, 38. “We needed it to be future-proof, and the third bedroom is key for the possibility of a second kid.”

A townhouse seemed like the natural choice for the family of three, but in a city populated by condos and single-family homes, there were few to be found, and those that were out there were pricey. So Chan, director of textiles with Aritzia, said he floated the idea of a laneway house on his parents’ East Vancouver property to Lee, a nursing unit clerk.

She agreed, his parents were thrilled, and a multi-generational living situation was born.

Chan’s parents own a home near Commercial Street, a trendy East Vancouver neighbourhood close to shopping and the SkyTrain. The size of any laneway home depends on the size of the property. In the couple’s case, city regulations allowed them to build a 940-square-foot home, which is on the larger side for laneway homes in the city.

‘An incredibly successful program’

What started off as an experiment in creating density has blossomed into a distinctive feature of Vancouver’s housing market.

In 2010, the first full year that permits for laneway homes were granted, the city approved 192 projects. There are now more than 2,000 little homes dotted around the city.

“It’s been an incredibly successful program,” said Heather Burpee, a senior planner with the city of Vancouver. “It doesn’t change the character of the neighbourhood by putting these units on the back, and you get some additional rental and housing stock.”

At first, the city fielded complaints from neighbours who felt spied upon from tall laneway houses hovering over their backyards. Now, city data shows the number of complaints has dwindled to just a handful each year, mostly parking related.

Over the last seven years, the city has made some tweaks. The biggest change has been allowing more square footage on one level, which has discouraged owners from building 1½-storey homes that aren’t as popular with the neighbours.

More 3-bedroom units needed

On the plus side, Vancouver’s city-wide policy that allows laneway homes to be built in any neighbourhood means no single area has been impacted more than others but there’s room for improvement, (such as laneway homes being 200 square feet larger than currently allowed). 

That’s because one of the challenges faced by builders in Vancouver is that there are a significant number of young families that would like to live in the downtown area. Further, permitting homeowners to stratify their properties would allow for laneway homes to be sold separately from the main house. This would mean families would be able to build equity as well as enjoying the space they need, (right now many families are drawing up their own ownership agreements to get around this).

What’s next 

Several other cities in the Lower Mainland have followed Vancouver’s density success and have their own laneway-type programs in place.

West Vancouver, the city and district of North Vancouver, and Surrey are among the municipalities that allow their own versions of laneway homes. New Westminster is close to approving a program.

In Vancouver, with laneway homes firmly entrenched in the building stock, the city is moving on. The focus now is moving from the laneway house to the laneway itself.

The goal is to change lanes from a place where people put out their garbage to more vibrant, family-friendly social spaces.  

End of Post

Robert Offenbacher is the President of Flatrock Inc, a multi-discipline, licensed design and construction firm located here in Toronto. Robert has been involved in Toronto’s design  and construction industries for almost 25 years. Have you thought about a Laneway Home or a potential Laneway rental property? Please give him a call at 416 770 7475

Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, Basement Flooding and Laneway Housing

Protect your investment – An 2nd storey laneway home will prove less risky than a basement apartment

One only has to read the latest report released by leading scientists…increased flooding is being predicted as a result of climate change. Its happening faster than we thought, it’s going to be more frequent and it’s gong to cause issues.  

New data confirms increased frequency of extreme weather events and urge further action on climate change adaptation

Climate change, whether you believe it’s influenced by humans or not, has been proven to have increased recent extreme rainfall amounts and associated flooding; coastal flooding due to sea-level rise; heatwaves in Australia, China, and Europe; and increased risks of wildfires with implications for humans and animals, the environment, and the economy. Climate “proofing”, can help to limit these impacts.

What does this have to do with us here in Toronto? What does this have to do with Laneway Housing?

Simply put, the forecast calls for rain and lots more of it. More than we’ve seen in the past and more than our infrastructure here in the City can divert into the lake at this time. Current waterproofing systems, while currently adequate, will not be able to handle the anticipated levels of rainfall they are projecting in the near future. 

Won’t my insurance cover it?

Well, in a blog posting, (https://mapleleafmold.ca/2018/03/20/mold-like-asbestos-is-becoming-an-insurers-nightmare/), the authors touched upon the fact that insurers are no longer going to be insuring basement apartments. In a second post, (https://mapleleafmold.ca/2018/01/26/insurers-becoming-concerned-mold-claims/), they discussed insurer’s further concerns around insuring basements.

There is a reason for this. Insurers are usually one of the early adopters of the recommendations outlined in studies such as this. They understand the implications and realise that Toronto will continue to experience increasingly violent climate events, such as thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes, and that basements will flood on an ever increasing level. 

So, what is EASAC and what makes this report critical?

EASAC stands for European Academies Science Advisory Council and is made up of the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland to enable them to collaborate with each other in providing independent science advice to European policy-makers. It thus provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard. EASAC was founded in 2001 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

EASAC is a well-respected membership group and it’s influence throughout the EU and Western Hemisphere is significant…through its reports, journals and academic papers.

Impact on Scientific Academies

The European Union is an important arena for policy, and national science academies recognise that they need to advise both national and European Union policy-makers on evidence for policies. Through EASAC, the academies work together to provide independent, expert, evidence-based advice about public policy to policy-makers within the European institutions. Given the expertise of the academies’ scientist, EASAC accesses the best of European science. Its views are vigorously independent of commercial or political bias, and it is open and transparent in its processes.

EASAC Statement Extreme Weather

No, it’s not just your imagination; the earth’s weather is being affected dramatically and at an accelerated rate.

New data show that extreme weather events have become more frequent over the past 36 years, with a significant uptick in floods and other hydrological events compared even with five years ago, according to a new publication, “Extreme weather events in Europe: Preparing for climate change adaptation: an update on EASAC’s 2013 study” by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), a body made up of 27 national science academies in the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland. Given the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, EASAC calls for stronger attention to climate change adaptation across the European Union: leaders and policy-makers must improve the adaptability of Europe’s infrastructure and social systems to a changing climate.

Globally, according to the new data, the number of floods and other hydrological events has quadrupled since 1980 and has doubled since 2004, highlighting the urgency of adaptation to climate change. Climatological events, such as extreme temperatures, droughts, and forest fires, have more than doubled since 1980. Meteorological events, such as storms, have doubled since 1980.

These extreme weather events carry substantial economic costs. In the updated data (Figure 2 in 2018 updated publication), thunderstorm losses in North America have doubled – from under US$10 billion in 1980 to almost $20 billion in 2015. On a more positive note, river flood losses in Europe show a near-static trend (despite their increased frequency), indicating that protection measures that have been implemented may have stemmed flood losses.

Professor Michael Norton, EASAC’s Environment Programme Director states, “Our 2013 Extreme Weather Events report – which was based on the findings of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute – has been updated and the latest data supports our original conclusions: there has been and continues to be a significant increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, making climate proofing all the more urgent. Adaptation and mitigation must remain the cornerstones of tackling climate change. This update is most timely since the European Commission is due to release its evaluation of its climate strategy this year.”

Is a contemporary shutdown of the Gulf Stream (AMOC) possible?

The update also reviews evidence on key drivers of extreme events. A major point of debate remains whether the Gulf Stream, or Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), will just decline or could ‘switch off’ entirely with substantial implications for North American and Europe’s climate. Recent monitoring does suggest a significant weakening but debate continues over whether the Gulf Stream may “switch off” as a result of the increased flows of fresh water from northern latitude rainfall and melting of the Greenland icecap. EASAC notes the importance of continuing to use emerging oceanographic monitoring data to provide a more reliable forecast of impacts of global warming on the AMOC.  The update also notes the recent evidence which suggests an association between the rapid rate of Arctic warming and extreme cold events further south (including in Europe and the Eastern USA) due to a weakened and meandering jet stream.

What does this mean?

In 2013 EASAC made the following recommendations on strengthening EU capabilities to respond to the threats posed by climate change:
Effective, cost-efficient adaptation depends critically on information about how future global warming will affect extremes of all weather phenomena. Further research is therefore required, in particular on the development of regional models for predicting possible changes to patterns of extreme weather. Meeting needs for data and information requires the development of climate service networks at European and national levels.

Heat-waves. Given that impacts of heat waves are highly variable across Europe, further studies of the factors affecting health outcomes during heat waves are required.

Flood defence and early warning. Good practice in flood preparedness and zoning for flood defence across Europe and North America should be shared, including information about different responses to flood preparedness and flood warnings.

To improve the resilience of North American and European agriculture, urgent action is required to establish plans after the approval of national or regional adaptation strategies. Guidance on vulnerability to extreme weather and possible measures to increase resilience should be produced.

Strengthen the basis for informed action and our knowledge about climate. 

Climate-change adaptation has to become a continuous process that relies on continued monitoring of the state of the climate and the environment. Hence, sustained observations, analysis and climate modelling about the Earth are integral parts of a robust and flexible climate-change adaptation strategy. Knowledge dissemination and innovation are crucial in helping to confront the challenges associated with climate change. It is necessary to continue strengthening European climate-research communities and to build networks across borders and disciplines. It is important that society has free and ready access to the information on which to base its decisions. Research management also should ensure adequate resources for the cross-disciplinary research needed to provide a more complete account of climate change and its impacts. Climate models have proved of immense value in providing the basis for understanding climate and its future. However, there is an urgent need to improve regional climate representation in global climate models to reduce uncertainties and improve projections, for example for extreme precipitations or hail storms and other local climatic phenomena that remain imperfectly understood.

Recommendations for society, scientific communities and science policy makers. 

There may be many barriers to adaptation, including those that are physical, technical, psychological, financial, institutional and knowledge. For climate-change adaptation, it is important to consider the range of different factors that affect vulnerability, including human factors, and to use the best possible information about the extreme weather conditions that will challenge this vulnerability. Although current climate models have limitations in predicting future changes in extreme weather, it is important to make the best use of the information available, and to act now, because the stakes are high and adaptation investments are more beneficial now than later. The risks associated with future climate change can however only be reduced by mitigation measures. These require governmental decisions.

 

Robert Offenbacher is the President of Flatrock Inc, a multi-discipline, licensed design and construction firm located here in Toronto. Robert has been involved in Toronto’s design  and construction industries for almost 25 years. Have you thought about a Laneway Home or a potential Laneway rental property? Please give him a call at 416 770 7475

Laneway housing and forecasting insurance implications

Laneway housing and forecasting insurance implications

If we project forward, (and if we believe in polls), it is entirely possible that we could be looking at a Conservative government being elected in the Province of Ontario in the upcoming election.

So why would this play a role in the new laneway housing discussion taking place in Toronto?

Well, one of the recent comments from the Conservative candidate is that he would like to see the recently implemented Foreign Owners Buyer Tax removed and already finance pundits are forecasting a return to the days of soaring real estate prices should this be the case.

And while the election will need to run its course and that candidates typically will float trial balloons and various promises, a significant number of people will support this direction presented by this candidate should he be elected.    

A return to higher real estate prices will increase pressure on rental inventories across the City as people who cannot afford homes will look to rent. Insurers looking to manage risk are already refusing to cover basement apartments due to claims associated with flooding, (our climate is changing regardless of where the blame lies). Flooding equals material damages as well as mold / health claims.   

So as laneway properties become more popular as an alternative to basement apartments and balloon in value, questions are beginning to arise about whether current insurance practices are sufficient.

Insurers, in Vancouver, who cover residential properties are saying that they have begun to see an increase in calls from people looking for laneway homes / apartment insurance. So many that they have begun to offer a distinctly separate type of insurance product specific to laneway residences.

In the past laneway garages here in Toronto are typically used for their original intent, (a structure to house a vehicle), a structure used to hold material or for pure storage intents or have been converted to uses for things like a workshop or informal, but illegal, rental / residences.

We are now beginning to see these semi-detached / detached garages becoming conversions for homeowners to house their adult children or they themselves would move into these spaces and their children take over the main, larger residence.

And in the near future, as home prices start their inevitable move up in pricing, the whole concept of laneway housing will change even further. When you’re looking at a laneway home that the owners have invested $200,000 or $300,000 dollars to build, that’s a very significant investment.

Homeowners are now in the process of converting back alley parking garages into a residential structures as a way of offsetting the cost of pricey real estate by generating rental income, (see one of our past blogs at https://www.flatrockinc.ca/blog/2018/02/19/assessing-the-potential-for-both-laneway-suites-and-detached-secondary-suites/).

However, as we here in Toronto are moving towards approving laneway apartments, not all Canadian cities allow for laneway homes to be built.

Saskatoon, Regina and Vancouver are all notable exceptions. In fact, Vancouver has issued over 1,000 permits for laneway homes since 2009 and is looking for additional ways of increasing rental / ownership housing inventories, like coach house construction. In Calgary, city officials are launching a pilot project that will allow laneway homes to be developed along one of the city’s streets.

As densities increase in Toronto’s core and resulting prices climb higher we, as designers and builders, are always looking for ways to add housing into tight, low density areas. A laneway apartment is just one of the ways that we can do this.

This additional density and unique type of home will force insurers to perhaps rethink their residential policies as they relate to a laneway apartment.

At this time most insurance companies cover laneway homes under the same policy as the main property and don’t offer a separate insurance policy for the structures. This will have to change as problems may result as this could be problem in certain circumstances – for example, if a natural disaster occurs that affects both the main structure and the laneway home. In the aftermath of such incidents, building replacement costs may soar due to a phenomenon referred to as “post-event inflation.”

In that situation the demand to build new homes or rebuild homes has gone up dramatically because there are thousands of people who need to rebuild their homes, and the supply is low. There’s only a certain amount of building supplies readily available; only a certain amount of contractors who can build homes.

A laneway home that cost $100,000 – $250,000 to build could cost $500,000 to rebuild. Typically, the insurance policy would cover the difference – but in the case of a laneway home, it might not.

If you’re insuring something as a detached structure you only get coverage up to the limit specified, which might be up to $300,000, but if it actually costs $400,000, you’re out of pocket for the extra.

There may be other implications such as two deductibles instead of one. In some instances, premiums may be higher as well, depending on your insurer.

 

Robert Offenbacher is the President of Flatrock Inc, a multi-discipline, licensed design and construction firm located here in Toronto. Robert has been involved in Toronto’s design  and construction industries for almost 25 years. Have a question or comment about Laneway homes or a potential Laneway rental property? Please give him a call at 416 770 7475

 

 

Basement Apartments may become Uninsurable

Basement Apartments where Water is the New Fire

The Toronto Star has an interesting article out today, (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/03/05/water-is-the-new-fire-says-the-insurance-bureau-of-canada-as-researchers-point-to-development-as-major-cause-of-basement-flooding.html), that discusses a report that has recently been released by the City of Toronto working in conjunction with the Journal of Cleaner Production. The study titled, “Assessing urban areas vulnerability to pluvial flooding using GIS applications and Bayesian Belief Network model”,

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652617327245?via=ihub, goes on to outline a number of interesting, if not ominous, findings.

  • That after years of continuous paving over of porous earth / gravel drive ways / lawns and other “soft” areas, we are seeing increased risks of basement flooding.
  • And although this study did not cover our increasing polluted waterways, a study done about ten (10) years ago by the University of Toronto also indicated that by paving over porous earth / gravel drive ways / lawns and other “soft” areas we were facilitating the rapid flow of pollutants such as oil, grease and gasoline derivatives right into Lake Ontario, our primary source of drinking water.

The release of this study can help us further understand the significant impacts we are making to our environment through our accelerated growth patterns. While an increase in revenues through accelerated growth may be a necessary evil, unsustainable growth with it’s adverse impacts is not. This is particularly true when we start to dovetail population expansion and climate change

The report goes on to outline that our in-discriminant covering-over of brownfield locations with new buildings, parking lots, sidewalks, etc. is linked to the accelerating instances of urban and suburban flooding that will only get worse in the coming years.

Yekelnalem Abebe, a PhD candidate who co-authored the study with UBC civil engineering professor Solomon Tesfamariam and Golam Kabir, a University of Windsor assistant professor in engineering, stated, “From what we have seen, areas with less green space — mostly developed areas, without any consideration for pervious or green areas — are more likely to have this kind of basement flooding,”

Mr. Abebe goes on to say that there are a number of differing factors that affect whether or not a basement will be flooded including our City’s aging catch basin / underground infrastructure. However, the increasing likelihood of more powerful storms in the coming years will only mean that more and more these century old pipe will not be able to handle these large volumes of water when they arrive. Further, this inability to handle increased loading means untreated sewage will flow directly into Lake Ontario.

Many of us have seen photos from the Brantford area of the Province, (https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/02/21/brantford-declares-state-of-emergency-after-grand-river-floods.html), recently, (we also have a relevant link to our blog titled, “What to do before, during and after a flood here, https://mapleleafmold.ca/2018/02/22/what-to-do-before-during-and-after-a-flood/ ).

It is quite apparent to many of us that fairly significant rainfalls are becoming the norm as opposed to a rarity.

Mr. Abebe does on to indicate that although the data may not be available now one day a “flood vulnerability index” would be a significant tool for the City to have in its toolbox. This index would graphically outline paved and other impervious surfaces across the City in order to help understand and predict basement flooding with more accuracy.

While this detailed data may not be available now, researchers have been able to divide the City up into 760 individual “grid cells” that are each assigned a level of basement flooding risk.

The least likely area of Toronto from a perspective of basement flooding is in Scarborough from the Bluffs north. The area’s most likely to flood, (or those that were defined as “very high risk” areas), are north from the Humber Bay and widen from there to include Swansea, The Junction and High Park.

Another contributor to the article goes on to state that even if we’re having just a little more rain than we used to, the water ends up in basements and flooding roadways and flooding parks. The weather is changing and we are seeing more rain events more often. That combined with increased development, infrastructure that’s aging, us paving over areas that used to be able to soak up the water — the result is more (flood) events and bigger losses, too.

We’re definitely seeing an increase in urban flooding everywhere — it’s not just Toronto, it’s everywhere across the country and it’s because we are paving over what would normally soak up the water — the water has nowhere to go.

From a standpoint of being proactive, our City has begun to promote gravel lined driveways, the reuse of rainwater, downspout disconnections and the suggestion that porous hard surfaces be used throughout the City.

Further, the City of Toronto has begun to move forward with a program called the Laneway Housing Initiative which places emphasis on moving tenants out of basement apartments and into newly developed rental suites above the over 300 kms of laneways in the City of Toronto. Robert Brennan at Maple Leaf Mold, (https://mapleleafmold.ca), says, “We’ve lost count of the number of clients who have called us to deal with water damage due to flooding in their basement or who are seeing significant mold contamination that originates in the basement but then spreads throughout the house. Basements were never originally meant to be lived in”. 

The article goes on to explain that Toronto last year paid $7.1 million just to subsidize homeowner installation of backwater valves and other measures to reduce the chance of residential basement flooding, up from $3.1 million in 2013 and Mississauga added a stormwater charge on Peel region water bills ranging from $50 to $170 per year, depending on the size of the roof and runoff potential. More than $30 million in annual revenues are being pumped into a dedicated fund to pay for stormwater infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.

We can also expect that, as costs are expected to rise for repairs to our older water management systems, these expenses will be shifted to us, homeowners and business owners. Particularly hardest hit would be those that have properties with the largest areas of non-porous surfaces which include those with large roof’s and parking lot areas.

While this may be inevitable as recently as last May a City of Toronto executive committee put off indefinitely a staff recommendation that proposed options for a storm water charge.

The idea of such a charge has been loudly condemned by certain City of Toronto councilors as an unnecessary tax that would negatively impact both urban and suburban taxpayers.

So, for the foreseeable future, until we see an aggressive process that puts into place procedures and suggestions to halt paving of non-porous surfaces, runoff that contributes to your basement flooding will be your responsibility or your insurers cost.

And since July 2013 when we as a City got hit with 1-100 year thunderstorm, insurers have become exceedingly shy when it comes to covering basement flood damage. That’s because that storm was responsible for almost $1 billion in damages that came mostly as a result of sewer backups.

In fact, here’s something to perhaps put you off having a finished basement or a basement rental apartment in your home at all. At the last World Economic Forum a large insurers indicated that in some cities basement apartments / rental units could become uninsurable.

The article in the Toronto Star goes on to state, “Water is the new fire because, in the past, fire damage to someone’s home used to be the predominant peril or event that people wanted to protect their property or homes from,” said Pete Karageorgos, the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s  Ontario director of consumer and industry relations. “Now it’s water damage of all sorts, from plumbing fixtures and internal leaks, but now more so from external type of water,” that might require special coverage.

“People are recognising there are severe weather events such as rainstorms that are occurring that are depositing larger amounts of rain in shorter amounts of time and impacting our communities.”

 

Robert Offenbacher is the President of Flatrock Inc, a multi-discipline, licensed design and construction firm located here in Toronto. Robert has been involved in Toronto’s design  and construction industries for almost 25 years. Have a question or comment about Laneway homes or a potential Laneway rental property? Please give him a call at 416 770 7475

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