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City plans to turn parking lot into affordable housing made of mass timber
April 26, 2022

A proposed new mass timber housing development, slated for what is now a surface-level Green P parking lot in Toronto’s downtown west area, will address affordability issues and climate concerns, says the local city councillor.

On Monday, the city announced a pilot program that, if approved, would do away with the parking lot and bring about 200 new rental units to the site near the corner of Dundas Street West and Ossington Avenue, according to Coun. Joe Cressy.

This would mark one of the larger residential buildings made of wood or “mass timber” planned in the city.

(A yet to be built 12-storey wood building proposed for the Quayside neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront would see about 565 units of housing.)

About 50 to 60 per cent of the units at Dundas and Ossington, which are to be subsidized and operated by a non-profit, would be “deeply affordable” -- about 60 per cent of average market rent in Toronto, Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina--Fort York) said in an interview.

The remaining units in the 10-storey building would be market rentals, he added.

“City staff came back with a proposal that does a lot more than affordable housing. It’s a pilot project to bring both a more affordable and a more sustainable model of housing and one that can be built faster,” Cressy said.

“In the old days we would look to sell city-owned land as a way to generate revenue. In this case we are building on our own land to address affordability and sustainability. This is the type of creative project we need to do more of,” Cressy added.

The city-owned site at 1113-1117 Dundas St. W. is currently an operational parking lot run by the Toronto Parking Authority. The site is about 0.4 acres.

In the next few months an application to rezone the site will be brought forward. The site is already zoned residential, but city staff are seeking more height and density than is currently permitted on the property.

Cressy said he fully expects these details to be worked out and for city council to approve the project.

The non-profit agency, builder and source for the lumber (it would be a Canadian source) are still to be determined.

Wood is considered far more environmentally friendly than steel or concrete because it sequesters, or holds in, CO2, whereas steel and concrete don’t. Wood is also renewable.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT), glue-laminated timber (GLT) and nail-laminated timber (NLT) are the forms of mass timber most commonly used in construction. The materials are made by affixing or gluing multiple layers of wood to form a large, very durable product.

The results of Toronto’s pilot project will be reviewed and a report will go before the city’s planning and housing committee late next year. The hope is that if the pilot results are successful a permanent “mass timber affordable housing program” would be established.

“The pilot program announced today will demonstrate not only the commitment we have to becoming a greener city but that this approach can … help build cost-effective affordable housing,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement.

“Using innovative and modern ideas like mass timber construction will help us deliver high quality designs and buildings that will contribute to our goal of net zero emissions by 2040,” the mayor added.

City councillor and Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, who chairs the planning and housing committee, said, “Making the model replicable will also help speed up the design, development, and construction processes, and ultimately expedite the delivery of much-needed housing across the city.”