In an effort to combat homelessness, the City of Toronto is moving forward with a pilot project involving underutilized public land and modular housing.
Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão is spearheading the initiative, and it was seconded by Mayor John Tory. "This modular supportive housing pilot initiative will be another major effort by the City to address issues of homelessness and affordable housing in our City," says Bailão, who is also involved in other innovative housing concepts in Toronto, like laneway housing and inclusionary zoning.
"As a City, we are continually looking at new and innovative approaches to meet our City's housing needs for all residents and this modular housing pilot program will add an additional option to this effort," says Tory.
So, what is modular housing? A modular building consists of “modules” that are typically built off-site (prefabricated). The modules are then transported to the site where they are assembled. In theory, it is quicker and more affordable than traditional construction.
Since 2016, the City of Vancouver and BC Housing have built more than 600 modular units at 10 locations. Toronto will be looking at Vancouver’s successes and challenges in order to steer the New Modular Supportive Housing Pilot Initiative.
It takes years (or even a decade) for a new residential development plan to make its way from application to completion. Identifying suitable underutilized public land and embracing a prefab approach to construction will speed up the process for an issue that desperately requires a quick solution.
This Pilot is intended to fight homelessness, but there seems to be potential for future applications. If the purpose of exploring modular housing is to speed up the process, then maybe it can be used for market housing. Just because it’s modular or prefabricated doesn’t mean it has to be temporary. Entire condos or even public buildings like schools could be modular.
One challenge of modular housing in a place like downtown Toronto is the transportation of the modules. We can see it being difficult transporting numerous modules on downtown streets, but that said, we’ve seen entire houses moved and transport trucks taking some pretty tight corners downtown.
There is also some hesitation from major financial institutions when it comes to providing a loan for a modular home, but that’s probably only because it’s uncommon. If more residential buildings were modular, then big banks would understand that it’s a proper, long-term, permanent home.
We are interested to see how Toronto approaches the New Modular Supportive Housing Pilot, and wonder if any condo developers will ever embrace this type of building for a downtown, multi-unit residence.