During the last real estate cycle, condominium living became popular in many cities. Most buyers were singles or either young couples without kids or empty-nesters. With perhaps Manhattan and Vancouver being notable exceptions, families with young children have generally not been among the new inner urban residents.
In part, this is because few new condominiums offer more than two bedrooms. A two bedroom works fine with one child, but can be challenging with two or more kids.
This week in the Globe and Mail, Terrence Belford laments the lack of three bedroom units in Toronto’s new condos, seeing this as very short sighted. He quotes urbanization specialist Jane Renwick who astutely notes: “Concrete lasts 200 years, so how will this situation change the face of the city 50 or 100 years down the road?”
Looking ahead in the future of North American civilization, more families will want to live in condominiums in order to be close to work as well as urban amenities. Fuel prices will be high again, making commuting not only a time waster but also expensive. Additionally, real estate prices will dictate that a condominium will be the starter home for many families, while others will prefer to spend their money on vacations, educations and other experiences rather than an expensive home with white picket fence.
Belford correctly notes that developers rarely build three bedroom units because at present there is not much demand for them, and profits are higher building 1 and 2 bedroom units.
What he doesn’t mention, is a solution that has been proposed in Vancouver (although not really implemented yet). Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie as well as former chief city planner Larry Beasley, have both suggested that perhaps condominiums need “secondary suites” or “mortgage helpers.”
What if a building offered two bedroom suites with an attached small studio apartment of say 350 square feet. The studio would have its own entrance, like a back door, as well as a door connecting it to the main unit that could be locked. A couple or small family could live in the two bedroom unit and rent out the studio for a few years until enough mortgage is paid down or household income increases. Then, they could take back the suite and use it as a master bedroom.
These studio suites would also serve to help alliviate the rental housing shortage in many cities.
Alternatively, with the separate entrance someone could use the studio suite as a home office or home business space.
Perhaps the slowing of the real estate markets in most cities will allow urban planners and developers to rethink what they’ve been approving and building in order to think long term. On the 100 year horizon, cities may need more 3 bedroom+ units. If they fail, then Belford believes:
By mid-century, the lack of family-sized condominiums in the Toronto area may prove as effective a birth control measure as China’s one-child policy.