Ontario needs to embrace fourplex housing to solve the crisis

April 11, 2024

Catherine Marshall

Picture of Doug Ford in a backyard surrounded by signs

Everyone is looking for solutions to housing affordability.

The federal government thought it had part of the solution. It asked the provinces to mandate fourplexes across the country.

But here in Ontario, Doug Ford is not a fan of four-unit multiplexes.

The Premier said he has no problem with putting four units on a residential lot. But he said – incorrectly – that a fourplex is a four-storey “tower.” Then he said “no” to the opportunity to build fourplexes everywhere in the province.

Seeing is believing
The FlexPlex looks like a single-family home from the exterior

If only Premier Ford had seen our three-storey FlexPlex® before he jumped to conclusions. We designed the FlexPlex – capable of quickly and easily transitioning between fourplex-triplex-duplex-single-family home layouts – to fit into existing residential neighborhoods. We think that the FlexPlex model strikes the right balance between the need for more density and concerns about density in single-family areas.

Even an independent observer, The Globe and Mail, reported that the FlexPlex “presents a handsome, single-family face to the street.” It said the only giveaways that it’s a fourplex-ready multi-unit building are the four doorbells at the front door.

Financial Feasibility

Ontario has mandated that triplexes can be built anywhere in the province. But the response has been low. To finance new housing, investors need more rental income than a triplex can provide.

 That’s why Toronto and Mississauga, among others across Canada, have allowed four multi-family units everywhere and have cut the development charges that stand in the way of building them.

There is no point in allowing something that’s financially infeasible.

Revitalizing neighbourhoods

However, in both cities, neighborhoods are protected from “towers”. Fourplexes are subject to height and setback restrictions just like single-family houses. There are new single-family homes in and around the FlexPlex, in the Mimico area in Toronto, that are similar in height to our three-storey building.

More families can live in single-family neighborhoods with more density

But instead of housing three or four people in a 4,000 square foot single-family home, the FlexPlex can have up to eight bedroom/private bathroom combinations and up to four kitchens or food prep areas in the same size residential building.

Carolyn Whitzman, author of Home Truths: Fixing Canada’s Housing Crisis, is quoted in the media saying the majority of single-family residential neighborhoods in Toronto house fewer people than they did 30 years ago. “That’s not a good thing,” she said.

Amber Shortt’s “Living Here” newsletter for the Toronto Star says providing multi-unit buildings can turn this around. Shortt reported that a New Jersey neighborhood revitalized flagging community by introducing multiplexes into single-family zones. “The population has since risen by 40% allowing the town to reduce its taxes all while seeing a revitalization of its main street.”

Housing Innovation

There’s a growing interest in fourplexes, particularly in suburban settings. We’ve received numerous inquiries from property owners across Ontario who want to explore this innovative approach to affordable housing.

By denying the fourplex model, we think the Ontario government is standing in the way of an important innovation in affordable housing.

Doug Ford has changed his mind before. Hopefully, when presented with additional information and alternative perspectives, he’ll say “yes” to fourplexes as part of the solution to our housing crisis.

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