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Toronto City Hall on May 9. Toronto city council's approval of multiplexes in the city's neighbourhoods is a centrepiece of the city’s housing action plan.Tuan Minh Nguyen/The Globe and Mail

Multiplexes of up to four residential units can now be built in all neighbourhoods across Toronto after approval from city council Wednesday, a move intended to increase low-rise housing options in existing communities.

This contentious move to expand as-of-right permissions for multi-unit residences is a centrepiece of the city’s housing action plan to meet a target set by Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government of adding 285,000 homes by 2031. Previously, 70 per cent of Toronto’s residential areas only permitted single-detached homes with zoning amendments and additional approvals required if another form of housing was proposed.

The plan to remove the exclusionary zoning policy has faced significant opposition from many residents’ associations who argue that the changes could have negative consequences, including increased traffic, lack of parking options and a loss of trees.

Some organizations, including the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations, representing 30 neighbourhood groups, called on the city to defer the decision until a new mayor is elected next month. They also said it would be better to pilot the plan in select communities rather than make a widespread rollout in order to monitor and make adjustments if issues arise.

During Wednesday’s meeting, a few councillors also suggested deferring the plan or limiting it to certain areas of the city with lower density, offering concerns that it will create challenges in already busy neighbourhoods and that the housing wouldn’t be affordable, but those motions were defeated.

The majority of council supported moving forward with the plan, which has been studied for several years and previously endorsed as part of the housing plan put forward by former mayor John Tory before he resigned from office in February. The city projects it is in need of 42,000 low-rise homes.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said although there is some concern about the impact of the changes, the move is necessary to increase housing options for Toronto residents and achieve the target that the city pledged to meet.

“It’s really important that we meet our targets, otherwise why are we setting them?” she said during the council meeting.

Last fall, the province passed legislation to allow for three units on single residential lots, overriding municipal zoning rules. Toronto’s zoning changes expand on the provincial rule by permitting an additional unit to create fourplexes and also make amendments to regulations, including height and depth restrictions.

For the 38 per cent of neighbourhoods that have a height limit less than 10 metres, that will now be increased to a maximum height of 10 metres to make room for a third storey. A fourth storey is permitted for those areas that have a greater height limit.

Multiplexes will also be exempt from floor space index maximums, a regulation currently in place for only 37 per cent of the city that limits the allowable density of buildings. Critics of the plan took issue with this requirement being removed, arguing there is now one less tool to regulate the developments.

Toronto chief planner Gregg Lintern said the elimination of floor space index maximums is a result of community feedback that it could prevent multiplexes from being built because it would restrict space for additional units.

“We didn’t want to propose zoning that wasn’t going to result in housing,” he told councillors.

Jennifer Barrett, a managing director with the Canadian Urban Institute, said Toronto’s move will help tackle the current housing shortage by providing much-needed rental units in communities where new residents will be able to benefit from already-existing infrastructure, such as schools and transit. The institute, which focuses on city planning, facilitated discussions with the City of Toronto over the past few years looking at expanding housing opportunities.

Ms. Barrett said the new multiplex policy will allow more people to stay in their communities, including seniors who want to downsize or young adults moving out on their own for the first time.

“By disallowing additional density to be added to neighbourhoods, it’s really preventing those neighbourhoods from becoming vibrant and diverse environments and communities,” she said in an interview. “We can’t continue to build outward.”

Other municipalities have taken similar steps to offer more housing options, some even going further than the four-unit multiplexes in Toronto. In British Columbia, Victoria approved new zoning regulations to allow for up to six-unit multiplexes on most residential lots.

Toronto will launch a monitoring program to track uptake and distribution of multiplexes across the city, as well as document concerns or barriers that arise, including impact on parking and trees. A report is scheduled to come back to council by early 2026 or sooner if 200 multiplex building permits have been received by the city.

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