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Renovation of 31 Roslin Ave., Toronto, into a multiplex home.Eurodale Developments

Developer Brendan Charters switches easily from Shakespearean – ”if a renter pricks, do they not bleed?” – to Sinatra’s “I’m so proud I’m bustin’ my vest” as he looks around the kitchen.

“I actually love coming in here,” he says of the rental property Eurodale Developments, the company he co-founded with Jim Cunningham, created at 31 Roslin Ave. near Toronto’s tony Teddington Park neighbourhood. “The plants on the windowsill, the pot on the stove – people are living here. It was an uphill battle, it was a tremendous amount of work … but the house was unlivable when we bought it.”

Judging from photographs Mr. Charters took in November, 2019, he’s right: ceiling tiles sag and Formica cracks in the dark, knotty pine kitchen; pokey, dim rooms show fading paint on cracking plaster; dirty carpets cover bedroom floors; and a worn, bowed staircase leads down into a dank, mouldy basement.

Yet, when he finally received permits after almost two years – and that’s an entirely different story – he was met with incredible neighbourhood opposition. The ironic thing, he adds, is that the district already allowed multiplexes of two units, or four units (or more), but Eurodale chose to apply to build three (they wanted a basement unit, a main-floor unit and a two-floor, four-bedroom unit for a family). This gave Nimbys (Not-In-My-Backyard) extra ammunition to fight, he says, since even permitted multiplexes were “hotly contested because there are very few examples of it” in the Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue area.

“There was this Facebook hate group,” he continues, “and we were, like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ We never thought [by] supplying housing in this community, we would be the bad guys.”

Toronto, despite its 21st-century worldliness, can still exhibit echoes of its 1950s and 60s conservatism, especially when it comes to the perceived erosion of its leafy, single-family neighbourhoods. Search The Globe & Mail or Toronto Star digital archives with key word “cliff-dweller” for those decades and multiple stories on ruinous apartment houses come oozing up. Some warn that superintendents are the “new breed of dictator,” others that fire departments won’t be able to reach these new heights, and still others bemoan that poor little Timmy will never feel a blade of grass caress his cheek.

And despite a housing shortage that’s similar to the one experienced in the postwar period, those who choose, today, to insert three or four units into a single-family home, or replace a single home on a large lot with three townhouses, are increasingly becoming villainized. Mr. Charters points to a famous controversy – as reported by the New York Timesover 1310 Haskell St. in Berkeley, Calif.: when a developer purchased a crumbling single-family home and proposed “a trio of small homes” neighbours went ballistic, since “low density living is treated as sacrosanct.”

But, continued writer Conor Dougherty in 2017, “what is happening in Berkeley may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.”

It has. Yet a new resident of Roslin Avenue would be hard-pressed to pick out Mr. Charter’s building, since it looks almost exactly like all the other houses. And, should she be invited inside any of the three units, she’d likely leave with some design inspiration, since there are creamy white walls and countertops balanced by black light fixtures, black door pulls and faucets, sensible kitchens that sport high-end appliances, spacious bathrooms and natural light is abundant even in the basement unit, which also features a polished concrete floor with radiant heating.

“But it also has forced air as a supplementary heating and cooling [system],” adds Mr. Charters.

Eurodale spent in the range of $700 – 800 per square foot “in order to do it in a high-quality manner” to match the neighbourhood: “custom kitchens, a good HVAC system and insulation, and brick [cladding] and a steel roof; we didn’t want a property that’s falling down.” This means that, even with full tenancy, Mr. Charters says it’ll take a quarter-century until the company is paid back, and that’s with a basement unit priced at about $2,300 a month, the main floor at almost $3,000 and the two-floor unit at $5,000.

“Don’t get me wrong – this is not affordable housing,” he admits.

Which is why, in this writer’s opinion, the backlash Eurodale experienced was so unexpected. Frat boys or transients aren’t going to move into 31 Roslin Ave. During my tour of the units – all occupied since the project wrapped this past December – I spotted nothing nefarious, only children’s drawings on the fridge, framed family photos, and sparse furnishings due to the current economic climate. If I lived beside this property, I’d be delighted to see it renovated so expertly by a company with so much experience, and I’d enjoy having three families to get to know rather than just one (like when I lived in downtown Montreal in a triplex on a street of triplexes).

So, despite Premier Doug Ford’s hesitation to allow as-of-right fourplexes across Ontario, it’s my hope that most municipalities will appreciate that social ills will not multiply should a few multiplexes (with market rate rent) be added to the streetscape.

But no doubt many will still get cold feet.

“That’s why we say that you can’t strip the politics from planning,” finishes Mr. Charters. “If the direction doesn’t come from the state or the province, the local politics will be the sand in the gears of housing progress forever … when we’re complaining about house pricing, we only have ourselves to blame as local members of the community because we’re the ones that are directing the counsellors to fight this stuff.”

31 Roslin Ave. is a finalist in the CHBA’s National Awards for Housing Excellence in the “Best Whole Home Renovation Over $800,000″ category. The winner will be announced on May 10, 2024.

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