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Three buildings in Toronto’s East Chinatown at 377 Broadview Ave. were redeveloped into new, modern one-bedroom apartments, by developer Cristina Tanco Hui and architect: Studio JCI. Exteriors.Michael Muraz/Michael Muraz

Where there was one, there are now 10. Where there were none, there are now 11. Housing units, that is, at 377 Broadview Ave. and 367 Howland Ave. in Toronto. It may be but two examples, but it causes architect Craig Race to quip: “The missing middle has been found!”

But has it? And what is it, anyway?

According to the popular podcast 99% Invisible (episode 491), the “missing middle” refers to “a specific range of building sizes and typologies, including: duplexes, triplexes, courtyard buildings [and] multistorey apartment complexes” that fall somewhere between high-rise towers – of which Toronto is building dozens – and basement apartments. Think of European cities, such as Paris, and streets filled with six- and eight-storey buildings, one after the other … that’s what we’re missing.

But are we? “Toronto Specials,” those plain, boxy, three-storey, hipped roof dwellings built from the late-1950s to the 1980s are everywhere; smaller apartment buildings, such as the gloriously art deco Garden Court Apartments (1477 Bayview Ave.), are peppered here and there.

The problem seems to be, however, that there just aren’t enough. Studio JCI, a firm passionate about “returning” the missing middle to Toronto, writes that the culprit is by-law 6061. Passed in 1912, the by-law severely restricted apartment buildings on “many residential streets … reserving them only for single-family homes.” While passionate builders could (and did) apply to build smaller buildings on a case-by-case basis, the overall effect was a dwelling dearth that’s still felt today.

Until now: in May, 2023, the City of Toronto amended both the Official Plan and the zoning by-law to allow “multiplex” buildings citywide and changes to the way development fees are charged on them. And while 377 Broadview Ave. and 367 Howland Ave. were both complete or almost complete by then, they demonstrate what can – and will – happen to our streets in the coming years.

  • Multiplex homes at 367 Howland Ave.: Developer: GreenStreet Flats. Firm: Craig Race ArchitectureCraig Race Architecture

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367 Howland Ave.: Developer: GreenStreet Flats. Firm: Craig Race Architecture

“If you had an empty lot,” begins Mr. Race, “and you [wanted to build] a four-plex and a laneway suite, you’d be paying just under $700,000 in development charges. Now it’s effectively zero – the fourplex is exempt and the laneway/garden suite is eligible for deferral.”

Mr. Race is standing in front of a handsome, creamy-white and black, three-storey building near Toronto’s famous Casa Loma. The building presents itself to neighbours as, perhaps, a semi-detached where two families might live, but look a little closer and four front doors present themselves. That’s because, where a single-family home once stood, GreenStreet has built an eight-unit, micro-apartment building where every unit is large enough to contain two bedrooms and one bath. Two additional units are contained in a laneway suite for a total of 10 rental units.

A recent walk-through revealed high ceilings, tidy, well-equipped kitchens, bedrooms with balconies or terraces, long clerestory windows in some units, and, even in the basement units, plenty of natural light. The north-facing laneway unit sports a window so large it “makes the space feel a lot bigger,” says GreenStreet founder Leonid Kotov, who has created missing middle units on Grace Street and Broadview Avenue in recent years.

“All of these projects are 100-per-cent rentable area,” Mr. Race says. “We don’t need any common space to maintain inside the building; you have your own front door. Little things like that make it more of a home than a condo.”

377 Broadview Ave. Developer: Cristina Tanco Hui. Architect: Studio JCI

In the 1990s, Cristina Hui purchased three buildings in Toronto’s East Chinatown. A hodgepodge of architecture styles, the southernmost building contained a donut/sandwich shop for many years (with rental apartments above), while the other two housed a medical clinic/pharmacy on the ground floor with professional offices above.

In 2018, however, Ms. Hui hired Studio JCI to unite all three façades via some sort of architectural element as well as transform the top two floors of the middle and north buildings into additional rental housing. While obtaining permissions and the global pandemic slowed things down, by the end of last year the project was complete.

Admiring the crisp, long, perforated metal screen from across the street, architect Sudipto Sengupta says it was hard to find a quality fabricator that would build on such a small scale, but they found Markham’s Alumtech Bond. “That’s another issue with the missing middle; when you’re working with a large building you’ve got all of these companies vying for your business.”

He also says that while 50 per cent of the structure was saved (saving Ms. Hui formidable development charges), one of the buildings was in “very bad shape. It had to go through a whole remediation process,” he says. “It had mould … there was nothing really salvageable on the inside except some of the structure.”

Which is just as well, since with bold graphics and bright orange stairs the two buildings now resemble a boutique hotel, and the 11 new, one-bedroom units are well organized and filled with light. The unit this writer toured has a double-height entry, a view of the 13-metre high Zhong Hua Men Archway on Gerrard Street and a roof deck that must’ve been 350 square feet.

“All of the units facing the front are about 650 sq. ft. feet on average [and] all of the units facing the back are about 550 sq. ft., and there’s one big, three-bedroom family-sized unit at the corner,” Mr. Sengupta says.

While Ms. Hui died late last year, her son, Jack, says Broadview Terraces were “a passion project” that his family will cherish.

While not all residential lots will be as wide as 367 Howland Ave. (to allow for two semis) and property owners who already own three adjoining buildings on a major thoroughfare might not be in abundance, these two projects illustrate that ‘finding’ the missing middle will require creativity, vision, and unorthodox thinking.

It will also require that the rest of us keep an open mind.

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