Finding the Middle Ground

Urbanites want options that lie between single-family homes and condos.

In cities all over the Western world the middle has gone missing. 

It’s happening in the U.S., Australia and here in Canada. But this is not some crisis in which the central regions of these countries have been vaporized. The term “missing middle” refers to a lack of multi-family housing options like duplexes, triplexes and townhouses. 

These middle options typically appeal to those who can’t afford a single-family home but who don’t want to live in an apartment or condo tower. A report released last year by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) looks at the problem from the perspective of families with young children. The CHBA looked at demographic trends (it turns out Canada is experiencing something of a “baby boomlet”) and government policy and came to the conclusion that “Canada will be an estimated 300,000 family-oriented units short over the next decade.”

The report called on governments to recognize that policies to encourage high-rise construction “are no longer supported by demographic trends.” It also recommended some assistance for those looking to purchase an entry-level home.

But it seems Calgary has a leg up in this game. As reported recently in the Calgary Herald, a study by the Altus Group found that interest in townhomes among potential buyers in our city is stronger than in other parts of the country.

While single-family homes remain the most coveted option, townhouses are increasingly seen as an affordable option. The Altus report looked at sales in the first half of this year in four major markets: Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Only in Calgary were sales of townhouses up compared to the first six months of 2017.

And the market has responded, with 18 townhome projects being launched already this year. Many are in new communities, but they are also popping up in developed areas, where the process is known as gentle density

That may be a more appealing term than “intensification,” but whatever it is called, finding the missing middle could well be the key to successful city planning in the coming years.

November 26th, 2018
Updated: November 28th, 2018

A lack of housing options that lie between single-family homes and condominiums is a growing problem in Canadian cities.