Mattamy, one of the country’s major builder of new homes, puts new focus on the GTA. But will it help our city’s housing crisis?

Mattamy Homes is moving up. But will it also help Torontonians eager to buy in?

Known for its suburban single-family housing developments and one of the country’s major builder of new homes, Mattamy announced Thursday it is launching a new division focused solely on urban mid- and highrise buildings in the Greater Toronto Area.

North America’s largest privately owned homebuilder, Mattamy got into the highrise market in 2015, when it acquired Monarch Corp. for $ 335 million, and said the company’s new GTA Urban Division will include 40 existing highrise projects and other multi-family developments.

“Our new Urban Division has been created to meet the region’s twin needs of increased density and affordability,” Mattamy CEO Brad Carr said in a news release, which noted the move comes amid rapid immigration to the GTA, citing a prediction that the population will grow to 8 million by 2030, up from 6.4 million.

Within the next five years, Mattamy said it plans to build “as many urban, multi-family mid- and highrise units as single-family lowrise units.” The company did not answer specific questions Thursday about how many units that would include or whether they would be rental apartments or larger units more suitable for families.

In an emailed statement, Alison O’Neill, vice-president of sales and marketing at Mattamy’s new GTA Urban Division, said that as home ownership becomes “increasingly less attainable, providing multi-family communities brings down the end price, alleviating some of the barriers to entry.”

O’Neill said that while there is a lot of competition in the condo market, it is “currently undersupplied.” The Star recently reported that Toronto-area sales of pre-construction and new condos hit a 10-year high in April.

“With current immigration forecasts, supply will become more of an issue,” O’Neill said, adding, “We see a variety of buyer types, including first-time, young and mature families, downsizers and seniors. Specific buyer needs will vary by location as will the types, sizes and price points of our offering.”

Will Dunning, a consultant who specializes in housing market analysis, said he is interested to see how much the Mattamy projects will appeal to families, citing a lack of such housing as a major gap in the Canadian market.

“Whenever I’ve been in a major European city, apartment housing works because the housing forms are family friendly. But we’re not doing that in Canada,” he said. “I think the next step in the discussion ought to be: what can be done to encourage the construction of apartments that are family-friendly?”

Dunning said families could be enticed to live in apartments that are larger, with two to three bedrooms, found in lower-rise buildings, “so you’re not spending your life travelling in elevator.” Easy access to outdoor space such as an interior courtyard would also be an asset, he said.

“There’s been ample supply, or even more than what would be required, of apartments and a very substantial shortage almost everywhere in the country of single-family homes,” he said. “We’ve done a very nice job of providing housing for young singles, provided they have sufficient incomes, but even a family with a good income really does not have very attractive options.”

If Mattamy focuses its higher-density plans in more suburban areas, it could help contribute to a “missing middle” in the market by adding density to places that have long been dominated by single-family sprawl, said Steve Pomeroy, a housing policy researcher at Carleton University.

Pomeroy noted that housing policy experts such as Jennifer Keesmaat, former Toronto chief city planner and CEO of the Keesmat Group, have argued that building up the “missing middle” could help address housing affordability problems.

Still, he said, whether it is Mattamy or any other developer, the creation of more mid- and highrise developments is not likely to address the housing needs of low-income Canadians.

“What you tend to see is they’re building to a relatively middle- to high-income demographic. They’re not building rental as affordable rentals,” Pomeroy said. “In terms of a solution to the low-income needs, that’s something that none of these builders will do in the absence of government funding programs.”

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In a recent report on affordable housing in the GTA, Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development proposed that governments provide cash payments, or vouchers to landlords, to help low-income renters cover their housing costs.

The report said this would be more efficient than subsidies or other funding mechanisms that encourage the construction of new affordable units, many of which end up targeted at middle-income renters.

TORONTO STAR