What will get seniors out of larger single-family homes? More realistic alternatives, argues one expert.
Philipa and Aubrey Caplan, 73 and 83, promised that when they retired they would sell their gracious 2,700-square-foot home in Winnipeg — complete with a pool and garden “to die for” — and join their two sons and their families in Toronto.
They planned to sell last summer but chickened out. In January, their agent called and they sold within 48 hours of the place going on the market. Their sons’ happiness “was off the Richter scale,” said Philipa.
Then came the issue of where to live in Toronto.
The couple wanted to rent so they had the freedom to lock the door and travel without worrying about break-ins or watering the garden. They wanted to be close to friends in the St. Clair Avenue West corridor or Summerhill, walkable neighbourhoods with a mix of housing, not just a collection of towers.
But like many downsizers, the Caplans were caught between small modern apartments with bad layouts in fully vertical neighbourhoods, and older, dreary buildings in need of updating.
When it comes to housing seniors, the City of Toronto and the development industry need to get more creative in the rental sector, said Bryan Levy, CEO of DBS Developments. Downsizers want apartments that have features similar to those they would find in a house and they want professionally managed buildings.
That’s what he says his company is providing in its new luxury rental, 2Fifteen Lonsdale, a 20-storey, 129-suite building near Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue West.
Philipa’s son had spotted the construction and arranged for a sales representative to take his mother on a video tour of 2Fifteen before she had even begun in-person house hunting in Toronto.
She dismissed the place immediately. From the concierge to the dog wash, it was more than she thought she needed.
“I’ll join a gym if I need a gym and I don’t need a gym,” she told the agent.
When the Caplans landed in Toronto in May to look for a home, they were discouraged. Friends warned against renting a privately owned condo, as there was no guarantee the landlord wouldn’t kick them out at some point.
“What do you get in five years when you’re older and not that strong? Where are you going then,” said Philipa.
They looked at brand new buildings and old “yucky” buildings. Some didn’t have in-suite laundry, some had patios that would barely fit a table and two chairs.
Preparing to return to Winnipeg defeated, Philipa said, “I couldn’t wait to let our children figure it out for us.”
But before they left, their son called back at 2Fifteen Lonsdale and they went for an in-person look.
“When we walked in, it was just hard to say ‘no.’ It’s so pretty and it’s got a great neighbourhood. It’s exactly where we want to be. We know our way around here. It’s near everything — St. Clair, shopping, the works, and we’ll be walking. We don’t need cars. We can get rid of a car before we leave (Winnipeg),” said Philipa.
They took home the leasing information and are now slated to move into a two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot unit Nov. 1.
2Fifteen was meant to fill a niche by creating the kind of rental for downsizers that is available in places such as New York or Paris, said Levy, a third-generation developer, whose company has owned the Lonsdale address since 2016.
“It takes a lot for somebody to sell their house they’ve lived in for 25 years and move into an apartment,” he said.
The new building is supposed to be complete this summer with high-end finishes and appliances, in-suite laundry, wifi-enabled thermostats, wine fridges in larger units, induction cooktops and kitchen islands.
Amenities include a concierge, resident manager and porter, games and party rooms, outdoor dining areas, a gym with Peloton bikes, saunas and showers and a 17th floor terrace with seating and fire pits.
But as important as the physical surroundings will be, Levy expects to build community around a morning coffee lounge and by having on-site cooking and yoga instructors.
“It’s much more exciting and more social than being in an empty house. I think people are craving a little bit of social interaction now — to be able to be in a building with Torontonians of similar mindsets and have the ability to network,” he said.
Matti Siemiatycki, a professor at the University of Toronto School of Cities, agrees Toronto needs to be more creative in housing its seniors. Many are living in larger single-family homes without any realistic alternatives.
“It’s like there’s no good trade down because you’re not going to really profit on selling that very valuable piece of real estate. What you’re going to end up with is spending $1,000,000 on an 800-square-foot condo that’s not really suitable for what you’re hoping to live in,” he said. “You know, people still have lives when they’re old. They have grandchildren, they have equipment and hobbies and things.”
In Europe, there is a wider range of housing options, said Siemiatycki. “Some of the units feel bigger or better or differently laid out,” he said.
DBS Developments builds rentals and condos at various price points but 2Fifteen Lonsdale is on the high end, ranging from about $8,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to about $10,000 for a bigger unit. There are lower and higher prices for one-bedroom and penthouse units, said Levy.
He said the company might have been able to make more profit faster by building condos but it saw the location as a long-term investment worthy of professional management.
Making rentals work at any price point is difficult from a developer’s perspective, he said.
“Between development charges and other fees, as well as the escalating cost environment, the numbers to do the rental projects just don’t seem to pan out,” said Levy. “They don’t really meet the required rate of return in a lot of cases. That’s why (developers) have reverted to building condos where the numbers do make sense.”
The city claims to want more rentals but is increasing development charges, he said.
“Our industry has lobbied for many years to try and have incentives for a rental housing development, whether it’s lower development charges or having more certainty in development charges or creating some sort of a fast track approval process for some of these projects that seem to take years and years,” said Levy.
For Philipa, the move to 2Fifteen Lonsdale is a great leap of faith.
“We are leaving, if not the safety of our home, the safety of our own surroundings, to come to Toronto. And it’s more than double the price that we would be OK with even if we found the most elegant apartment in Winnipeg,” she said.
“But we’re willing to take the chance and do it because I really feel that we will be in a safe place, in a beautiful, great neighbourhood, which is close enough by and with lovely, lovely people managing that building that will make it work. And we want to be part of that community.”