New apartment construction surges in Canada

A snapshot of the purpose-built rental scene from coast to coast
Friday, March 6, 2015
By Erin Ruddy

Balliol Park, located on Davisville Road between Yonge Street and Mt Pleasant, is just one of Toronto’s 21 new purpose-built apartments currently under construction. Developed by Shiplake Properties Limited and designed by the Diamond Schmitt Architects, when complete in 2016, the 30-storey tower and 14-storey building will offer 522 rental units to midtown tenants seeking condo-quality accommodations.

“Today’s residents are looking for urban apartments with amenities, convenience and lifestyle choices reflecting both classic and modern living,” says Hank Latner, VP Operations at Shiplake Properties Limited. “Many renters cannot necessarily afford to purchase a condominium, but they can find the same quality home in Balliol Park.”

The striking new development isn’t the only rental project Shiplake has on the horizon. Although still in the rezoning approval process with the city, Gallery Park is another large-scale, two-tower rental development poised to break ground in the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood sometime in the near future.

“Many older buildings have classic character, but are limited to the constraints of outdated designs and amenities,” Latner says. “Some new apartment residences offer contemporary building features that have the benefit of modern technology and sustainability. Balliol Park will be outfitted with a wide array of innovative amenities and conveniences, including in-suite energy efficient appliances, climate control and laundry.”

Though statistically speaking, condominiums are still favoured by developers—particularly in Toronto where, according to published reports, only 830 new rental apartments have entered the market since 2009—real estate experts are noting a surge of interest in the purpose-built rental market. In Toronto, 21 rental apartments are currently in the works vs. the twelve that went up in 2013.

The project that really marked the beginning of the movement in Toronto was Morguard’s ‘The Heathview’ in 2014. Comprised of twin 30-storey towers, it was the first new apartment development to provide an alternative to condos in that prime, affluent community in more than forty years.

On the east side of town, a proposal for a new retirement living complex is still pending approval but speaks to the shortage of purpose-built seniors residences. If all goes according to plan, the eight-storey development on Laird Drive in Leaside will consist of 175 rental units (plus condominium units) among other features and services aimed exclusively at seniors.

Over in Calgary, Bentall Kennedy is busy constructing a new 26-storey high-rise apartment located at 121 13th Avenue SW. When complete the tower will offer a full slate of modern amenities and energy-efficient features, including high-efficiency HVAC, windows, plumbing and lighting, and coatings with low emissions of volatile organic compounds. The 218-unit building was designed by Gibbs Gage Architects.

As of January 2014, the Greater Vancouver Area had 49 new purpose-built rental projects (5,849 suites), awaiting permits or already under construction. One of those projects sits at the corner of Richards Street and Pacific Boulevard in the dense Yaletown area. Developed by Onni Group, the proposed LEED Gold building is 24 storeys with 133 designated rental units.

On the other side of Canada, the purpose-built apartment trend seems to be ahead of the game. In Halifax, development data reveals that construction of new apartment buildings has been outnumbering new condominiums for five years, if not longer.

Guillaume Neault, Principal, Market Analysis at CMHC (Halifax) notes, “In 2014, 854 out of a 1,757 total housing starts were rental. In 2013, we recorded 1,402 rental starts out of a 2,439 total housing starts. During the same period, we recorded 72 and 166 condominium starts respectively.”

While the bulk of the properties that broke ground were located in the periphery of the city, Neault says that Larry Uteck Boulevard, Baker Drive, and Mount Royale Subdivision, are expected to see a greater share of units coming their way soon. “Out of the 1,300 rental apartment starts expected in 2015, over 850 will be in the north end and the downtown combined.”

A few notable plans and projects:

  • Toronto city council has adopted zoning for a 6-storey mixed-use building at the corner of Queen Street East and Winnifred Avenue, which will provide 48 purpose-built rental units as well as new retail spaces
  • The Montgomery Square development at Postal Station K at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto is set to become a 7-storey rental apartment building
  • Arena Towers, a 3-tower property featuring 614 rental suites, is awaiting approval for construction in the heart of Vancouver’s sports and entertainment district
  • Completed in 2014, the 12-storey Hudson Muse was the largest rental housing development to enter the Victoria market in many years
  • On March 3rd, exciting plans were unveiled for Toronto’s iconic Honest Ed’s site featuring 1,000 purpose-built rental housing units, retail and restaurant space
  • KG Group’s 305 Roehampton is currently under construction in midtown Toronto, featuring 16 storeys of luxury rentals

Erin Ruddy is the editor of Canadian Apartment Magazine