Infill is Good for Many, But Not for Everyone

For many that select an infill for their home they likely have in mind the real estate adage “location, location, location”. They fall in love with a family-friendly central urban neighbourhood with mature trees lining the boulevard, a school within walking distance, and a short commute to downtown jobs. They compare it to new homes in the suburbs that have long commutes that would eat into family time. Yet the older homes in urban neighbourhood are too small or old-fashioned. 

The solution seems easy – build an infill house. Buy a property in a mature neighbourhood, tear down the existing house, and build a new, modern home. And the city promotes families to make that choice, too. However, while it can be a good solution for families and for the city as a whole, it is not an easy one. Infill is expensive and time-consuming. The benefits may still outweigh the costs, but it’s important to understand the costs if you choose this route.

Why the City Wants Infill

The City has a lofty goal for new housing to be infill. Creating modern homes in mature neighbourhoods slows the build-up of the suburbs, the development of which is very expensive to all taxpayers. But it’s not just individual neighbourhoods that become more sustainable with infill – the city itself benefits as people move into core neighbourhoods and rely on public transit more than their vehicles, and use more of the existing infrastructure, reducing maintenance and upgrading costs. Building in mature neighbourhoods makes them more sustainable and diverse – both culturally and economically.

Some Things You Need to Know Before Your Go Forward with An Infill

Building any house is no small undertaking, but infill brings its own unique challenges.

  • If the mortgage on the old property is not be insured by CMHC it would require a larger loan deposit. And homeowners pay the difference between the existing home and the value of the new infill.
  • Infill homes tend to be custom-built, unlike homes in subdivisions. That adds to the expense because each decision is unique to that infill. In new suburbs, contractors can build several houses of the same design with the same process and higher margins for each home – the risk is more predictable. From the infill developer’s point of view, infill is the opposite and is more expensive and riskier. 
  • The new infill homeowner becomes part of the building process right from the start of the design stage. With the various people involved and the many decisions to be made you need to be prepared to have the time to be engaged. It’s very important to pick experienced professionals for the design and construction, as, you, the infill homeowner, is the least experienced. 
  • Infill permits are costlier and take more time to go through the system than new development permits, because each property must be assessed individually, rather than as a group for greenfield development.
  • The city developed the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) in 2001, as an attempt to balance the needs in established neighbourhoods (the MNO is currently under review). The MNO rules are harder to follow than those in greenfield development, adding to the complexity and cost of infill projects. 
  • One way that extends the development permit approval timeline and delays the start of construction is to request a variance to the MNO or zoning bylaw. Regardless of how large or small, a variance can have a significant effect to the time and cost of an infill. 
  • One of the bigger issues facing infill homeowners, builders, and developers is lack of consistency within the City itself. There can be different approaches and ranges of personal opinion from one Development Officer to another, creating a lack of continuity and delays. 

Improvements are Happening

The City is working to improve the infill process, to make it more efficient and affordable. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the job of designing and building an infill property will be significantly easier (particularly compared to suburban built houses). 

Benefits of Infill Living Make it Affordable

Look beyond the challenges and expense and include the benefits of living closer to services. Building your infill in more central neighbourhoods allows access to transit instead of using vehicles for every errand. And, building density into neighbourhoods encourages businesses to locate there, making communities more walkable. Infill is affordable when you factor in your value of a lifestyle that you couldn’t get somewhere else.