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This 25-year-old has found an ingenious way to make condominiums more affordable in Toronto

It involves completely upending the design of a condo as we know it

A Toronto architecture student has come up with a solution for those who want to buy a condo, but aren’t in a position to buy one that’s large enough to fit a family, in the city’s increasingly unaffordable housing market.

Inspired by the common practice of homeowners renting out portions of their houses — rooms and basements — to cover their mortgages, 25-year-old University of Toronto student Yupin Li’s redesign of an existing Toronto building, which saw extensive damage after being ravaged by a fire last year, would allow owners to rent out a part of their condo while holding onto the rest of the space for future use.


The design, which won the student Award of Excellence at the Toronto Urban Design Awards on Wednesday, proposes large units that would easily be divided up into smaller ones, and merged when necessary through the use of a “flexible” door.

“What inspired the concept of renting out a portion of your condo is what people are already doing in Toronto currently — buying a house and supporting their mortgage by renting out a room or their basement because of how unaffordable Toronto is right now,” Li told VICE Money.

“Why not apply it to a condominium idea and have two entrances and have a partition off a portion of the unit?”

Most condos in Toronto are too small now for families — many are one-bedrooms and one plus dens, and they’re steadily getting smaller, said Li. From the mid-2000s up until roughly 2015, condos were steadily shrinking in size, with developers making smaller and smaller units to accommodate decreasing consumer budgets in light of sky-rocketing home prices in Toronto. In 2007, for instance, the average size of a condo unit was 892 square feet — by May 2015, it had dropped to 789 square feet, according to the Financial Post.

Many one-bedroom condominium units in Toronto’s downtown core are in fact under 600-square foot on average, barely enough to accommodate two people. If you’re looking for a bigger space, the price of a two-bedroom condominium in prime intersections of the city can be as high as $700,000, according to data from


“The bigger units are pretty unaffordable for young families, sor they’re stuck between not being able to buy a bigger place and not being able to afford a house either, so this is my exploration of what can be done to solve this issue,” said Li.

Kevin Weiss, one of the professors who taught the class where Li made her design, called it an “obvious solution” but one developers may not be pursuing because “they’re conservative, they go off of what they’ve sold already, and they’re not very adventurous in terms of that kind of experimentation.”

“Some do build family units, but at the end of the day, a big condo unit costs a lot of money,” he continued. “That’s why this scheme is brilliant as a way of offsetting that.”

“The developer-driven world of mid-rise residential housing requires just such invention and new thinking,” said the jury about Li’s design, calling it a “rigorously investigated and beautifully designed project.”

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