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Toronto-based startup promises a new solution to affordability

A record number of non-homeowners believe they’ll never be able to afford a house, according to a recent survey by Mortgage Professionals Canada. This is true even in the wake of prices falling as higher mortgage costs continue to erode affordability. 

The survey further found that many homeowners are having difficulty paying their mortgages. More striking is that those who’ve finally made it on the path of homeownership – first-time homebuyers – are particularly concerned about meeting monthly payments. 

Solutions to improve affordability abound from government and private groups: help with down payments via shared equity models, advocating for rules requiring builders to make affordable housing, and loosening the bylaws and zoning restrictions to build faster and allow for homeowners to rent their basements. 

Intensification is, of course, another obvious solution; however, we don’t have the infrastructure to support such drastic intensification and, frankly, many homeowners protest vigorously against large condos drowning out the character of their peaceful neighbourhoods. Enter a more recent solution: Proof Housing. 

Proof Housing aims to address the housing problem by rethinking neighbourhood intensification. They’re doing this by leveraging innovative architectural and engineering solutions to build homes that can easily transform from a single-family home to a duplex, triplex, or quadplex, and back again. 

Essentially, taking a different view than most housing pundits – we don’t necessarily have to build large condos to provide needed density. Rather, we can simply turn up the intensification of a single-family home without changing the character or look of a neighbourhood. 

To boot – Proof Housing is also leveraging construction technology, including off-site manufacturing and adaptive design principles, to make building faster, more environmentally responsible and simply more adjustable. 

“Our goal,” says Kyle Brill, co-Founder of Proof Housing, “…is to create housing that is more responsive to emergent needs over time, such as changes in density or use, with less community and environmental disruption”. 

In my conversation with Brill, I learned how we might be thinking about intensification and affordability all wrong and how entrepreneurs can help add to the bucket of solutions we must draw from soon to make housing accessible for more than the wealthy few.


How did the idea for your business come about?


The idea for Proof came about over years of work in the architecture and design industry and observing the steadily worsening state of housing in Toronto. 

My co-founders and I felt that there had to be better ways to develop our city, and broader urban region, that were far less disruptive, time-consuming and complex than the methods we were using. We drew our inspiration from the low-rise, high-density neighbourhoods that we have all lived and worked in, world-class cities such as Amsterdam, London and Tokyo. 

We tried to apply the lessons of those cities to our context and discovered that new solutions could sometimes emerge from older ways of doing things hiding in plain sight. 


What was your key driving force to becoming an entrepreneur?


Our entrepreneurial drive stemmed from the realities of our context. My co-founders and I grew up in the GTA and shared a deep care for Toronto and its urban region. On top of this, we were all tired of simply talking about problems and watching them worsen. Ultimately, we wanted to be active participants in creating a much more vibrant, engaging and sustainable urban future. 


Who is your ideal customer?


Our ideal customers are real estate developers, housing operators, community land trusts or private landowners; really, anyone with land assets they plan to intensify or develop. 

Our business model is designed around making strategic partnerships to deploy our housing products. 


Why is now the right time to start this company? 


When could there be a better time than the present? All jokes aside, we are experiencing a generational housing crisis that demands novel solutions. 

We have long passed the point of deploying the same industry and political strategies and expecting different results. Canada is seriously lagging behind other countries in housing provision, and we risk undermining our long-term economic growth strategy that relies heavily on immigration. 

If we don’t get our act together, Canada’s desirability on a global stage will erode purely based on high living costs and an inability to access housing. We need bold action and change now.


What political/legislative changes are you watching (e.g. Vancouver changes that allowed easier intensification) that could reduce the severity of the housing crisis? 


Proof has observed the political and policy landscape around housing evolve dramatically over the past few years. We have already seen some significant policy reforms, including Bill-23 here in Ontario and the Missing Middle Housing Initiative (MMHI) in Victoria, but there is always room for more. 

We believe that Ontario while moving in the right direction, is not going far enough. Allowing the provision of three units on any single-family lot is largely the legalization of what already happens in most urban contexts like Toronto. 

Policy could go further, much like MMHI in Victoria, which eliminates single-family zoning and allows up to six units on every lot and 12 on corner lots in neighbourhoods. We suspect we will move towards a similar model in more cities across the country. The elimination of restrictive zoning altogether, and consequently the need for case-by-case site plan approvals for small projects, is something we are looking forward to in a future policy landscape. 

What is needed more than anything is clear and bold policy that replaces outdated models, as opposed to the continuous amendment and policy layering, which contributes to increased complexity, red tape, and costs. 


How are we going to change how we live in our homes? 


Changes in home use occur in response to shifting social conditions and economic demands. We were already witnessing market-driven shifts in use and tenure emerge before the pandemic, including the rise of live-work, fractional and co-ownership, and multigenerational housing models— all of which responded to eroding affordability and limited supply. 

What COVID-19 amplified more than anything was the further conflation of domestic and professional environments. This put a lot of strain on residents as, in most cases, their housing was not designed to be multi-functional and act as the office, school, daycare and primary residence. 

In fact, most modern planning is grounded in the separation of uses into distinct areas of the city, and the pandemic really challenged that. 

While we will not have a pure work-from-home regime in the future, a need for multi-functional housing assets is clear. Our housing product, named the Future-Proof Home internally, was designed to accommodate shifting demands across the life cycle of a home. 

It is an adaptive house that can be easily and cost-effectively reconfigured from a single-family home into a small apartment with up to 4 units, with several other units mixes in between. 

The adaptability of the asset allows for a variety of tenures in one house, including rental, live-work, multigenerational, and co-ownership. Its design serves as the genetic basis of other low-rise housing types like stacked townhomes and rowhouses. 

By designing with change in mind from the onset, we can ensure that housing remains useful for longer and provides new forms of value in the future. 

This is really our primary thesis at Proof, that in a time defined by transition and change, buildings should be able to respond to suit.