City of Toronto announces a mass timber affordable housing project

If approved, the Brook McIlroy-designed project will create a building with 100 rental units.

The City of Toronto is incorporating mass timber into an affordable housing pilot project, a first-of-its-kind development for the city that will take a climate action approach. If approved, the pilot project would create one of the largest wood buildings in Toronto—a building with 100 rentals.

Designed by Brook McIlroy, the building will use the Toronto Green Standard Version 4, which outlines that 25 per cent of the raw materials meet at least two of the listed criteria – one of which is the wood products must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or CaGBC-approved equivalent.

City-owned parking lot on Dundas Street West to be turned into affordable rental housing using prefabricated mass timber construction, image courtesy of Joe Cressy via urbantoronto.ca.

“Right now, as the construction industry looks for sustainable ways to meet increased housing demands around the world, mass timber is taking centre stage.” says Francois Dufresne, president of FSC Canada. “However, not all mass timber is created equal. It is critical to assess not only the distance the timber needs to travel but also the source of the wood.”

The pilot program will focus primarily on mid-rise development but can also include analyzing both missing middle housing types such as laneway houses, duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings, and tall building development through a mass timber form.

On April 25, Mayor John Tory announced that a Toronto Parking Authority parking lot located at 1117 Dundas Street West near the intersection with Ossington Avenue, will be the operating site of the new pilot program.

“Once the pilot project is up and running,” said Tory, “the results could lead to a new development model which would add a new way for us to address the affordable housing challenges in our city. This is good news for our city and a clear demonstration of the work we are doing to advance new ideas and implement solutions to pressing issues faced by our city.”

During a discussion series, Material Worlds: Mass Timber, hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Dufresne shared that while mass timber remains a better option in construction versus steel and concrete, the worst-case scenario timber design (i.e. sourcing wood from unsustainable sources and transporting it over long distances) continues to emit carbon and contribute to global warming. Whereas the best-case scenario, timber design from sustainable sources transported over shorter distances, can sequester carbon and have a cooling effect.

A great example of the best-case scenario is Origin, a 13-storey, 92-unit building, in Quebec City’s up-and-coming Pointeaux-Lièvres ecodistrict. This project includes 3,111 m3 (110,000 ft3) of FSC-certified Quebec-sourced wood from Nordic Structures. This resulted in the sequestration of 2,295 metric tons of CO2, and the equivalent of 1,000 metric tons of CO2 were avoided by using wood instead of other materials (see case study here).  

Other mass timber projects that utilize FSC-certified wood include the Bullitt Center in Seattle, the Formula 1 Grand Prix Paddock in Montreal, as well as many other projects throughout North America and the world.  

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