These retired teachers built a $350,000 laneway house. The tenant? Their 30-year-old daughter

Who: Jack Gelbloom, 66, retired music teacher; Jessica Goldstein, 70, retired college English teacher; and their daughter Lee Gelbloom, 30, gardener and contemporary dancer


The history: Jack and Jessica met in 1987, and their daughter, Lee, was born a couple of years later. In 1994, the family purchased a four-bed, two-bath in Seaton Village for $250,000. Over the years, they did some renovations, including a $20,000 backyard landscaping project, which involved tearing down the existing garage.


In 2007, at the age of 17, Lee left home to study in Israel, then got a bachelor’s degree in contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montreal. After Lee moved back to Toronto in 2014, she lived in more than five different places across the GTA, everywhere from an apartment above a fish market in Kensington Market to a friend’s cabin just outside of Brampton. But nothing really stuck.


Then, in mid-2019, Lee heard about the city legalizing laneway suites. Having taken a weekend workshop about building a tiny home just a few years prior, she got excited about the potential for erecting a secondary residence behind her family home. After learning more about the building regulations, Lee approached her parents with a plan. They would take out a mortgage for the laneway suite. Lee would live back there and cover the mortgage in the form of rent payments. It would give Lee a stable place to live while simultaneously improving the value of her family’s property.


Jack and Jessica were skeptical at first. They were unsure about taking on such a big project at this stage in their lives, but they also saw how much Lee had struggled with finding good, affordable housing. So they agreed to meet with a builder. Lee did some research online and found Tony Cunha from the laneway housing design firm Lanescape, who conducted a free property assessment. Since they had a 25-foot-wide lot, Tony said there would be enough space for a laneway suite.


So Lee and Tony started designing. Together, they drew up plans for a two-storey, 1,000-square-foot building. On the ground floor, it would have a one-car garage, a multi-purpose room and a powder room. Upstairs, there would be a kitchen, three-piece bathroom and a master bedroom. The estimated cost, not including upgrades, finishes and appliances: $225,000.


The build: Construction started in late 2019 with expected completion in the summer of 2020. The project went much more smoothly than expected. Even when Covid hit, they were able to continue construction since the builders had pre-ordered most of the materials, so there were no supply or shipping delays. Construction did slow down slightly during Covid, since they reduced the number of workers who could be on-site.


Along the way, Lee and her parents opted for a few upgrades, including larger windows and additional transom windows; rockwool insulation, which is more efficient and sustainable than fibreglass; specialty wood trim on the staircase and window sills; a glass enclosure and custom tile work in the shower; and upgraded stone and Maibec wood siding. Those features pushed the total cost to $350,000.


During the pandemic, Jack and Jessica isolated at their cabin in Brampton, while Lee moved back to their house. One day, late in the summer, Lee noticed construction on the laneway suite was nearly complete. There were no workers inside, so she hauled her yoga mat across the backyard to do some yoga in the suite. During her session, Lee’s father called to let her know that the builders had just given them the okay to move in.


The outcome: Lee spent the next two days excitedly moving small items between the houses. When her parents came back to the city, they helped her move larger items. Lee got some second-hand furniture—including a couch, bed and mattress—from a neighbour for free. In August, Lee finally moved in.


Here’s the master bedroom:


With a built-in open wardrobe:


Here’s the living room. Lee loves spending time reading near the big window in her living room.


And the kitchen:


To subsidize her living costs, Lee rented out the lower-level bedroom to a close friend.


Initially, Lee worried that having her parents nearby would be a major privacy problem. But she says they’ve been respectful of her space. They all plan to spend more time with each other in the backyard once the pandemic ends. In the meantime, they still get to see each other through Lee’s kitchen window.


After bouncing around several apartments across the GTA for the past half-decade, Lee finds it comforting to look out across the backyard and see her parents right there, making coffee or having dinner.


Laneway Housing Options For Millennials — Just Ask Mom and Dad

How do you find a detached home in Toronto for under $500,000 dollars? Anyone in real estate will tell you that’s nearly impossible these days. But the one exception to that rule is laneway housing, which is springing up across backyards in our city and still comes in under that price tag.


Still in its infancy, the laneway trend took off in 2018, when the City of Toronto changed bylaws to allow home owners in most older parts of Toronto and East York to build self-contained residential units in rear yards next to a laneway. The new policy has meant that homeowners who want to build a laneway dwelling on their properties are no longer forced to go through long, contentious consultations with neighbours, city officials and other stakeholders. Now the process is streamlined, and building a laneway house is more like any other construction project in the city: if you get a building permit, you’re good to go. So far, Toronto has approved 52 building permits for laneway suites, with over 50 more under review.


New companies have popped up to serve the emerging market, and some of them have either completed construction on their first builds or are very near completion. One such company, Laneway Home Building Experts (LHBE), is excited about the future and even more excited to see their first builds coming to fruition.


One of the first projectsLHBE landed was a 700-square-foot laneway house behind a family-owned home on Clinton Street. Jack Gelbloom and Jessica Goldstein, a couple now enjoying their retirement, are just weeks away from being the proud owners of one of the first crop of laneway houses to be completed in Toronto after the bylaw changes in 2018.


Jack and Jessica have owned their 3+ bedroom home in Seaton Village for over 25 years. But it wasn’t their idea to build a laneway house in their backyard. It was the brainchild of Lee Gelbloom, their30-year-old daughter. Lee had returned home to live with her parents after experiencing first-hand the difficulties of the Toronto rental market.


According to Lee, “Toronto hasn’t been the best for living situations. I’ve lived in many different apartments over the last few years. At the last place I rented, before I even moved in, the landlord said, ‘We’re raising the rent by $900.’ I went back to live with my parents because of the lack of decent, affordable housing options in this city.”


After visiting Lee in various small, overpriced basement apartments—some with bed bugs, others with obvious fire hazards and code violations—parents Jack and Jessica began to appreciate first-hand the challenges faced in this city by young people like their daughter who are trying to make it on their own.


As mother Jessica says, “It was never my dream when I was young to live in my parents’ backyard. But it was much easier for us when we were Lee’s age to find decent places to live in Toronto. The situation now is completely different.”


Instead of homesteading,entrepreneurial millennials like Lee are approaching their urban home-owning parents with the idea of laneway housing as a solution to many problems at the same time. “At first, I considered asking my parents if I could build a tiny house and put it in their backyard. But when the city changed the bylaws, I saw the opportunity to do something much better than that.”


Lee did the research first to make sure her parents’ property fit Toronto’s guidelines for laneway housing. “I called a lot of places. I talked to a lot of people. The first time I mentioned the idea of a laneway house to my parents, they were not into it. But it didn’t take me too long to convince them.”
“It took overnight. It was that fast,” her mother, Jessica,adds.


Together, father, mother and daughter interviewed various companies and in the end chose LHBE to conduct the custom build. Now, the bespoke 700-square-foot home is nearing completion, and Lee expects to move out of her parent’s home, cross the backyard and reside in their laneway home in about three weeks time.


“It’s a win-win situation,” says her father, Jack. “Let’s face it. We like to know where our daughter is and that she’s safe, but my wife and I also want our privacy back.”


Jack and Jessica fronted all the costs for the one-bedroom, two-storey build, and Lee has agreed to pay rent to her parents once she moves in. “Basically, Lee’s rent money will cover the mortgage,” says Jack. “We’re not out to make money from our daughter.”As for the home itself, it’s a bespoke, one-bedroom home that includes bathrooms on both floors and a studio space on the main floor. Butcher block counter tops, custom shelving and a subway tiled backsplash.


According to Meridian, the third-largest credit union in Canada, if this family had decided to rent their laneway home at market value from the outset, they would be cash-positive from month one and the build would be paid for in 12 years. The house has been built with the future in mind.“If Lee decides to move out,” Jessica says, “I don’t think it would be difficult to rent the laneway home. We could even keep the downstairs studio for ourselves and rent out the upstairs portion, which functions as its own separate apartment.”


As for Lee, she’s excited about moving out–if not moving far–from her parents’ house. “I’ve been constantly moving–from my parents’ place to apartments to house-sits–for five or six years. It’s been years of complete instability. Now I’ll have my own space that I can design. I want a cellar, and a place to make sourdough bread. Having a space that I can call my own will remove a lot of anxiety.”
Jack and Jessica agree with that.


As for LBHE, after just 18 months in business, developer Andrew Fishman is feeling more confident than ever in the burgeoning business of laneway homes. “We’re booming. We’ve signed more contracts over the past month and will be breaking ground in late summer and early fall of this year. Already we are also slotting projects for the 2021 Calendar year. We areconstantly taking calls from families who want to know if there’s a laneway solution for them. There’s a ton of buzz from referrals, because neighbours actually do talk to each other in this city. We’re thrilled to be making a positive contribute to the urban community and of building homes we’ll walk by decades from now and say, ‘We built that. And we’re proud of it.’”