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Who Owns the Streets? In Toronto, Parking is Often Kicked to the Curb

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Big cities have big parking drama — if housing is tight, then housing a vehicle isn’t going to be easy either.

And that drama trickles down to the realities of street parking: side-view mirrors snapped off, handwritten notes threatening to call police, homeowners spray-painting their streets. Toronto’s street parking numbers, however, don’t reveal widespread dysfunction, just pockets of demand outpacing supply.

There are roughly 80,000 street-parking permits available each year and around 60,000 are issued, according to figures sent by the City’s media room. Across the inventory of 110 permit areas and 400 street-specific permitting programs, about 35 are at capacity — residents that are left out are added to a waitlist. Temporary accommodations, if available, includes public or private lots, the City says.

READ: Do Recent Changes to Minimum Parking Requirements Flip Toronto’s Development Script?

For Jamie Dempster, RE/MAX realtor and broker of record, a parking space is still a must-have for his clientele, even downtown. Some couples embrace cycling and walkable lifestyles, but once kids arrive, they want the car.

“Buyers who are going to spend $2M on a property, they just expect to have a parking space,” Dempster says. “So there’s definitely some headwinds. When you’re trying to sell a property without parking, it just becomes a different challenge — you have to offer buyers other solutions. In the listing, you have to say street parking at this price can be added, or sellers have been parking on the street in front of their house with no issues for ‘X’ amount of years, or doing the research of figuring out if the area allows pad parking.”

On a $2M home, Dempster says parking can represent a swing of roughly $100,000 in sale price. He has an unlisted property right now with a mutual drive that cannot fit a parked vehicle, so he’s looking into pad parking before it goes on the market. 

“More House and Less Car”

Parking can be a deal-breaker for many, Dempster says, as trudging through the snow from a car parked several blocks away — with children and groceries — may not match the homeownership dream of a multimillion-dollar property. And there are many other reasons why buyers need the parking space.

“I work with a lot of doctors who have to leave for emergency purposes in the middle of the night,” Dempster says. “And if they don’t have a spot right there, then that becomes an issue obviously for somebody else’s health and wellbeing.”

Wins Lai, realtor and Living Realty Inc. broker, sees a mix of buyers’ preferences. Her clientele is often buying in the core and frequently millennial — some buyers are diehard car owners, others are willing to let go. Some buyers don’t even have a car but still want the space in case guests visit.

“A lot of first-time homebuyers I work with will forego the car, if they’re smart enough — money-savvy enough — to get more house and less car,” she says, pointing to monthly car costs reaching as much as $1,000 and gas prices hitting new records. “A lot of people are like, ‘If I am working from home, then I don’t need a car.’”

Lai is an avid cyclist and admits she keeps a car for her realtor role but hates city driving — she’d otherwise be content with bike and streetcar options. But for car lovers, she advises buyers against the massive, hard-to-park SUVs, and expensive new models that will likely take hits on the street — she sees many side mirrors taken out by cyclists.

“If you have this car now, you might as well get rid of it because you have to park a street away when you have free parking,” she says of advising her clients. “But these are people that have made the decision to buy or rent in the city — so I would say the city isn’t going to change for you. You might as well move to North York for Scarborough if you want that space, right?”

“You’ll Have Some People Taking Spray Paint Cans Out”

The Davenport neighbourhood topped the list of parking-related complaints from 2017 to 2021, with 354 complaints for illegal off-street and on-street parking, which includes permit-holders who are not following rules properly and cars parked illegally on front yards or boulevards. The area with fewest complaints was Don Valley East, with just 35 over those five years, according to City figures.

Lai says High Park and Trinity-Bellwoods — her own neighbourhood — are probably most frustrating for residents that need parking. But for Rosedale, Summerhill and the Annex, she thinks people are accustomed to street parking, and transit connections relieve some of the pressure of car ownership. Many buyers already know these areas, she says, and expectations are in line with reality.

READ: Lot Splitting — When the Land is Hotter Than the House

“They made a cognizant decision to live here, they’re not complaining,” Lai says. “But it’s more like the new people that are coming in and buying the houses [that are frustrated.]”

As for Dempster, he says some areas hardest hit by parking demand include the Junction, Leslieville and The Beach. In Davisville, his own neighbourhood, the popularity of Bayview’s shops have pushed locals to carve out parking boundaries.

“It’s hilarious, you’ll have some people taking spray paint cans out and really marking off their territory of where you’re allowed to park in front of their house so that you don’t block their driveway, you’ll have people putting up signs,” Dempster says. “It’s funny to see. And it’s not coming from a negative point of view … It’s mostly because they don’t want somebody blocking them in.”

Major arteries with popular retail, school zones bringing swarms of cars for drop-off and pick-up, and seasonal draws such as Leslieville and The Beach can be a “nightmare” for residents, Dempster says. He thinks the City should make parking pads easier, in absence of other options — especially if new bike lanes are being introduced to a neighbourhood. 

“I don’t see a lot of people getting into arguments and fights over it,” Dempster says. “I think for the most part there’s a lot of people that live in harmony with it. But there is obviously the exception, not the rule, where neighbours are going to squabble.”

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