A Montreal developer is reusing stairwell space to create tiny homes amid the housing crisis

Published September 17, 2023 at 10:27 PM ET

A Montreal developer has turned what were once stairs into tiny homes. (group forum)


Across the country, residential space is limited, especially in crowded downtown neighborhoods – a challenge that is prompting some developers and renters to repurpose neglected space into unconventional homes.

Tayseer Najm, a third-year engineering student, is slowly settling into his new place, a small brick building in Montreal that was once part of a larger building.

“I’ve hit my head at least three times already,” Najm said with a laugh as he led the camera crew around his bedroom, where a sloping ceiling hangs over a bed that takes up most of the room.

This one-bedroom, one-bathroom is smaller than any place the star has lived before. Spread over three floors, the entire living space is just 350 square feet.

“The first thing that came to my mind was how am I going to be able to work in this place, it’s a really small place,” Najm told CTV National News. “Where am I going to put an office here?” But then I found out they actually have an office here.

The small desk, which folds into a box on the wall when not in use, comes with the apartment, already furnished with pieces chosen to fit the small space.

Located steps away from Concordia University, Najm’s apartment is part of a project aimed at finding innovative ways to make the most of downtown residential space.

A real estate developer has converted century-old brick structures that were long used as back stairs into six tiny homes.

“We took the stairs that were fire escapes at the front and moved them outside so we could then use this space, which was a great space because it was a brick structure, so it had the bones we needed to rework the interior,” she said. Lexa Serafini, director of residential development at Groupe Forum, told CTV National News.

“Otherwise it would have been just wasted space and it would have been a wasted opportunity.”

Read more: This Toronto renter had no problem finding a roommate to share their bedroom for over a thousand dollars each. Here’s why this is a problem

The rental market has become increasingly risky for renters in Canada amid a housing crisis characterized by fewer units and higher prices. A 2022 report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) said Canada needs another 3.5 million housing units by 2030 on top of what’s already been built in order to meet the need — a target a CMHC economist said this month may not happen. It can be achieved.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said on CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday that he doesn’t think it’s impossible to build another 3.5 million units.

“I think it will be difficult,” he admitted.

The tiny homes now available for rent in Montreal are all about making efficient use of limited space, according to Serafini, who helped design the units.

The stairs connecting the three levels of each unit have drawers built into the steps for added storage. The narrow bathroom — which has a sink located just inside the room under a ceiling shower head, and a toilet tucked in the back of the space — was inspired by the setup in an RV, Serafini said. Photos of the kitchen show a two-burner stove with a dishwasher and microwave.

The small space was difficult to furnish; The first sofa she chose was too big.

“It was a modular sofa, but it actually wasn’t suitable for walking up the stairs, so I found this sofa that came in three pieces that we put together once we got here,” she said.

The average unit size of an apartment can vary greatly across Canada depending on the city or current rental expectations, but 350 square feet is certainly a small space. A report on rental trends published by Rentals.ca in July 2022 found that the average unit size in Montreal at that point was 773 square feet, while the average rent was $1,719.

Read more: Rental swaps are becoming more popular in Quebec as rents rise

A report released by the same company last September found that rent in Montreal is growing rapidly, with annual growth of 16.4 per cent pushing the city’s average rent to $2,001, the first time it has exceeded $2,000.

Tiny home units created near Concordia University can be rented for $1,995.

Are these tiny homes an innovative way to address the housing space shortage, or are they a troubling symptom of the country’s larger housing crisis? Whatever the case, it’s clear that Najm’s apartment is not a traditional home.

“At first, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll live here for a month and maybe find another place,’ but now I think I actually like it,” Najm said.

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