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Golden Mile Secondary Plan Transforms Parking Lots Into Density

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If there is any indication of the power of transformation that public transit has in Toronto, one need not look much further than Eglinton Avenue. It seems that every week on UrbanToronto, we publish a story on a development, master plan, or City planning study that is a direct result of the upcoming Crosstown LRT, which will (hopefully) be complete in three years’ time. This week is no different, as we turn our focus to Scarborough’s Golden Mile.

Currently consisting of strip malls, big box retail, and asphalt parking lots as far as the eye can see, the Golden Mile stretches along Eglinton East between Victoria Park and Birchmount and will soon be home to five new LRT stations. Signalled out as a focus area in the Eglinton Connects study, the City is now working on a new secondary plan for the area in conjunction with SvN Architects + Planners. The City and design team presented their work to Toronto’s Design Review Panel (DRP) recently.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoAerial view of the current Golden Mile, image via Google Maps.

At the DRP, Panel members were presented with three options that are being considered for the secondary plan, with details shown of the preferred option. Each of the three models displayed an ambitious and rather incredible increase in the density along this stretch, essentially building one of the city’s densest neighbourhoods from a blank slate.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoThree alternatives for the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of City of Toronto.

The three alternatives are based on a new finer-grained street grid which would chop up the mega-blocks that currently dominate the landscape. Of note are three main east-west thoroughfares: O’Connor Drive, which would be realigned to form the southern border of the district running parallel to Eglinton all the way to Birchmount with a jog at Warden; Eglinton Avenue, which will contain the main transit, office, and retail uses of the district; and a new Golden Mile Boulevard to the north of Eglinton, envisioned as the main spine of the neighbourhood, with a jog at Hakimi Avenue. Hakimi will become the new north-south neighbourhood spine at the centre of the district.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoProposed block plan for the Golden Mile, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Also consistent across all three alternatives is the parks and public realm plan, which would see three major parks added to the district. The West and East Parks provide secondary green spaces at either end of the district, while the Central Park bridges between Eglinton and the Ashtonbee Reservoir Park to the north, which connects to the future Meadoway along the hydro corridor, and also provides a transition to the Centennial College campus north of the Golden Mile district. Other smaller green spaces are planned, including a South Park and a reconfigured Victoria Park-Eglinton Parkette, relieving it of its current isolation at the centre of a busy traffic triangle.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoKey structural elements of the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Alternative One would see predominantly mid-rises constructed along Eglinton, with taller buildings concentrated to the north of Golden Mile Boulevard along key north-south streets. The tall buildings would be kept away from the major parks, and a transition in built form would be provided to the adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoAlternative One for the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Alternative Two would focus tall building density at three important gateways: the west end of the district, the north centre area of the district, and the east end of the district. The remainder of the neighbourhood would be predominantly mid-rise, with appropriate transition to the adjacent low-rise areas.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoAlternative Two for the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Alternative Three would concentrate tall building density at the five transit nodes, with a central hub at the middle of the district around Hakimi/Warden and Eglinton. In this proposal, Eglinton Square Mall would be left untouched, joining a handful of other large-format retail in the area. The remainder of the district would be mid- and low-rise buildings.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoAlternative Three of the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

All three options are similar in their density and floor space index (which hovers around 2.1-2.3), the ratio of open space to population, the range of housing forms, and the net gain in employment. They differ in their built form, net gain in retail floor area, ratio of people to jobs, and number of distinct districts. The City also noted that all three options have traffic congestion and transit capacity issues, particularly along north-south routes, with Alternative One being the worst culprit.

The City is opting for a combination of Alternative Two and Three as their preferred choice, with density concentrated at transit nodes and a central hub, and the block breakdown and public realm plan as stated above.

The Golden Mile district is also envisioned as being composed of four character areas: the West District, presenting a commercial gateway into the area; the Central District north of Eglinton, which would be the social and cultural hub; the Employment District stretching south of Eglinton, serving mainly as mid-rise employment lands; and the East District, envisioned as more of a residential area.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoCharacter areas of the Golden Mile Secondary Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The Panel offered some words of caution and some suggestions to improve the secondary plan. First, they were unanimous in their opinion that Eglinton should be the main spine of the neighbourhood rather than Golden Mile Boulevard. They argued that as the main retail street where people would be “dumped from transit”, it should play a more prominent role as the connecting street. They also criticized the lack of public realm focus on Eglinton, and suggested that pulling the West and East Parks down to Eglinton, as was done to the Central Park, would create greater connectivity in the neighbourhood. Panelists argued that “there is an opportunity to create a grand boulevard feel” along Eglinton, which is currently lacking in the proposal.

Panel members also urged the design team not to think of the boundaries of the district as such hard edges, and to focus more on the transition to adjacent neighbourhoods. Of particular note was the inclusion of institutional uses, and forming a stronger connection to Centennial College just north of the Golden Mile. Panelists also expressed concern about the transit capacity and traffic congestion issues raised by the City, warning that these could have a detrimental effect on the success of the plan if left unaddressed.

The biggest criticism from the Panel was the lack of a unifying character that connects the four character areas and gives the Golden Mile a distinct identity within the city. They suggested that this secondary plan needs a character study to define what this neighbourhood is, in order to have “a reason why people want to go there, why developers what to develop, and why people what to buy or rent there”. Otherwise, it becomes just another generic development zone in the city, with no uniqueness that would create a true neighbourhood.

Golden Mile Secondary Plan, SvN Architects + Planners, TorontoAerial view of the current Golden Mile, image via Google Maps.

The Golden Mile secondary plan will go before City Council for approval in early 2019. If passed, it will provide the framework for the future development of the district for years to come. For now, work will continue on fully developing the plan, hopefully taking into account the Panel’s comments.

We will keep you updated as the secondary plan evolves, but in the meantime you can get in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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