Young Canadians being left out of the housing conversation. We need innovation—now.

By now it should be well-understood Canada has a housing crisis. Cost, inventory, housing form, location; all sectors and factors in Canada’s housing calculus are being called into question and under pressure.

And as with any good crisis, decision-makers and elected officials have been rolling out policy announcements and solutions in response—for seniors, low income families, new Canadians and other sectors of the population.

But absent from this list and absent from the housing conversation are young Canadians. And that should be a concern for all of us.

The central focus of my work for the past 30-plus years has been around understanding the attitudes and behaviours of young people in their late teens and twenties in order to create positive change; not only for young people, but for cities, which need youthful energy to grow and thrive.

I lead an organization called Youthful Cities, a “think-and-do tank” that conducts research and gets to work on practical solutions to the challenges our research uncovers. Our research over the past 15 years shows that affordability is always a concern for young people. So are issues like jobs and climate change. But the delta between those concerns is bigger than I have ever seen.

And the biggest driver of affordability? Housing costs. Buying a home hasn’t been an option for most young people for a long time, but with single rooms in Toronto and Vancouver pushing $1,000 a month and one-bedroom apartments pushing $3,000, now they can’t even afford to rent.

At the same time, we also have a “cities” problem. Remote work means too much vacant office space. Recent studies show downtown B and C class office vacancies in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary pushing 20-36%. Vancouver sits at almost 12%. That’s hollowing out our downtown cores as shops, stores and services close.

When our Youthful Cities team saw these affordability and office vacancy numbers, we knew there had to be a creative way to bring experts together to connect these problems and engineer a solution.

The result? A new modern approach to co-living for young professionals by repurposing vacant office space into shared living locations—downtown, where young people want to live, work and play. We call it Toboggan Flats.

Young people get their own private room, but share kitchens, bathrooms, laundry and lounges, creating an upscale, elevated co-living community for young workers, complete with  fresh design, concierge services and cleaning.

Our model treats a building’s existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure as features, not bugs. We work with what’s there and adapt the space for living instead of working—saving time and money while creating apartments for young Canadians at rents half the price of a typical downtown rental. Money saved they can use to start building a nest egg for what’s next.

Co-living is proven. It’s happening around the world. Young people are already living in shared spaces—with roommates or still at home with family—but without cleaning services, 24/7 concierge and security, and high-end appliances.

Co-living provides building owners with stable rental streams instead of sitting on empty space. Repurposing floors, as opposed to full building conversions to condos, can happen quickly and cost effectively (and conversions don’t solve the affordability issue; they just create more high-priced condos).

Canada says it’s looking for housing innovation to solve the affordability crisis. Toboggan Flats, is an elevated, modern, innovative approach to co-living that can happen fast—and meet the needs of young people ready to launch without the added drag of housing costs they simply can’t afford.