ConU Prof Enters Race for Sud-Ouest Borough Mayor

Jason Prince Promises New Ideas About Affordable Housing and Commercial Streets

  • Photo Michael Wrobel

Another Concordia employee will run in the Nov. 3 Montreal municipal election.

Jason Prince, a part-time professor at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, has announced his candidacy for mayor of the Sud-Ouest borough, running under the banner of municipal political party Projet Montréal.

“I’ve always been a keen supporter of [Projet Montréal],” Prince told The Link. “When I was approached this summer to run for mayor of the Sud-Ouest [borough], I didn’t have to think a whole lot about it.”

Prince said the “incredible work” done by Projet Montréal in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough—where no less than six of the seven elected city officials are members of the party—has resulted in a “major leap forward in the quality of life.” He now wants to be part of the team that will bring Projet Montréal’s way of thinking about urban issues to other Montreal boroughs.

The 47-year-old father of two brings to the table years of experience in community economic development. He has a master’s degree in urban planning from McGill University, and coordinated a research project there from 2008 to January 2013 that looked into the effects of large infrastructure investments on different neighbourhoods.

Prince has taught classes in public policy and social economy at Concordia since 2006.

He is joining Concordia’s associate vice-president for external affairs, Russell Copeman, in the municipal election race. Copeman announced on Aug. 19 that he will run for borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce as part of Montreal mayoral candidate Marcel Côté’s coalition.

Revitalizing Commercial Streets

If he is elected Sud-Ouest borough mayor, Prince promises to revitalize the borough’s commercial streets. He says that small businesses can learn several lessons from big-box stores and shopping malls.

“There are things that shopping malls do that main streets can also do,” he said, noting that small retail streets, like shopping malls, can market themselves collectively as a destination for shopping and socializing. “The main streets should be working together as a single entity. They should conceive of themselves as a competitor of the big-box stores.”

Prince said that another thing shopping malls do well—and that local commercial streets can learn from—is decorating the windows of vacant stores. If they didn’t do that, the empty storefronts would make for a more unpleasant shopping environment.

“That would be a strategy to consider when we’re looking at [revitalizing] the main streets; to make sure that even when a store has closed, there’s something animating the window,” he said.

Adding more benches and tables, as well as opening temporary fruit and vegetable stands during the summer, could help to liven up a commercial street and create a destination where people want to go, according to Prince. He told The Link he is committed to solving problems collaboratively with local merchants’ associations and community organizations.

“One of the things I’d like to do […] is to walk that street with the merchants’ leadership and start talking about what we can do,” he said. “There are strategies and tactics that we can use to try and improve the shopping experience for people.”

Creating More Affordable Housing

Another priority for Prince is increasing the amount of affordable housing within the Sud-Ouest borough. He said the borough already has a lot of public housing for low-income families, but that there’s also an “eroding [supply] of private rental housing that has historically been among the cheapest in the city.”

Public housing, he said, is mostly the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments, and he’d make it clear to other levels of government that public housing is a priority for both the city and the borough. He’d like to see an increase in de-commodified housing, with more private rental housing bought by non-profit organizations.

But it’s not just low-income families that are feeling the pressure of rising property prices in urban areas, according to Prince.

“The middle class is leaving the city partly because of the price of off-island homes,” he said, mentioning that properties in the suburbs are often more affordable.

“I think that, more than we might expect, if given the choice to buy [a house in the inner city that is] decently sized and competitive on the price with suburban living, they would jump on it.

“The problem is that the private market is not delivering,” he continued. “Developers are not delivering the kind of housing that people want, at the price that they’re willing to pay.”

Prince is a proponent of community land trusts, which take properties off the speculative market and provide subsidies for people with modest incomes to buy them.

For example, under the community land trust model, a condominium that might normally sell for $150,000 might actually be sold to the first homeowner at the price of $125,000 as a result of government subsidies.

In exchange, the condominium’s price would only increase at a fixed rate, according to changes in the cost of living, for instance. The housing would therefore perpetually remain more affordable.

Prince said that Montreal can use the community land trust model to not only provide a path to home ownership for low-income families, but also to keep middle-class families in the city, creating another “incredible option” for people looking to buy a home.

“I think there’s a place for a couple of new housing strategies in Montreal,” he said.

The Sud-Ouest borough, which has 72,000 residents, is made up of the Little Burgundy, St-Henri, Côte-St-Paul, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Ville-Émard and Griffintown districts. Historically, these were mostly working-class and industrial neighbourhoods.

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