Anti-Gentrification Protesters Disrupt Université de Montréal Celebrations

Residents Say New Campus is Pushing Them Out of Park Extension

  • Protesters gathered on Saturday afternoon at Université de Montréal’s new science building in Park Extension to disrupt their opening celebrations. Photo Marcus Bankuti

A few dozen protesters disrupted Université de Montréal’s new science pavilion opening celebrations in Park Extension on Saturday to denounce gentrification.

The event featured music, kiosks, food, and tours of the new science pavilion. Most attendees were families.

Protesters said since the campus started being built, rent has gone up in the historically diverse and low-income neighbourhood.

“Their arrival has meant rent hikes, evictions, luxury condos, and restaurants opening where businesses used to be. Most of all, it’s meant entire families being on the street this July and people being displaced from the neighbourhood in general,” said Amy Darwish, from the Comité d’action de Parc-Extension.

Residents of Park Extension denounced the project, saying that it’s contributing to gentrification and forcing them out. Photo Marcus Bankuti

Protesters also said the city promised 225 new units of social housing in the neighbourhood, but missed their target, building only 53 units—of the 104 new residential units being built in relation to the campus’ opening, none are social housing.

The city believes these changes will “revive the neighbourhood,” but “Park Ex isn’t dead,” said Darwish.

“This is a question of class,” said Park Extension resident Maxine Hannah. “I’m all for progress, it’s great. But, when a new group moves in and doesn’t support the community that’s there […] we’re not people with inordinate amounts of money, but these are our homes, this is our community, and you can’t just move people to the fringes.”

Hannah has been in the neighbourhood for nearly eight years and said in the last year she’s seen dramatic changes in the neighbourhood—changes she, along with many others, find do more harm than good.

After gathering at Acadie metro station to give speeches, the protesters walked through the campus celebration, waving banners and chanting “Park Ex is not for sale.”

Over the last year or so, Park Extension residents have seen rent hikes, and new developments prioritized over social housing. The city promised 225 new units of social housing in the neighbourhood but delivered only 53. Photo Marcus Bankuti

Josie-Anne Savoie’s boyfriend works as a student advisor for the university, so she came to the festivities with her kids. She said she didn’t know they would be disrupted, though she had a feeling protesters may turn up.

Savoie said she sympathizes with the members of the community who are affected by this change, and some of her friends who live in the neighbourhood have had their rent increased since the campus started being built.

But, she said there isn’t much space in Montreal to put up large buildings, and the lot where the campus was built was abandoned for years.

“It’s a good idea for [Université de Montréal] to expand but this means that Park Extension will change,” she said. “It’s great for the university, it’s a nice campus and they needed more space, of course. They put a lot of money in there but not for the rest.”

Several students interviewed by The Link said they don’t think the university and its students should be blamed, though none of them were comfortable giving their full names on record for “fear of social repercussions.”

One biology student said he never really considered this point of view and doesn’t think others have either‍. But, when asked if they think students would care if they were informed, two interviewees said no.

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