Social housing committees in Montreal are fed up with the CAQ’s empty promises
Around 100 protesters gathered outside Charlevoix metro station on Feb. 8 to bring awareness to the provincial government’s lack of funding towards the development of more low-rent housing units. The chilly early morning weather would not be enough to stop them.
The basis for the demonstration, led by Projet d’organisation populaire, d’information et de regroupement, was clear: Tenant committees from all over Montreal are demanding the Legault government invest in 50,000 new housing units.
Social housing is usually owned by non-profit organizations, meaning it is collectively owned rather than privately owned. Its purpose is to provide affordable housing to tenants. These establishments are often subsidized by the government, which allows units to be prioritized for those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The Coalition Avenir du Québec announced they would invest more in the units previously neglected under the leadership of Quebec’s Liberal government. In light of this, over 1,100 tenants are seeking affordable housing after being placed on the Habitation à Loyer Modéré waitlist.
The HLM is a low-rent housing program offered by the provincial government that determines whether tenants with low incomes are eligible to apply for low-rental housing based on their income and lifestyles. They may pay rent equal to no more than 25 per cent of their income.
POPIR is an activist nonprofit and community organization dedicated to providing affordable housing. Neighbourhoods that fall under its umbrella include Little Burgundy, Griffintown, St-Henri, Côte-St-Paul, and Ville-Émard in the Southwest borough of Montreal. They led the demonstration on Monday morning.
According to Patricia Viannay, one of POPIR’s leading coordinators, some tenants on the waitlist have been expecting a vacancy for the last 10 years. But without proper funding and no units being developed, the list continues to grow—along with tenants’ frustrations.
Protesters loudly expressed their grievances as they marched down Charlevoix St. yelling “social housing is the way to keep poverty at bay!”
The march ended at the Lionel-Groulx metro station, with a quick stop made outside of the office of the Liberal party’s current leader, Dominique Anglade. Banners were left to commemorate the demonstration’s cause.
“Today, we are marching towards the bureau of the leader of the opposition, Dominique Anglade,” said Hassan El Asri, one of the organizers and representatives of the Regroupement Information Logement de Pointe-Saint-Charles. “Our goal is to reignite a conversation that would prioritize financing and development of public housing at the Quebec National Assembly.”
POPIR did not act alone. They were joined by urban reorganisation groups from all over the city, including Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain, RIL de Pointe-Saint-Charles, Comité logement Rosemont, and countless others. They have been advocating for the construction of more units, which are constantly delayed.
One demonstrator from Rosemont, Gilles Day, said he has been trying to resolve the unsanitary conditions he has been living in with the owners of his unit—to no avail.
“Montreal has been facing a housing crisis since long before the pandemic, and it has only worsened over time.” — Pascale Brunet
Over the months, his unit has been infested with hazardous elements that could pose a danger to both his health and to the health of those more likely to be immunocompromised.
“One time, I had cockroaches. I’ve had bed bugs [in my unit] as well. But the property owners don’t pay attention to their blocks, and we continue to pay the same rates regardless,” said Day.
Many tenants in Montreal have fallen and continue to fall victim to landlords’ negligence. During an ongoing global pandemic especially, some tenants worry that their concerns may not be addressed.
“In the context of the current pandemic, housing is crucial to the protection of every person’s health, especially when we are advised to stay home to protect ourselves,” El Asri said. “But sadly, those living in bleak quarters are left with fewer options.”
He claims the private housing sector is especially touchy on providing equitable conditions for those who are not necessarily able-bodied, including the elderly, and those who have low income.
“Landlords in this sector often take advantage of their affliction, and could potentially repossess units, or evict tenants on false pretences—all discriminatory treatments of those in search of affordable housing,” he said. “Landlords tend to be more selective of their tenants."
“People with low revenues and low income are by definition affected by the lack of social housing,” said Pascale Brunet, an organiser from the Community Legal Services of Pointe-Saint-Charles and Little Burgundy. “Montreal has been facing a housing crisis since long before the pandemic, and it has only worsened over time.”
According to Brunet, the Southwest borough is one of the most affected places in the city. “We have witnessed an explosion of private housing development, in the forms of condominiums.”
Brunet gave the example of one privately owned unit in Little Burgundy, where tenants were evicted in order to convert the building into condos. “People are being kicked out without reasonable justification. It’s especially saddening for those who have been living in these neighbourhoods for 30 years, because they don’t know where to go next.”
“The private market is not fully accessible and does not provide a solution to the housing crisis,” said El Asri. “The only formula that offers a durable solution is public social housing.”