Hands off housing: Hundreds protest Bill 31

Tenants fear housing bill to take away rights essential in finding affordable housing

Photo Defne Veral

On the evening of August 25, hundreds of people gathered in front of Papineau Metro Station to protest Bill 31. The bill would allow landlords to terminate a lease transfer without stating a reason, for which now they have to have a justifiable reason. The crowd was chattering away, sharing their horror stories about their landlords and finding comfort as well as anger together.

Bill 31 has gained controversial attention since its proposal in June by Quebec Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau. She is currently being investigated by the ethics commission regarding her involvement in flipping and reselling property in the past year, which refers to buying property and renovating it to sell for a much higher price, and its potential conflict with Bill 31.

The overarching theme of the protest was promoting the unfair position landlords hold over their tenants. Allowing landlords to reject lease transfers without a reason furthers in solidifying this dynamic by establishing landlords power as near absolute over their tenants. 

Many housing and social activism groups came together in organizing this protest. Amongst these groups were P!NK Bloc, Front de butte pour un immobilier populaire (Flip) and Comité D’actions Citoyens Verdun who intended to express how this bill affects all Quebecers. Chrysoula Stamatakos from the Verdun’s Women’s Centre emphasized her frustration by saying “I hope the politicians will open their eyes a little bit as … they’re living in their own bubble.” She continued to voice her frustration by adding, “If you lose where you’re living, what do you have left after? No stability, nothing. No address, can’t have a job, it’s the basic need.”

Rosalie Belanger-Rioux from the Alternative Socialiste organization labeled the protest as a call to action.

“I think it’s really important that people sort of get together and organize,” Belanger-Rioux said. “We have to be on the streets, on the ground, winning people’s fights and supporting people’s fights. We need to connect all the struggles together.” 

The crowd was filled with signs and banners that read “people over profit” and “housing is a right, not a privilege”. Some signs directly targeted landlords as they read: “landlords are parasites on the back of the working class.”  Their anger also reflected in loud chanting throughout the walk. Amongst the chants were “Les proprios nous font la guerre, guerre aux proprios”, “Duranceaux resign”, and “Legault, Duranceaux on service les proprios”. The chants were blared out along with punk rock songs such as Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill supported by the speakers brought by the organizers 

Protestors were angry with the mismanagement of properties and the lack of government control in the housing market. Robie Schuler was among the crowd. She stated, “If we lose this power, we don’t have anything to control the market and it’s not being controlled by the government at all.” Her sibling Anne Schuler added, “We are really in a crisis right now just finding places to live.” 

Tenants fear Bill 31 will result in a dramatic decrease of affordable housing and are not afraid to take to the streets to prevent it from happening. “I would like for the elected officials to at least hear us,” Cassandre Choquette-Sauvageau said when asked what she expected as a result of the protest. “As members of the civil society and citizens we have our say in this.”

The bill is expected to be in discussion in the fall and passed by late December.