‘It’s Like a Game of Monopoly’

Panel Discusses the Role of Students in Gentrification

  • Gentrification is changing the face of neighbourhoods from St. Henri to Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Photo Geoffrey Vendeville

The Sud-Ouest, Parc Ex and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve are being invaded—by young, nouveau riche professionals and university students.

Traditionally working class neighbourhoods are losing their flavour as developers transform duplexes and triplexes into condos and wealthier newcomers replace blue-collar residents, warned a panel of tenant rights activists at Concordia March 18.

“In our neighbourhood, it’s like a game of monopoly,” said Patricia Viannay, a member of the Sud-Ouest-based P.O.P.I.R. — Comité Logement. “The big players are investors and developers—Prevel, Samcon, Mac—people who are there to make money.

“They come and appropriate the neighbourhood and behave like colonizers—as if there was no one living there before they came.”

According to a recent P.O.P.I.R. study, 2,000 condominiums were built in the Sud-Ouest in the last five years compared to 150 social housing units. P.O.P.I.R. is currently fighting the planned demolition of six buildings in St-Henri that are slated for redevelopment. They are also campaigning against the conversion of Canada Malting Plant into a giant condo complex.

Like Viannay, activists Olivier Prud’homme of the Comite d’Action de Parc Extension and Jonathan Aspireault-Massé, a member of the Comité BAILS in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, say they have noticed the same signs of gentrification in their own neighbourhoods.

Parc Ex is known for its diversity after waves of immigration from Greece, the Middle East, South East Asia and the Maghreb. Today, the neighbourhood is undergoing another transformation as families with young children are being forced out by rising rents and making way for young professionals and university students attracted by the short commute to the Université de Montréal, Prud’homme said.

And more students may be on their way soon. The Université de Montréal is planning to link the northern tip of its still-under-construction Outremont campus to the bottom of Parc Ex on the other side of the rail tracks. According to current building plans, the university will break ground on residences for 1,300 students, including some affordable and social housing.

There is also a proposal in the works to open up Parc Ex—an enclave fenced in by the tracks to the south, Town of Mount Royal to the west, and Route 40 in the north—by extending De Castelnau St. to Ogilvy St.

“They call it revitalization, but it’s also a kind of gateway to gentrification,” Prud’homme said.

Farther south-east, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, another wave of students and young professionals is moving in and changing the face of that neighbourhood.

Rents in the predominantly blue-collar, white and francophone neighbourhood with a small West African immigrant population are rising “slowly but surely,” said Aspireault-Massé.

According to the Comité BAILS, the average rent for a 4 ½ in Hochelaga last year was $664, up from $509 in 2000.

For Aspreault-Massé, the transformation of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has a name. “If I had to describe gentrification in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in only one word it would be, ‘HoMA,’” he said.

Average rent for a 4 1/2 in Hochelaga has jumped 30 per cent since 2000, said Jonathan Aspreault-Massé. Photo Geoffrey Vendeville

“When new people move into the neighbourhood, they find it a little dirty, a little gross,” he added. “Hochelaga—it’s bikers, prostitutes, drugs, crime. So they say ‘We’re going to change that to HoMa because it sounds more like SoHo. It’s in.”

“Whenever the media talks about the neighbourhood negatively, it’s always Hochelaga-Maisonneuve,” he added. “A shooting? Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. A drug bust? Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. A fire? Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

“HoMa never describes the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve of drug dens and prostitutes.”

The panellists urged the 50-odd students in attendance to act soon to fend off gentrification—lest neighbourhoods like St-Henri start to resemble formerly working class parts of Paris that are now expensive tourist traps.

Event moderator Ted Rutland, an urban studies professor at Concordia, said students can make a difference by keeping an eye on their rent increases.

“When you refuse an illegal rent increase, that’s an individual action that we take which is actually a demonstration of solidarity,” he said.

Rutland supervised a study that was released this year, which found that gentrification in Rosemont-La Petite Patrie is responsible for pushing out about 20 tenants each month.

School of Community and Public Affairs student Lucinda Kiparissis, who co-organized the panel with fellow students Jo Kim and Terry Wilkings, says she’s aware of her role as “a gentrifier” after she moved to the Plateau to live among other English students.

“Being in the city, becoming more cognizant of these struggles is really important for our audience,” she said. “But it’s not about separating people based on who they are. Everyone can participate in it.

“Students not only play a role as gentrifiers, they also play equal roles as activists.”

Correction: The caption for the second photo in this article stated that rents rose by 130 per cent since last year. In fact, it rose by 30 per cent. The Link regrets the error.

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