[Opinion] How many more condo projects before a real disaster?

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation annual report (CMHC), published on January 26, is clear: the housing crisis is reaching critical levels not seen in 20 years, whether in terms of vacancy rates or the annual increase in rents. If the information comes as no surprise to the housing committees, the report highlights an aspect of the crisis that has been talked about too little: the available housing is overwhelmingly unaffordable for the less fortunate part of the population. In Montreal, 77% of the rental stock available is not accessible to the poorest 20% of the population, and therefore to those who bear the full brunt of the housing crisis.

In Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the largest condo project in the neighborhood has just been validated by the City; a “mixed eco-responsible” real estate project of nearly 1,000 housing units, with the most effective communication that would almost make it pass for a social project. The Canoë project, with its 600 condos, 200 private rental units, 140 places in co-ops, its artists’ studios, its café, its grocery store, systematically emphasizes in its advertisements the notions of social diversity, exchanges and sustainable development. But it is enough to pay a minimum of attention to note that it will only dig the rental disaster in progress.

Canoe claims that the project will stem the crisis due to the creation of new housing. We answer that the median income of individuals in the neighborhood is $2,200 per month, and that the average rent for a two-bedroom condo in Montreal this year is $1,517.

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We would add that most of the housing units in the project are condos, that 30% of the neighborhood’s population lives on low incomes and that for the majority of residents, home ownership has never been an option. Condos have also amply proven that they encourage speculation by exerting pressure on rents, thus precipitating the endemic phenomenon of evictions.

Canoe denies offering a variety of accommodations with 140 co-op places and about fifty “affordable” accommodations. We answer that apart from the fact that these constitute only 20% of the housing in the project, none of the housing offered in the range guarantees affordable rent for modest incomes: cooperatives are certainly no longer synonymous with accessibility today. Today, and the notion of “affordability” as understood by the City is debatable and defined in relation to an unbridled market and not by the real ability of the inhabitants of a neighborhood to pay.

What social mix are we talking about when 90% of housing is reserved for a wealthy population, replacing the original population of the neighborhood year after year?

Poverty and evictions

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve ranks third among the poorest neighborhoods in Montreal, and is one of the poorest in Canada. Three quarters of its households are tenants.

At the two housing committees, not a day goes by without us meeting tenants with low rents who are victims of evictions, most of the time through dishonest strategies. The current crisis is a crisis in which large developers are buying up buildings en masse, in which households thrown out of their homes cannot find housing in the neighborhood, in which the first affected are the oldest and most poor, where one becomes itinerant more easily than one thinks.

We have lost count of the number of households that have been in the area for several decades and are suddenly forcibly pushed off the island. With each passing year, the neighborhood is more transfigured and there is no going back.

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Yet politicians and some economic circles continue to claim that the solution lies mainly in the creation of new housing, and in particular condos. The Government of Quebec, like the Plante administration, continues to kick in the financing of social housing and expects the private sector to respond to the needs of the crisis. Hochelaga was one of the boroughs with the most condo conversions between 2011 and 2019 according to CMHC, and evictions have never been so high.

How many seniors traumatized by uprooting, how many vulnerable people losing their social network, how many families on the street will you stop?

Is it so crazy to want projects that are really adapted to the needs of the neighborhood? Is it so crazy to think that a healthy neighborhood is not a neighborhood where the poor are replaced by the rich, but a neighborhood that takes care of its inhabitants, its seniors, its families, its young people, a neighborhood that preserves its history, its heritage, nourishes its social fabric, and ensures that the improvement of the neighborhood is done with and not against its population?

Now that the CMHC is pointing the finger at the issue of real housing affordability, will you, Mr. François Legault, Ms. Valérie Plante, stop passing the buck to you and really tackle the problem?

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