The beginning of summer is a festive time in Quebec. It seems like every day there’s another festival or parade. The first of July, moving day, is another emblematic summer date in the province. It’s a bit of a holiday for Quebecers — since most leases end on July 1. For many people, this move marks the arrival to a new neighbourhood, the beginning of their adult life, or starting their university degree. Friends help each other move, and celebrate each other’s new digs.
July 1, however, isn’t a holiday for everyone. Many are forced to leave their apartment because they cannot keep pace with the increase in rents, because they can no longer endure unhealthy housing conditions for their families, or because they are simply asked by their landlord to leave the premises.
There’s Stephanie*, who has to leave an unsanitary home today. She has constantly struggled with unrepaired piping problems, mice, and cockroaches — the latter two make it impossible to store food in the pantry and limit access to the bathroom for herself and her children. Regular visits by a team of exterminators did not solve the problem — but they had to sleep in hotels and at relatives’ places during these visits. In an interview at the end of May, Stephanie had still not found housing, despite weeks of research and help from various social and community services.
Or think of Asha, who was asked by her landlord to leave without negotiation, and later learned that he intended to increase the monthly rent by almost three hundred dollars after the departure of her family. We can mention Clemence as well, who was evicted to make room for an alleged family member of the owner who has not moved in, and the apartment sits empty to this day.
The three people mentioned here live in Parc-Extension, a neighborhood characterized by poverty and unemployment rates above the Montreal average, major problems of unsanitary housing, and upward pressure on rents. The gentrification of Parc-Extension, observed for several years now by local activists, will accelerate considerably in the coming months with the establishment of the University of Montreal’s Campus MIL south of the neighbourhood, which will likely further increase the residential instability of the poorest households residing there.
Although these three stories, collected as part of a community-based research project carried out in collaboration with the Parc-Extension housing committee, are taking place in a neighbourhood with specific realities and challenges, they have countless equivalents in the rest of the city. With a steady increase in rents and a vacancy rate estimated at 1.9 per cent in October 2018, which fell to 0.2 per cent for three-bedroom dwellings in central boroughs such as Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montreal is becoming increasingly inaccessible for low-income households.
Although the Montréal Municipal Housing Office's reference service is committed to stepping up its assistance to meet the many housing losses expected today, longer-term solutions must also be put forward. No buildings for low-rent housing have been built in Montreal since 1994, and around 900 households are on the waiting list to access social housing in Parc-Extension alone.
There are many possible initiatives that would help to mitigate the rise in rents and the loss of housing, in both Parc-Extension and elsewhere in the city. The city needs increased investment in legal protections for tenants, including the establishment of a lease registry and the regulation of Airbnb. Land reserves — where the city buys land and doesn’t sell it — are another important tool, as they can prevent the price of land from rising until funding for social housing projects is secured. We recommend that city and borough administrations work, through the available funds in municipal programs and through the provincial housing corporation (Société d’habitation du Québec), on the acquisition of unserviced and dilapidated properties to allow the construction of new subsidized and cooperative housing.
We are facing a very worrying situation, for which there is no “one size fits all” solution, but we can be sure that inaction can only worsen the current state of affairs. For more and more Montreal families, July 1 is no time to celebrate. Measures are needed so that moving day is no longer a moment of desolation, anguish, or despair for anyone.
Shazma Abdulla, Jenny Cartwright, Emanuel Guay, Vijay Kolinjivadi, Alessandra Renzi, Karine Saboui, Aaron Vansintjan, and Tamara Vukov
*All names in this article have been changed to protect the tenants.