Landlords sound the alarm while other advocates say more can be done
Advocacy groups for social housing in Montreal have praised Mayor Valérie Plante’s use of the right of first refusal law, which gives the city priority in purchasing properties over private buyers for the benefit of the community.
The law, granted by the Charter of Ville de Montréal, was created in 2016 to afford the city greater powers in developing urban planning projects. Since then, the Plante administration has said it would use the law to help tackle the city’s affordable housing problem.
However, some groups representing landlords insist the city’s decision to purchase buildings for the purpose of social housing is a costly mistake.
Matthew Pearce, former CEO and President of the Old Brewery Mission, told The Concordian that the acquisition of Parc-
Extension’s Hutchison Plaza in September was a good start.
“[The mayor] should see the acquisition of the Hutchison building as the first in an ongoing process of purchasing of buildings that become available.” The creation of the law allows the city to compete with the deep pockets of private developers, he said.
About 20,000 families are currently on the waiting list, he explained.
“There are many people who aren’t homeless but are very precariously housed. Anybody who is without housing should have access to affordable housing.”
However, not everyone agrees with the mayor’s decision.
Martin Messier, President of the Association des Propriétaires du Québec told The Concordian that the right of first refusal should only be used in exceptional cases.
“We think the best way to help the tenant is to provide financial help so that they are able to really choose the location and make sure that we have diversity in a building, so not only tenants with the same profile. I think it’s a win-win for the tenant and the landlord.”
Hans Brouillette, Director of Public Affairs at Corporation des Propriétaires Immobiliers du Québec, said he recognized that the private market is incapable of fulfilling the needs of all tenants. However, he stated that the city’s move was unnecessarily expensive and inefficient.
Aside from buying the property, the city will have to renovate and manage it, he said.
“The same amount of money would have helped many more households if it could have been used to keep tenants in their current apartment in the private market, or even to help them to move to a better apartment.”
“If some types of apartments are not available then the city should support promoters with subsidies to build those apartments,” he said. “It’s all politics. It’s an administration against landlords.”
In response to assertions about the private market’s effectiveness, Darby MacDonald, a community organizer at Project Genesis, told The Concordian that social housing “exists and is successful because it exists outside of the private market that isn’t serving the needs of its people.”
“Subsidies alone won’t resolve issues of people who require housing, and many of those who accept subsidies find themselves in difficult situations,” MacDonald said. One woman, she explained, accepted an apartment subsidy for five years but the landlord renovicted the building’s other inhabitants. “She’s the only person remaining and doesn’t have electricity.”
“The solution is for the government to step in and take care of the community the way that it can.”
Photographs by Christine Beaudoin