Peter-McGill Community groups struggle to cope with rising rent costs

Surging cost of living drives many out of Concordia’s neighbourhood

Once considered to be the most affordable city in Canada, Montreal’s rent costs continue to rise at a rate that many of the city’s residents, businesses and community groups are struggling to meet. For many, especially those living in the neighbourhood around Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus, it’s a trend that is putting their future in the area into question.

Representatives from over 11 community groups in the Peter-McGill district, which encompasses both Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus and McGills’ downtown campus, convened a neighbourhood assembly at the School Trades Catering And Tourism De Montréal to address the challenges posed by rising costs of living throughout the district. 

“The focus of tonight’s meeting is to draw attention to the issue of space in the downtown neighbourhood,” said Margot Digard, communications officer for the Peter-McGill Community Council. “We’ve seen a lot of organisations leave the neighbourhood because of issues around rent and not being able to afford services.”

According to data collected by the Peter-McGill Community Council, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the neighbourhood came in at around $1,400 a month, with the cost of a two-bedroom going as high as $2,000 per month in some instances. These rates are some of the highest reported rent prices in the city. 

With demand far exceeding the existing supply, affordable rental options for community organisations based in and around the Peter-McGill area continues to diminish and pre-existing centres are put in jeopardy as property costs continue to rise. Christa Smith, coordinator of the youth group Innovation Jeunes, says her organisation was forced out from their original building after she alleged that the property owner instigated a rent increase in an attempt to get the organisation to forfeit their lease. 

“We spent close to ten years on Pierce Street,” said Smith. “Then in 2018, the owner wanted to increase our rent by almost 40 per cent, which we soon realised [meant] that he basically wanted us out.”

While Innovation Jeunes was able to relocate to a nearby Pentecostal church, this outcome remains the exception to the norm. Maryse Chapdelaine, Project Manager of the Peter-McGill community council, explained that many requests by community groups for additional support from established institutions like the Montréal General Hospital and Concordia University are met with indifference.

“Yes, we tried, but Concordia refuses to open any space to the community,” said 

Chapdelaine when asked if the Peter-McGill Community Council had considered leasing out space from the University. In one instance, Chapdelaine recalled how the University refused to open the Grey Nuns courtyard to the public during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We asked them, ‘can you open them now that there are no students,’ and they said no. And then we asked the city, ‘could you ask Concordia to open the garden’ and Concordia said to the city of Montreal, no,” said Chapdelaine. 

While Concordia does permit outside organisations to rent out space on University property, according to Chapdelaine the hourly rate that is charged by the administration tends to fall far beyond the financial means of most community organisations.

Chapdelaine stresses that there is no ‘magic bullet’ solution for the ongoing affordability crisis in Peter-McGill. Any long-lasting solution must include Concordia, if the University wishes to preserve the neighbourhood it calls home.

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