Hope is on the horizon for Montreal’s struggling students

A new take on student housing finally puts students first.

Students are struggling to find affordable housing in Montreal, and ever since the tuition hikes and the recent rent increase, they aren’t left with many options.

More affordable housing will soon be available for students who need it. A new non-profit housing project has been announced by l’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), a Quebec company that develops student housing. It will be located in the heart of the Griffintown neighborhood, with close proximity to Concordia and McGill University.

This new project aims to create more affordable housing for students. The name attributed to the building is “Le Cardinal,” and will be approximately 18 stories high, housing thousands of students.

According to UTILE’s website, “the 290-unit project meets the growing demand for student housing by creating a living environment that promotes academic success, exchange, and concentration.”

A study conducted by a non-profit organization showed that in the province, 77 per cent of university students are renters. Oftentimes, three or four students are crammed in little apartments because they just cannot afford to pay the rent alone. Many are also unfortunately taken advantage of by their landlords, and this has become increasingly common in the past year.

Craig Sauvé, one of the city councilors of Montreal’s South-West borough, said that many students struggle with inflation and the housing crisis. They have fewer resources to be able to house themselves adequately in good areas with access to public transportation.

Most of the current construction in Griffintown is private housing, built by developers for profit. Even so, because UTILE is a non-profit group, they have different finances. The councilor says having non-profit housing in Griffintown is an opportunity to have two different types of housing in the area.

“When UTILE came to us, at the very early stages of the project, they said they’d like to do something, but it must be at a high density,” Sauvé said.

The city of Montreal and UTILE have both decided that the entirety of Montreal and the Griffintown area would benefit from affordable student housing. Overall, this would help transform the area into a vibrant, diverse, and more sustainable neighborhood.

With gains like that, Sauvé said the council was very receptive to the idea, wanting to correct the past mistakes in terms of affordability in Griffintown. He believes that welcoming more students to the area will also help bring creativity, livelihood, and energy to the neighborhood. The council thinks it’s a big win for Griffintown and Montreal.

However, many residents are not as receptive to the idea. Despite this project being an opportunity to house students in need. Residents are not particularly happy with the new construction plans. They say the 18-story building will be completely out of balance with the neighborhood, sitting twice as high as the residential and historical buildings around it.

The councilors understand their concerns, but this decision was made for the greater good, according to Sauvé.

“When the project was presented to the city council, all 55 members of the committee voted in favor of the UTILE project, it was unanimously supported by all,” Sauvé said. From that point on, the city decided to move forward with the project.

Other Griffintown residents have also spoken out, saying that they very much welcome the project and that it will benefit the neighborhood.

The project is expected to be completed before the start of the school year in 2027.


Housing crisis deepens in Canada

Canada’s housing crisis hits a new low with a 1.5 per cent vacancy rate in 2023, the lowest since 1988.

On Jan. 31, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that Canada’s rental market has hit a new low, with the national vacancy rate having plunged to 1.5 per cent in 2023. This rate, the lowest since the CMHC began tracking it in 1988, underscores a growing crisis in housing affordability and availability across the country.

The CMHC’s annual Rental Market Report paints a concerning picture of the state of housing in Canada, where demand for rental units far outstrips supply. This imbalance has put renters in a tight spot, facing increased competition and higher costs for available spaces. With average rent growth for two-bedroom units hitting 8 per cent in 2023—which is well above historical norms—the financial strain on Canadian renters is intensifying.

Urban planner Jason Prince, has two decades of experience in housing and community development. Currently teaching at Concordia’s School of Community & Public Affairs, he actively shed light on the CMHC’s findings in an interview with The Concordian

“When the vacancy rate falls below 3 per cent, tenants are at a disadvantage,” he explained. This situation gives landlords the upper hand, enabling them to set rents at will, due to the scarcity of available units.

The roots of this crisis, according to Prince, can be traced back to systemic issues within Canada’s approach to housing. He referred to a continuous rise in construction costs and a significant reduction in federal investment in affordable housing since the early 1990s. 

“The federal government has not been actively constructing permanently affordable rental housing like it used to,” Prince stated, highlighting a shift away from social and community housing projects that once provided viable options for lower-income Canadians.

Prince believes that the solution to this problem is not as simple as increasing the total number of housing units. “Building condos and new rental units that nobody can afford are not solving our housing crisis,” he said. Instead, he advocates for a substantial investment in social and community housing—tens of thousands of units that are permanently affordable and not subject to market fluctuations.

To address this crisis effectively, Prince calls for a comprehensive national program focused on community and cooperative housing. He stressed the need for a collective effort that employs the resources and tools of municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Such a program would mark a significant shift towards de-commodified, nonprofit housing models, away from profit-driven market dynamics that exacerbate affordability issues.

The Montreal-based urban planner further suggested that smart development around transport nodes can enhance accessibility and affordability, reducing the need to encroach on green spaces and agricultural lands. “There is a connection between transportation and housing, but it must not destroy our remaining green spaces,” Prince asserted.

As Canada grapples with this housing crisis, Prince’s insights offer a path forward that prioritizes affordability, sustainability, and inclusivity. His call for a critical mass of nonprofit housing stock and a reevaluation of urban development strategies underscores the urgent need for a shift in how Canadians think about and address housing. 

With the CMHC’s report laying bare serious challenges, the time for action is now, lest the dream of affordable housing for all Canadians slips further out of reach.

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