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.

Concordia Student Union News

CSU’s Transitional Housing Project’s second phase unanimously passed

Concordia Student Union continues its program to help students and community members transition out of homelessness.

In their last meeting, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) successfully greenlit the continuing development of the CSU’s Transitional Housing Program. This project was intended to last only until Nov. 2. However, due to its success, it has been prolonged into a phase two until Aug. 2024. The second phase is the continuation of the first phase but with a bigger budget to assist more people.

The Transitional Housing Program gives struggling unhoused students and community members the opportunity to have temporary housing for up to three months while looking for a permanent place to live. 

CSU sustainability coordinator Maria Chitoroaga, who ran for her position because of this project, proposed this program’s second phase in the council meeting. The motion was passed unanimously. 

“This project is very close to my heart. It’s one of those projects that directly impact students’ lives,” Chitoroaga said.

The Transitional Housing Program’s first phase had a high success rate. Half of the people who have been housed have already found a permanent place to live and have graduated from the program. Several people did not need the full allotted three months to find permanent housing. The remaining individuals who need help just recently started the program.

“Our projection was that people would stay for three months, but one person stayed for just under three months, and another only stayed for half a month,” said Chitoroaga.

These people exceeded the CSU’s expectations and became independent faster than expected. However, the CSU’s Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO), anticipates an increased demand in the upcoming months because of the housing crisis.

“I would like to keep seeing ways in how we can enshrine this project so that it is permanent,” said CSU External Affairs and Mobilization Coordinator Hannah Jackson.

The CSU owns three furnished apartment units located close to Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. Since the start of the program seven people have benefitted from the project’s help. These people either lacked stable social networks and were faced with dangerous sleeping spaces or relied on friends, where they could only stay for a few weeks.

“What has been done with the Transitional Housing Project is pretty exciting and unique in terms of what student unions are doing to substantially make a difference with students in precarious housing, which we know is getting worse,” Jackson said.

Students who wish to apply for this program can book an appointment at the HOJO to explain their situation. HOJO’s housing search director then interviews candidates on their situation. Those who do not qualify for temporary housing can still request additional help.

Phase two’s approved budget is $30,000. This will be funded through the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency Fund. The proceeds go to funding the housing search director’s salary, furnishing, operating and groceries for the apartment units.

Towards the end of the meeting, the council touched upon a student-led class lawsuit against Concordia University. This issue is regarding the transfer of information for the purpose of administering Concordia University’s student health and dental insurance plan. This case is still ongoing and has yet to be resolved. 


Know Your Rights: Housing Discrimination

How students can avoid a breach of their rights as tenants.

When searching for apartments online, it is common to see ads where landlords demand that tenants must be employed full-time, must have a guarantor, cannot have children or pets (often regardless of whether they are used for overcoming a disability), and many other examples that infringe on peoples’ rights.

Due to dominant patterns of income disparity and socio-economic disadvantage linked to systemic racism, sex discrimination, and colonization, the result of this kind of tenant selection disproportionately excludes members of groups facing discrimination and gives preference to white, able-bodied households without children.

Many landlords believe it is economically savvy for them to cherry-pick their tenants based around racist and colonial prejudices. Quebec Minister Responsible for Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, in a 2023 CBC interview, stated that “The landlord owns the building, they invested in it and took the risks, and it should be up to them to decide who lives there.” This sentiment is inherently unethical, displaying plainly that our current housing system is not intended to house everyone—landlords alone decide who is deserving of this human right.

With the possibility of Bill-31’s approval approaching, a housing legislation that would give landlords the ability to refuse lease transfers without giving any reason, it is all the more important to remember that it is the groups vulnerable to discrimination that feel these negative effects more powerfully. Already, there is a serious gap in housing accessibility—CTV News stated in 2022 that an Indigenous person living in Montreal is “27 times more likely to be homeless than a non-Indigenous person.”

This housing inaccessibility is only slated to rise as rents increase unsustainably. The Regroupement des Comités Logements et Associations de Locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) analyzed 51,000 rental listings in 2022, and they found that Quebec’s rental prices rose by an average of nine per cent from 2021, with studio apartments having increased by a staggering 19 per cent. To combat these worsening conditions, protests led by housing advocacy organizations have erupted across Montreal.


“Stop evictions” — Quebecers demand better social housing solutions

“Stop paying the rich! Increase investments in social programs!” read a poster

On Feb. 12, hundreds of marchers gathered around Norman Bethune Square and walked through downtown Montreal demanding radical solutions against the current housing crisis in Quebec.

Le Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) and other groups joined to organize the first mobilization of a week of regional actions.

Housing problems are the new normal.

Every day the FRAPRU and other housing organizations see the dramatic effects of the housing crisis, noting the escalating number of tenants who struggle to afford excessive rent increases and face eviction.

“Today, we are going to call on Quebec Premier François Legault to make the housing crisis a real political priority,” said Véronique Laflamme, organizer and spokesperson of the FRAPRU. Excessive rent increases and evictions are a daily occurrence in the province.

“In the last three Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) budgets, there have been 500 new financial, social housing units for all of Quebec. In Montreal, only in the last year, there were 800 new families and households on a waiting list for low-income housing. Twenty-four thousand renter households in Montreal are just waiting for low-income housing,” Laflamme added.

Laflamme explains that the FRAPRU opposes the government’s current plan of privatizing housing assistance.

She says the government should fund the AccèsLogis Quebec program, an initiative created by the Société d’habitation du Québec, which supports non-profit and cooperative housing projects.

Andrée Laforest, minister of municipal affairs and housing and member of the CAQ for Chicoutimi, recently announced the Quebec affordable housing program last week that will expand public funding to the private sector.

The Programme d’habitation abordable Québec (PHAQ) aims to provide affordable housing by having a maximum rent set by the Société d’habitation du Québec corresponding to about the median rent. However, the new program is also open to private for-profit developers.

“As long as we are in capitalism, we will have to fight like this all the time to have access to housing. It is because society that is based on profit and not on the needs of the world,” said Marianne Amiô, member of the Socialist Fightback Students organization.

Maryan Kikhounga-Ngot, an organizer of the Projet d’organisation populaire, d’information et de regroupement (POPIR), is marching to emphasize what they believe is the only option to improve the housing crisis: investing in social housing to stop enriching the wealthy.

“[The CAQ government] wants to kill the AccèsLogis program and replace it with a program that is private funding. To mask it, he says it is an affordable housing program,” said Kikhounga-Ngot. “Someone on social assistance is not able to pay a 4 ½ for thousands and some that is what he calls affordable,” she added.

Protestors also demanded better assistance for the homeless communities in Quebec.

Catherine Marcoux, community organizer for the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM) says 10,000 new social housing units per year is necessary.

“We believe that the Quebec affordable housing program will not meet the needs of homeless people. What we really need is social housing,” Marcoux said.

Another organization marching was La Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal (TGFM). Véronique Martineau, coordinator and organizer, pointed out how the housing crisis affects vulnerable women.

Last year, a study conducted by TGFM showed that women are having more difficulty finding affordable housing due to discrimination and prejudice.

“We doubt that private developers will develop real community housing that will truly meet the needs of women in their diversity,” Martineau said.

“Having funding for social housing adapted to women in all their diversities is a very important issue to overcome systemic barriers such as racism, sexism, homophobia,” she added.

Moving forward, the FRAPRU has scheduled more protests until Feb.18 all around Quebec.  The next protest will be on Feb. 14 in front of Laforest’s office in Saguenay.

Photos by Catherine Reynolds


Tenants in the Plateau are protesting a renoviction

Residents are being asked to leave their apartment for seven months due to renovations

Residents at Manoir Lafontaine were given notice on March 31, stating they must vacate the building by June 30 for seven months, due to renovations. The residents are currently refusing, as they worry this is an instance of “renoviction.”

Renoviction is when a landlord evicts all the tenants under the pretense that a large-scale renovation is needed, and then rents out the apartment at an increased rate once the renovations are complete. Montreal is currently in a housing crisis, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“At first, like a lot of people, I couldn’t sleep. I was shocked to receive the eviction notice in the middle of a pandemic,” said Renee Thifault, who is 67-years-old and has lived at Manoir Lafontaine for over ten years. She explained that many of the building’s residents are older.

“I love my apartment, and I will fight until the last minute to be able to stay,” said Thifault, explaining that she sees the situation as unfair, and is ready to go to the Quebec housing tribunal.

“It’s awful that a person could have so much power to kick people out on the streets with no good reason. And that the government tells us the only way we have to defend ourselves is to take them to court,” she said.

According to a La Press article, the owners of Manoir Lafontaine, Brandon Shiller and Jeremy Kornbluth, own at least 800 apartments in Montreal under the company Hillpark Capital. In 2017 they bought a 36-unit building on Coloniale Avenue, the next year they evicted all but three tenants who refused to leave, and according to the article turned the building into modern luxury apartments.

Cecilia Marangon, assistant at Concordia’s Off-Campus Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO) said that if anyone finds themselves in a situation like this, it is important for them to know their rights as a tenant and make sure those rights are respected.

HOJO offers free assistance on housing and job rights to anyone in Montreal. While Marangon stated they do not give legal advice, they can help inform people of their rights.

“Remember that they have the right to refuse,” she said, explaining that if tenants believe their landlord is evicting them without a good reason, they can refuse the eviction. This is the case for the tenants at Manoir Lafontaine.

“They have the right to know exactly what kind of work is going to be done, to know what is going to be the compensation which needs to be adequate with the rental market,” said Marangon.

She explained that renovictions are not a new occurrence, and it is common for people to come to HOJO with issues relating to renovictions.

Manon Massé, Quebec politician and one of the leaders of the Québec solidaire party, visited Manoir Lafontaine in support of the tenants. She posted on Facebook, “Evictions camouflaged by building work are multiplying.”

“We hope to gain support. And not just moral support,” said Thifault, who was very excited that Massé visited. “I am happy to see that people are coming together.”


Photograph by Chloë Lalonde

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