Members of Park Extension community rally for social housing

Comité d’action Park-Extension members and tenants rally outside Montreal city hall to ask the city to purchase an available plot of land in their neighbourhood to build social housing in their community.

During a Montreal city council session Monday evening, Park Extension residents gathered outside city hall demanding the city and their borough to purchase a plot of land located on 700 Jarry St. W. to create social housing for community members affected by hiking rent prices and evictions.

Comité d’action Parc-Extension (CAPE) wants the city of Montreal to purchase the land to build a social housing project that will provide 50 units for people who are in need in the community.

Sohnia Karamat Ali, organizer of tenant strikes at CAPE, explained that the community houses a lot of lower-income families and tenants who have dealt with rising rent costs and a lack of affordable housing.

“In Park Extension it has been long that nothing has been added regarding social housing. Every time we demand social housing we get this excuse that there is not enough land.”

CAPE member Amy Darwish said now is the time for the city to act and provide social housing for their community. “This is a project that has been by and for tenants of Park Extension in a neighbourhood that really needs them. It couldn’t possibly be more urgent, too many of our neighbours are being displaced by rising rents and evictions.”

Organization leaders say that now is the perfect time for the city and borough to purchase the land and create a co-op social housing program. “We say that housing is a basic human right and has to be respected by the governments. Especially in Park Extension it’s mainly low-income families, either on welfare or working poor. So to bring some instant relief in their life, social housing is the response,” Karamat Ali said. According to a 2016 joint study on working poverty by Centraide of Greater Montreal and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, 30.7 per cent of Park Extension’s population are working poor, making it not only the highest rate of working poor in the city but also one of the poorest neighbourhoods nationally.

Mohammad-Afaaq Mansour, community organizer at CAPE said that since the land has been on sale, there have been constant biddings for it.

“Last year there was almost a luxury condominium project that got built but with community support it was defeated and the borough voted against it.”

CAPE is asking that the city of Montreal uses its resources to purchase the land and create something beneficial for the community rather than have the land be used for privatized projects that can ultimately speed up gentrification in the community.

“Park Ex has always been a community that has been disadvantaged, there were always housing problems. Now we have problems related to evictions, renoviction problems, and people are getting evicted because there’s a new potential market from students and professionals from the campus,” Afaaq Mansour said, referring to Vanier College’s Park Ex campus. “That is what’s pushing out the existing tenants.”

CAPE and Park Extension tenants will continue to fight for the community and their neighbourhood that becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to gentrification. “Park Ex is going to look beautiful in 20-30 years, but there’s going to be an existing community that will be forever gone,” Afaaq Mansour said.

“That’s what we’re fighting to keep. This condo project was a smaller issue that contributes to a larger problem so we really want to have some partial victories along the way and hopefully this is a site that cannot be lost for the residents of our community.”

Photos by Gabriel Guindi


Housing advocates laud Mayor Plante’s social housing move

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-

A mock advising session was at Project Genesis, a grassroots organization that helps the community resolve social issues, such as housing problems and basic income insecurity.

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.”

Community organizer at Project Genesis, Darby MacDonald

“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

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