Long co-op wait lists, maintenance issues becoming a crisis in Montreal: housing advocates

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Co-op housing woes
The city of Montreal has plans to develop more social and affordable housing, but housing advocates say the complicated challenges around co-op housing are being ignored. – Oct 4, 2019

A crisis is brewing in Montreal’s co-operative housing sector, according to housing advocates who say space for new families is limited.

“We have lists and lists of people waiting to get into a co-op, and it’s really tight,” said Gilles Nadon, assistant director general for Fédération des Coopératives d’Habitation Intermunicipale du Montréal Métropolitain (FECHIMM).

According to FECHIMM, almost 20,000 families live in about 600 co-ops in the Montreal area. Now there are more than 2,000 names on a waiting list.

“Seventy people per month are coming here and hoping they will have a place in a co-op,” Nadon told Global News.

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Experts like McGill architecture professor Avi Friedman agree that co-op housing is become more and more popular and not just because owning a home is getting more expensive. Friedman, who heads the Affordable Housing Group at the school, said that even among his students, fewer and fewer are interested in buying large suburban houses. They prefer city living in apartments, including co-ops.

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“The sharing economy is no doubt a catalyst for people to get together, pool their resources, find common ground and participate in a project,” he explained.

The city has plans to eventually build more social housing, but Nadon argues there is a more urgent need now — improving maintenance in existing buildings. He warned that some housing units are at risk of being condemned within the next year.

“I would say it’s about 40 to 45 projects that could be in danger of great loss,” he said.

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Being in a co-op means members are responsible for maintenance and repairs.

“You have to set money aside every year because you know at one point something is going to happen,” stressed Carolle Piché-Burton, a member of the Saint-Famille co-op, one the housing co-ops in the Milton Park Community that has existed since the 80s.

Nadon says, though, there are times when repairs are just too expensive.

He pointed out that often co-op members want to save enough for repairs but can’t, and that’s why he thinks the city needs to step in.

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“Because if we don’t take care of these right now that are in place, and there are people living there, there are families in there, what will we do at the end?”

He warns there is an urgent need for better maintenance and is calling on municipal governments to play a greater role.

Montreal Mayor Valérie plant says housing is a shared responsibility between different levels of government but insists it’s a municipal priority.

“It’s important to keep in mind that it is not solely the responsibility of Montreal,” she said. “We are limited in the power we have, but we are dedicated to changing the situation.”

Nadon hopes something happens sooner rather than later.

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