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Montreal to use right of first refusal on properties for sale in bid to boost social housing

Click to play video 'City of Montreal stakes right to claim property for social and community housing projects' City of Montreal stakes right to claim property for social and community housing projects
The Plante administration has given itself the right of first refusal on vacant land or buildings in so-called "priority" sectors. – Feb 17, 2020

The City of Montreal is exercising its right of first refusal on purchasing land for sale in a bid to create more social and affordable housing units as renters face a 15-year low for vacancies.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante unveiled the plan on Monday, saying the city will have the opportunity to buy land or buildings that are put up for sale in priority sectors.

“It’s a solution that will allow us to offer quality housing at affordable prices and to maintain diversity in our neighbourhoods,” Plante said.

The new strategy is the first of its kind in Quebec and under the plan, the city will have 60 days to make a decision when targeted land goes up for sale.

READ MORE: Montreal renovation program for low-rise apartment buildings prompts concerns from housing advocates

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The city is specifically looking at 300 lots in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Plateau-Mont-Royal, Sud-Ouest, Verdun, Ville-Marie and Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension boroughs.

Those boroughs are where the real estate market is booming but the need for social housing is particularly acute, according to the city. This also includes lots and buildings near the new Université de Montréal campus.

“Other areas may be added over time so we can adapt to changing social and community housing needs,” said Plante.

Montreal, which has long been heralded as a renters’ city, is facing a housing crunch. The average vacancy rate is the lowest it has been since 2005 and the average rent has increased to $841.

The city’s latest measure is part of the Plante administration’s plan to create 12,000 more social and affordable housing units in the city.

READ MORE: Montreal to propose new rules to increase affordable housing

The announcement was met with cautious approval from housing advocacy groups in Montreal. The Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) says more needs to be done.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said spokesperson Catherine Lussier. “But it’s still not enough.”

Lussier is hoping the Quebec government will set aside money for social housing in the upcoming provincial budget this March.

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The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) applauded the initiative, saying on social media there is a “glaring need” for social housing in the city.

Plante said her administration is taking action to address the growing crisis, but she agrees that more is needed to help tenants in the area. She hopes both Ottawa and Quebec will unveil more funding for housing.

“We know the housing needs in Montreal are great. We are well aware of that and we are looking for solutions,” she said.

— With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley and Alessia Simona Maratta