While July 1 is known as Canada Day, in Montreal, it’s also known as moving day, when yearly contracts on residential leases begin.
It’s generally characterized by a mad dash on rental trucks with thousands of Montrealers with packed-up belongings moving into their new dwellings.
It can also be a moment for get-togethers as friends are often enlisted to help with the moving.
Last year was particularly tough for some Montrealers who were unable to find housing that fit their budget, a problem exacerbated by low vacancy rates.
Recent findings from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report the average vacancy rate for Montreal in 2019 dropped to 1.5 per cent, the lowest it has been since 2005.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante acknowledged Wednesday, that the city’s housing crisis, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, was creating additional challenges especially for low-income households looking for affordable or social housing.
“We know the stress that looking for a place to live creates. Already it’s a difficult situation but now, on top of it all, with COVID it’s more worrisome.”
Plante said the city has been working to improve support measures to help those who have to move this summer.
Tenants with questions are invited to call the city’s 311 line.
“If you’re worried because you don’t have a place to go on July 1 or you haven’t found an apartment, just dial 311,” Plante said.
“That is your main entrance point, from there, we will take care of you.”
So far, 144 households have already communicated with the 311 service but Plante expects that number will increase as the July 1 deadline approaches.
The city has also increased the budget allotted to the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) — the municipal housing office — for its referral services.
The OMHM gives support to vulnerable houesholds in their search for housing and rental assistance when it is possible, Plante explained.
The mayor said the increased budget will allow for a bigger team to better support Montrealers in need.
Plante said on-the-ground support will also be available July 1 for those who can’t find a place to live.
The city is looking at the possibility of housing some people in a hotel requistioned earlier in the pandemic, as well as providing them with storage space to keep their belongings.
“If you haven’t found a place on July 1, we will make sure that you have a place, you have a bed to sleep in and and putting all your stuff in a secure storage,” she said.
Plante said that they’ve asked the province for $5 million to help support tenants struggling to find a new home ahead of the annual moving day.
Tenants rights groups welcome the new measures, but agree with the mayor when it comes to the need for provincial help.
“It’s great news that the city of Montreal is proactive about this current housing crisis but it seems now it’s the turn of the Quebec government to actually do more and get money to the city of Montreal so they can help more tenants,” said Maxime Roy-Allard, of the Quebec Coalition of Housing Committees.
Robert Beaudry executive committee member responsible for housing reiterated the mayor’s message of support.
“We want to reassure Montrealers that see the moving period approaching … that we will be there to support them,” he said.
Beaudry said the city has asked the police department to avoid giving fines to groups who help people move.
“We are very sensitive to the fact that certain households don’t have a choice, they have to move and we want to ease things for them,” he said, adding that it was nonetheless important to respect public health guidelines.
Avoid sharing food or drinks, keep a two-metre distance, wash your hands frequently and wear a face covering when you can’t keep a safe distance, Beaudry said.
He also urged landlords to do their part to help ease the housing crisis. He asked those with vacant units to reach out to city officials and to consider renewing leases for tenants who had said they were going to leave but find themselves in a situation where that isn’t possible because of the pandemic.
Beaudry also asked landlords to consider renting their apartments to Montrealers rather than using available units for short-term rentals like Airbnb.
Martin Messier of the Quebec landlords association said landlords feel like they have been forgotten.
“There are no solutions for landlords coming out of today’s measures, although we’re happy to still participate and make sure that we can do anything to help,” he said, adding the health crisis has created problems for them as well.
He alleges that some tenants are abusing the system and using the pandemic as an excuse not to pay rent and that landlords have no recourse as the rental board is closed.
“That is really frustrating and putting a toll on landlords these days,” he said.
Messier insists, however, the association has the tenants interests at heart.
“We’re also thinking about the tenants, we need them, we need the customer base to be happy and healthy,” he said.
— With files from Global’s Gloria HenriquezView link »