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Quebec unveils measures to help tenants during housing crunch complicated by COVID-19 crisis

A man carries a boxspring up a set of stairs on what has become known as "Moving Day" in Montreal on July 1, 2013.
A man carries a boxspring up a set of stairs on what has become known as "Moving Day" in Montreal on July 1, 2013. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government is investing $71.5 million to help renters as they scramble due to a growing housing crunch compounded by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Our government wants to ensure that tenants looking for housing, especially those on low incomes, will have all the support they need in the coming weeks,” said Quebec Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Andree Laforest in a statement.

The plan comes as the province’s traditional moving day, which is on July 1, looms and vacancy rates remain low. In Montreal, the city estimates about 115,000 people move in June and July — with thousands loading trucks and carrying furniture up spiral staircases on Canada Day.

READ MORE: City announces measures to support Montrealers on moving day

As part of the plan, the province is investing $21 million in emergency funding to help 1,800 low-income households pay their rent.

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Tenants who have lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 health crisis will also be eligible for an interest-free loan up to $1,500. Applicants have until July 15 to request the loan, which will have to be repaid by August 2021.

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Quebecers who are waiting to move to a new home but are facing delays due to the pandemic are also eligible for the reimbursement of household expenses. The province has set aside up to $50 million for this measure.

Cities with vacancy rates under two per cent — such as Montreal — will also get a helping hand as part of an emergency program from last year. This helps municipalities cover the costs of temporary accommodations for residents without a home.

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.

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

The Legault government’s plan was cautiously welcomed by housing advocacy groups in Quebec, who say more needs to be done to ensure everyone has a roof over their heads.

“In the exceptional context of a health crisis and a pre-existing shortage of housing, the help available to tenants asking for help can be summarized at the moment as a list of homes that are too expensive to rent,” said the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain in a statement.

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The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) applauded the plan to help low-income households but expressed concerns about evictions.

As the province’s rental board reopens from the pandemic, the organization wants a moratorium on evictions for another six months to avoid putting more pressure on renters during a difficult situation and housing shortage.

“Several tenants who were waiting for a hearing to take back their homes or for an attempted eviction fear that they will not find a new roof in time,” said spokesperson Maxime Roy-Allard in a statement.

⁠— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier and the Canadian Press