One year after having experienced its worst housing crisis in 15 years, Quebec is heading towards an even more catastrophic July 1 “moving day”.
The emergency lists of households that have not found a new roof are already longer than last year’s and the current COVID-19 pandemic could aggravate the problem during the summer.
According to data collected by the Popular Action Front in Urban Redevelopment (FRAPRU), the number of emergency aid requests to the City of Montreal would have doubled compared to the same date in 2019. In Quebec, the list would be four times longer than last year.
“The situation is very worrying,” FRAPRU spokesperson Véronique Laflamme says. “Now we have to see what impact the measures announced this week will have.”
On Thursday, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Andrée Laforest, announced three assistance measures whose total value could reach $71.5 million. First, 1,800 households will be able to obtain support from the emergency rent supplement. This program makes up for the difference between the monthly price of housing and the tenant’s ability to pay.
The other means deployed by Quebec consist of financially supporting the cities which will have to offer emergency lodging to the households that will find themselves on the street on July 1. Then, to grant interest-free loans, payable in August 2021, of a maximum equivalent to two months’ rent for tenants who found themselves in default due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The allocation of a significant number of places in the emergency rent supplement program two weeks from July 1 is good news for FRAPRU, but households still need to be able to sign a lease by then. What complicates the situation remains the very low vacancy rate for rental units in several cities in Quebec.
“In most cities in Quebec, the vacancy rate has plummeted, so the housing shortage is worse than last year,” says Laflamme, adding that “the emergency supplement cannot create housing that does not exist”.
In addition, many families are unable to relocate to their city or neighborhood. These seek not to move too far, in particular not to move away from schools or even workplaces when means of transport are limited.
Last year, nearly 200 households were homeless on July 1.
The COVID-19 effect
If the emergency request lists are already long, they are expected to stretch further over the next few days. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for help appear to have arrived earlier, but the sense of urgency generally leads to an increase in requests the closer we get to July 1.
In addition, confinement aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus has greatly limited the possibility of visiting housing.
“In the greater Montreal area and also in Joliette, where there is a fairly low vacancy rate and a high percentage of tenants, people have had a month to visit housing,” said FRAPRU.
Normally, the peak period for housing visits is in the months of March and April, precisely when all of Quebec was put on pause to fight the pandemic.
“Many households do not have access to the internet, to smartphones, to make virtual visits. And virtual visits have their limits, we do not see mould in virtual visits,” Laflamme said.
Tenants who have not been able to conduct a successful search virtually will therefore have to be satisfied with the remains of the market, that is to say, units at very high cost or units in poor condition, even unhealthy.
In addition, the eviction moratorium, imposed by Quebec during the pandemic, could add additional pressure to the crisis if it were lifted this summer.
Heavy stress to bear
For all those people who see the arrival of July 1 in fear of ending up on the street, the stress becomes heavier and heavier to bear.
This is the case of Lynda Belkhir, who lives with her husband and two children in a 5 1/2 in the La Petite-Patrie area, in Montreal. The family chose this accommodation because the owner had agreed to make a long-term commitment, which would allow the children to grow up with their friends and not to change schools.
Unfortunately, they received a notice of resumption of housing in December. The family contested the takeover before the Régie du logement, but received an unfavorable decision. To complicate matters, the hearing took place in March, but the authority only made its decision on June 5, not even giving Ms. Belkhir and her family a month to vacate their accommodation.
“It was the owner who asked the authority to leave us until July 7 because it would cost him less to pay the movers than on July 1,” says Ms. Belkhir, whose children are four and six years old .
Nancy Bertrand, who lives with her mother and niece in a 5 1/2 in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, in Montreal, the situation is just as agonizing. The three women were faced with a request for repossession by the owner and quickly accepted the compensation offer before knowing their rights.
As the eldest of the trio is over 70 years old, the owner would not have had the right to oust them according to the rules of the Régie du logement.
Bertrand appealed to the support of the City of Montreal and was accepted on the waiting list for subsidized housing (HLM), but the household is at the bottom of the list which has hundreds of names.
“I’m looking at Kijiji, Marketplace, the City of Montreal’s referral service, there are accommodations in our price range, but it’s difficult because either the owners don’t accept cats or they don’t accept cats let my mother smoke, “says Ms. Bertrand.
In order to make the population and elected officials aware of the seriousness of the housing crisis that Quebec is going through, FRAPRU and several partner organizations will hold a week of mobilization.
The first event is scheduled for this Saturday in Montreal, in the Parc-Extension sector. A caravan of bikes and cars will go through the neighborhood in a tintamarre aimed at making the cause heard.
Other activities are planned during the week in the metropolis, but also in Quebec, Rimouski, Longueuil and Sherbrooke. The whole thing will culminate in a rally in front of the offices of the Coalitionvenir Québec on Thursday morning.