For the past four years, Fedja says they have seen their affordable neighbourhood in the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension transform into a renter’s nightmare.
“It is officially one of the more expensive neighborhoods to live in. The rate of eviction is unbelievable, reno-victions, shady landlords…” said Fedja, who is an activist with housing rights group Parc-Ex Against Gentrification.
The City of Montreal has taken a step they believe will bring some relief: it has bought the building known as Hutchison Plaza for $6.5 million in order to turn it into 40 social housing units.
“It’s going to allow us to preserve diversity, social diversity, economic diversity,” said Rosannie Filato, the city councillor for the Villeray district.
“It’s going to allow also residents of Parc-Extension to continue to reside in their borough, in their district.”
To make the deal, Montreal is using its pre-emptive right for the very first time. The right gives the city priority to acquire a lot or a building over any other buyer in order to develop schools, libraries or social housing.
The city says that last February, it put its pre-emptive right on 120 lots across the borough and could end up purchasing them if the owners decide to sell.
The lots are located mostly around the Marconi/Alexandra area.
“It’s a place where there are many needs for social housing because it’s a sector in transformation,” said Robert Beaudry, the member responsible for housing in Montreal’s executive committee.
Growing demands to fix Montreal’s social housing problems
Fedja says she considers the city’s efforts a positive step.
“It’s a huge success for us for now, but our struggle continues,” Fedja said.
Alessandra Renzi, a Concordia University Professor and researcher agrees.
“This is only a drop in the bucket,” Renzi said.
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Renzi is a member of the Park-Extension Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, an independent research project documenting gentrification in the area.
She says gentrification sped up after the new Universite de Montreal campus set up shop, pushing landlords to evict longtime tenants in favour of students.
Renzi also says the city’s purchase of Plaza Hutchison is a good first step but more needs to be done.
“Solutions would be affordable housing for students, more affordable housing for residents and rent control,” Renzi explained.
The City of Montreal says it will consult with the community in order to determine who will be eligible to live in Plaza Hutchison’s future social housing.
However, the city doesn’t know when it will be able to complete the project because it needs the provincial and federal governments to release the $1.4 billion in funding they promised to finance housing projects.
Ottawa and Quebec are currently negotiating the terms of that funding.
City of Montreal stakes right to claim property for social and community housing projects