[Hpn] Housing remains scarce in Montreal

coh coh@sfo.com
Tue, 03 Jul 2001 14:15:43 -0700


The Montreal Gazette
Tuesday 3 July 2001

Housing remains scarce
'A problem, but no crisis,' municipal official insists

The Gazette; CP contributed to this report

When Johanne Jean-Francois finished moving into her apartment in Riviere des
Prairies, she was happy to have a roof over her head.

Into her last hours at her previous apartment on Langelier Blvd. on
Saturday, she hadn't found a place to stay. But with a little luck - and
some help from the Montreal Municipal Housing Office - she found an
apartment and was feeling very fortunate yesterday.

"We were worried. I didn't want to find myself on the street, especially
with the baby," said Jean-Francois, a 20-year-old student with an
8-month-old daughter who had been living with her sister. "We started to
look in January and right up until July, we couldn't find anything that

250 Families Homeless

About 250 Montreal families and individuals found themselves without homes
on Sunday, the traditional July 1 moving day.

But the current housing crunch the city is experiencing was described
yesterday as "difficult, but not a crisis," by the city's housing office.

"I don't think there is a crisis. There is a problem, but no crisis," said
Normand Daoust, executive director of the housing office.

He conceded that "it's worse than last year, that's for sure," but he played
down the number of phone calls for help the office has received, saying that
it was only slightly more than the office receives in an average week.

However, the number of families requiring emergency shelter increased to 51
last night. Thirty families required a place to stay Sunday night. Most were
housed at the downtown YMCA or hotels.

The housing office still has requests for about 100 apartments and Daoust
and his staff are scrambling to find homes for everyone in need. "We think
we can have an address for everyone by the end of the week."

The city has secured more than 150 apartments that it will try to match up
with those who are homeless, but Daoust admitted the apartments available
might not be suited for everyone.

"Usually it's the right size, but for sure there will be families that will
be in apartments that are too small."

Low Vacancy Rates 

Housing activists say that matching people with apartments is a temporary
solution and won't solve a problem that is likely to reoccur, especially
with vacancy rates for two-and-three bedroom apartments at 1.3 and 1.2 per
cent respectively. 

"For the time being, the situation seems OK, but we know some people still
have not called the office," said Sylvain Lafreniere, a member of the
Bordeaux/Cartierville Social Housing Committee.

He added that a lot of people he had spoken to were confused about where to
phone for assistance.

"Many people who we have not reached are living with friends and still
haven't found a place to stay," Lafreniere said. "So the problem is not
solved for now." 

A spokesman for social-housing activists FRAPRU - the Front d'Action
Populaire en Reamenagement Urbain - said this has been one of the worst
years for finding affordable housing in the city and the group will continue
to demand more federal and provincial money for housing initiatives.

"We don't think any families were on the street but we do know a lot of
families found solutions that are going to be very temporary," said
Marie-Josee Latour of FRAPRU.

"A lot of families are living two families in a small apartment. Others went
to friends and some signed leases they couldn't afford to pay," Latour said.

"We understand the (municipal housing) office does not have all the
apartments they would like to have, but what we are asking them is to keep
looking for better conditions for these families."

Difficulties Foreseen

Daoust of the housing office agreed something must be done.

"If the vacancy rate stays at the same levels next year, we will definitely
have difficulties with the same type of clientele," he said.

"I think we must realize that there are people who can't afford to find
housing in the private market with the prices being demanded now, and we
need to support these people. So we'll probably need more housing, because
right now there is none left."

Montreal has long been known for its plentiful, cheap apartments, but now
has its lowest vacancy rate in 15 years thanks to a booming economy, and its
reputation is on the verge of changing, Latour said.

"Three-bedroom apartments can now easily cost $1,000 - in Montreal!" she
said. "So sadly, we are approaching the rates in Toronto."

Yesterday afternoon, Jean-Francois sat in her 4 1/2 apartment, just large
enough for her and her child but not quite big enough for her sister, who
had to get her own 3 1/2.

"It cost us double, but we really couldn't find anything else,"
Jean-Francois said, adding that she now has to take a bus to the daycare
when it used to be a short walk.

But she made it clear she won't be part of the moving-day craze next July 1.
"I'm satisfied and the apartment is in good condition. But I don't think
I'll be moving anytime soon."

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