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Where’s the social housing ?
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 17 février 2011
Photo  Marie Cicchini
A condo project at the corner of Mountain Sights and Buchan.

Members of Project Genesis’ Housing Rights Committee are frustrated by the number of condominiums being developed in the Namur/Jean-Talon sector.

In total, about 1500 condominiums have either been built or are in construction on the site. In comparison, only 98 social housing units have been announced, and these units will be developed on Labarre St., outside of the sector.

An additional $200,000 has been collected from one of the developers and is supposed to be used to buy land in the sector to enable the construction of more social housing units sometime in the future. ‘‘That is just a drop in the bucket for what needs to be done to help people around here,’’ says Albertha Rennia, Côte-des-Neiges resident and committee member.

“The development of Namur/Jean-Talon is a rare opportunity that could give neighbourhood residents a chance to better their lives,” says Myrtle Anderson, long-time member of the committee. “But for the moment, it doesn’t seem as though the borough has seized this opportunity.” With the development of about a quarter of the units already a ‘‘done deal” the members of Project Genesis are becoming impatient.

In December of 2009 residents and community organizations in Côte-des-Neiges spoke out in favour of redeveloping the Namur/Jean-Talon sector in a way that would favour mixed income housing through the development of a large number of social housing units. As 40% of households in Côte-des-Neiges live below the poverty line, members of the committee had proposed that at least 40% of the new homes be social housing units, so that current neighbourhood residents could benefit from this redevelopment.

The borough mayor, Michael Applebaum, has spoken in favour of increasing the number of social housing units in the sector, but committee members are becoming frustrated with the lack of concrete results.

The needs of CDN tenants are enormous. The average rent is higher here than the average rent in the rest of city and the number of tenants waiting for low-cost housing is double the number of units, a unprecedented situation on the Island of Montreal. There are also many apartment buildings that have problems with vermin, mould, heating, and other health and safety issues.

Committee members are not satisfied with the mayor’s explanations as to why there is, as yet, so little development of social housing. For example, it has been said that the social housing units will have to wait until after the construction of the condos in order to ensure that the borough can finance the construction of aqueducts and other infrastructure. Daren Laine, another member of the committee asks ‘‘Why are the poor always the ones who have to wait?

Families and single people who can`t afford to pay their rent are getting tired of waiting for social housing while we watch condos sprouting like weeds in Namur/Jean-Talon.’’ The members of the committee are impatient to see concrete results because they realize that there is still no promise from Quebec to continue financing Acces Logis, the only program that finances the construction of new social housing units.

Project Genesis members invite Mr. Applebaum and the borough to
1) negotiate firmly with promoters to ensure that more than the minimum amount of social housing is included in the new projects;
2) buy land on the site to avoid speculation and allow the future development of social housing;
3) put in place a program to buy buildings on Mountain Sights Ave. in order to convert them into social housing, so as to protect the 900 tenant households living there from the pressures of gentrification; and 4) ask the provincial government to commit to 5-year funding of AccesLogis and to increase the number of units developed within this program.

There are very few areas of this magnitude in the centre of Montreal where it would be possible to develop social housing. Namur-Jean/Talon represents a rare opportunity to confront the housing crisis and the problems of homelessness that plague the city. Committee members say that their elected officials must seize this opportunity.

The members of Project Genesis will continue to monitor the situation and invite other concerned residents to join them.

[ Marie Cicchini ]

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