Forty per cent more. That is how much rents on average upstretched compared to 15 years ago, as estimated by the Comité logement Rosemont, a non-profit activist organization protecting renter's rights. And now some people who lived here for decades are forced to leave, pushed away from an increasingly gentrified area.
Retirees, low-income families, and individuals on welfare are moving to Saint-Michel, Saint-Léonard, and even to Longueuil and Shawinigan where rents are lower than in central boroughs, for now, said Sébastien Laliberté, Comité logement Rosemont’s coordinator. “If we were talking about two populations of different languages or religions, one evicting the other, we would be calling this an ethnic cleanse,” he said on the phone. “They should not be displaced because they have less money.”
There are 1,500 condo units under construction in Rosemont, each of them generating greater demand for specialty groceries, yoga centers, and gyms, thus raising the living cost in the area. Of them, 20 per cent must be affordable low-rent housings. That is unique to Rosemont; the requirement elsewhere on the island is 15 per cent. “But there still is 80 per cent of them that are condos, and we fear that these lower-income zones will be like ghettoes surrounded by BMW drivers,” said Laliberté.
Every year, around 3,000 people who claim they are faced with landlord abuse turn to the Comité logement Rosemont for legal counseling. “This only is the tip of the iceberg,” Laliberté said. “Most renters leave their apartment after being harassed or accept illegal rent increases without complaining and do not come to us. So there is this huge gap that we cannot record.”
This concern is not exclusive to Rosemont. All central boroughs in Montreal have to deal with gentrification. According to numbers provided by Céline Magontier, an organizer of the FRAPRU, Montreal’s largest activist organization for affordable housing, two families out of five allocate 30 per cent or more of their income on their rental payments in Montreal. Furthermore, rent accounts for half or more of one in five leaseholder’s income in Montreal; that is 143,900 households in the city.
When vacancy rates are low, landlords have the long end of the stick when they negotiate with renters because more people are looking for apartments than offered. Rosemont’s vacancy rate now seems normal, around three per cent, said Laliberté. However, it was not from the year 2000 until last autumn, where it was much lower, around one and two per cent, and it still has effects in Rosemont. “It brought rent prices up,” he said. “At that time, I even witnessed auctions for apartments. Proprietors never advertised them like it. They just put an ad in the paper saying 'open house' and waited for prospective renters to come by and outbid each other.”
Another cause for higher rents is the conversion of apartment blocks into condos, further reducing the number of available rooms. There is a moratorium right now in Quebec on the transformation of apartment blocks into divided condos: that is where each level of a single block is divided into, for example, three separate properties.
However, there is a glitch in this law: indivisible condos, where an individual proprietor finds three buyers for the same building whom will accept to each endorse a third of the building’s mortgage. “This is how most buildings are converted into condos these days,” said Laliberté. “It does not go against the moratorium, and in fact, they only receive one tax account."
"Mayor François Croteau said last year that he has no control over this,” said Laliberté. But it is the city that gives the permits required for these transformations, and they give them as if they were letters sent through the post. “And he lives in an indivisible condo. We think and expect from him that it does not influence his decisions. He has been fairly receptive to our demands so far, but let’s say we do not always agree with each other.”