On a sunny day in Montreal's Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighbourhood, Jacqueline Rockman looks out at the community garden she's maintained for years in the shared courtyard at her affordable housing complex, reminiscing about the good old days.
"We used to congregate here and the kids would play, and the neighbours would chat ," she said. "It helped with people who were isolated."
Now, instead of stopping to smell the flowers or catch up with a neighbour, Rockman says residents tend to bolt through the courtyard toward their apartments, desperate to get away from the stench emitting from trash and recycling bins that have been occupying the space for the past four years.
When Montreal's housing corporation, the Société d'habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM), took over management of the building in 2019, it closed the garbage rooms and garbage chutes and moved the trash in the courtyards, said Rockman, who's lived in a second-floor unit of the complex for about 10 years.
"The wind blows over these bins all the time and it's bringing pests around and it stinks," she said, adding that the bins have never been rinsed, leading flies, cockroaches and mice to swarm around the trash.
With about 72 units per courtyard and three and a half courtyards in the complex on Sherbrooke Street West, near Cavendish Boulevard, roughly 250 families are dumping their waste in the same space.
"We've lost the space entirely," Rockman said. "We're people, we deserve not to have to live like this. Being low income shouldn't be a reason or an excuse."
'I'm just so devastated'
Paula Merriman, an assistant teacher who works with students with special needs, says leaving for work in the morning makes her day, but coming home to the building she's lived at for 20 years now spoils it.
"I'm just so devastated when I walk down the to go to my apartment building ... looking at the garbage, seeing, flies, squirrels, and I'm just upset. I would not recommend anybody come by my house due to the fact of this mess," she said.
Merriman blames the SHDM for the issues. She said the previous company that handled the garbage would never complain about having to take garbage out of the chutes or cleaning up the rooms, but when new management came in, "I guess they didn't want to do that," she said.
Julien Serra, communications advisor for the SHDM, says the decision to close the garbage chutes was made in response to safety hazards.
"There were health and safety issues for our employees as well as for the tenants, because everything was being thrown in — glass, windows," he said.
He says the bins also make recycling and composting possible.
While Serra says using the garbage chutes is not an option at the moment, he says the SHDM will hold meetings with residents and community organizations to identify solutions.
Rockman says she doesn't want to hear any excuses from the housing corporation about why the chutes can't reopen.
"Trash chutes and garbage rooms, as well as trash outside, wherever it is, needs to be maintained. It needs to be kept clean. And they weren't doing maintenance. And their own lack of maintenance is not an excuse to close them and turn our courtyards into garbage dumps," she said.
She says residents must once again be able to take advantage of the flowers and plants in the community garden — 95 per cent of which are edible.
"We're in affordable housing, so we're all food insecure. We're all low income. So when we have something extra to share with our neighbours, it makes life a little easier."