Housing shortage top of mind as parties square off in Quebec byelection

The availability of housing is expected to be top of mind for voters heading into Monday's byelection in the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne. (CBC - image credit)
The availability of housing is expected to be top of mind for voters heading into Monday's byelection in the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne. (CBC - image credit)

Philippe Desmarais is accustomed to meeting tenants who are stressed and rattled, but those feelings weren't always this palpable.

He says many renters are desperately scrambling to find a place to stay, and the situation is only getting worse.

Desmarais, who is part of the tenants' rights group POPIR based in Montreal's Saint-Henri neighbourhood, says his team has received about 60 calls about landlord repossessions in the last six months.

"Most of them are in bad faith," he said.

"We get more and more people coming and arriving here without appointments and in a panic, kind of, because they're looking for a new apartment and they can't find one."


Calls for more social and affordable housing are getting louder. Politicians vying for the vacant National Assembly seat in the Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne riding say they're listening.

Housing is one of the key issues in a riding where property values continue to soar and longtime residents feel like they're getting pushed out.

Monday's byelection is expected to be a tight race between the left-leaning Québec Solidaire (QS) and the provincial Liberals, who have represented the riding since it was created in 1992.

Both parties say a victory on Monday would help them hold the Coalition Avenir Québec government accountable.

As part of a 10-year federal-provincial agreement, $2.2 billion has been earmarked to renovate social housing units. So far, none of that money has been used.

The province's housing agency, the Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ), says 75 per cent of social housing units are in poor or very poor condition, up from 66 percent the previous year.


Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, an immigration lawyer, is running for QS for the second time. He finished second in the riding during the last provincial election.

"Everybody is speaking about the housing crisis. There are so many people being renovicted," Cliche-Rivard said

Renoviction is a term used to describe landlords ousting tenants so they can upgrade and re-rent their apartments at higher prices.

"We need to put concrete measures and I'll be there to make sure that more affordable housing is being built in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne and all across Quebec," he said.

Earlier this week, QS called on the provincial government to prohibit evictions that lead to units being converted into short-term rentals for tourists.


Liberal stronghold 

Dominique Anglade previously held the Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne riding but she stepped down as the leader of the provincial Liberals and quit politics altogether shortly after the election.

Christopher Baenninger is the Liberals' new candidate. He says many properties in the riding that could be useful to low-income renters are abandoned and uninhabited. He and others say the Legault government has devoted resources to affordable housing but not enough to social housing.

"For every dollar that he's going to be investing in affordable housing, we want the same dollar to be invested in social housing," Baenninger said.

"The great thing is, we don't even need to negotiate that, the funds are already there."

Last week, the office of France-Élaine Duranceau, the minister responsible for housing, said the $2.2 billion that is part of the Quebec and Ottawa deal will all be spent by 2028.

Victor Pelletier is the CAQ's candidate for Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne. According to the party's website, Pelletier's priorities are increasing the supply of social and affordable housing and lowering the cost of living.

Eleven people are in the running, including Shawn Lalande McLean. He's the head of Parti accès propriété et équité, a party that is less than two years old whose mission is to facilitate access to housing.

On Monday, polls will be open on between 9:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. People in the riding can enter their address here to find out where they can cast their ballots.

Facebook/Popir Comité-Logement
Facebook/Popir Comité-Logement

'Where do people go after?'

Desmarais is used to seeing political parties ramp up discussion about housing during an election campaign.

He says the results on the ground have been underwhelming and having to hammer home the same message about the need for better rent control and social housing is getting old.

He said numbers for investments in social and affordable housing routinely get tossed around "but concretely, when they get elected, nothing happens" and people have limited options when forced to leave their homes.

"We continue to consider housing to be merchandise. Instead we should consider it to be a basic need," said Desmarais.

"It's just sad, actually. It's just sad because where do people go after? We don't hear about where people go."