Montreal has 'affordability' crisis but is 'less affected' by housing crisis, minister says

·4 min read
Quebec Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Andrée Laforest, seen here in 2019, said Tuesday that Montreal, Laval, Outaouais, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the North Shore and northern Quebec are all 'less affected' by the housing crisis. She clarified Wednesday that Montreal did have a problem of 'affordability.' (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Andrée Laforest, seen here in 2019, said Tuesday that Montreal, Laval, Outaouais, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the North Shore and northern Quebec are all 'less affected' by the housing crisis. She clarified Wednesday that Montreal did have a problem of 'affordability.' (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Quebec's housing minister, Andrée Laforest, is defending her position that some regions of the province, such as Montreal and Lava,l are "less affected" by the housing crisis.

During question period Tuesday, Laforest said that nine regions of the province were "very affected by the housing situation," because they had seen an influx of residents in 2021, driving down the vacancy rate.

But she said six others — Montreal, Laval, Outaouais, the North Shore, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and northern Quebec — were less acutely affected, because they had lost residents to other regions, or seen only small increases.

Montreal, for example, lost more than 48,000 people to other regions last year.

Pressed by opposition MNAs, Laforest said Wednesday that Montreal's crisis was one of "affordability" but that the vacancy rate, like in Quebec City, was "under control."

"To say that all the regions are in a housing crisis, hold on a minute, those aren't the real numbers we have," said Laforest.

Vacancy rate higher outside of Montreal

Rents have spiked in Montreal during the pandemic, with the city registering its highest average rent increases since the early 2000s — 4.2 per cent in 2020 and 3.7 per cent in 2021, according to data released in February by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

As well, only 13 per cent of units in Montreal could be considered "affordable" for those making less than $25,000 a year.

But the vacancy rate is not quite as low in the city as in some regions. It hovered around 3.7 per cent on the island of Montreal in 2021, and three per cent in the greater Montreal area, higher than the provincial average of 2.5 per cent.

Far fewer rental units are available in smaller cities and towns, such as Sherbrooke, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Gaspé, the Magdalen Islands, Drummondville and Joliette, which all had vacancy rates of less than one per cent.

In the town of Prévost, in the Laurentians, not a single unit was available for rent.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Cédric Dussault, spokesperson for the tenants' organization RCLALQ, agrees with the minister's assessment that the crisis is more acute in some regions and that Montreal's problem is one of affordability, not availability.

"At 3 per cent, we're not speaking per se of a housing shortage. It's really the limit for [a] housing shortage," he said.

But Catherine Lussier, of the housing advocacy group FRAPRU, said at the end of the day, it's not a meaningful distinction.

"What we have been saying [for] a few years already is that the housing crisis takes different forms, according to the region," she said.

She said the overall vacancy rate in some areas like Montreal can also obscure how dire the situation is for families looking for larger affordable apartments.

A symptom of that could be the number of families leaving Montreal for the suburbs, where the vacancy rate dropped in 2021 to just 1.1 per cent.

She said the increased demand has simply shifted a lot of the problems tenants were experiencing in Montreal, to regions outside the city.

"We are noticing in…[the Laurentians] and Lanaudière also, a lot of tenants face eviction and repossession of dwellings," she said.

Housing crisis hampering Abitibi-Temiscamingue, opposition says

Liberal MNA Marie-Claude Nichols accused the government of ignoring the housing crisis in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, citing local officials there who said they are experiencing the "worst housing crisis" they've ever lived through.

While the vacancy rate in Val-d'Or improved to 2.2 per cent in 2021, housing was even more scarce in Alma at 0.7 per cent and in Rouyn-Noranda at just 0.3 per cent.

Émilise Lessard-Therrien, Québec Solidaire MNA for Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue said the lack of housing is having a serious impact on the region's ability to attract permanent health-care workers, contributing to frequent breaks in service in hospitals.

She gave the example of a respiratory therapist who moved to the town of Ville-Marie in January, and still hasn't found permanent housing.

"She wants to settle in our region, but she's afraid she's going to have to leave. How does the minister respond to her?" she asked, during Wednesday's question period.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC
Rowan Kennedy/CBC

In response to opposition questions, Laforest said that she "did not say there was not a housing crisis in Abitibi-Témiscamingue," but had simply underlined that 205 people had left the region in 2021.

Still, she acknowledged the need for more housing in the region.

Laforest said the government has built or broken ground on 8,143 social or affordable housing units in the province since 2018, and committed in the most recent provincial budget to financing 15,000 units.

She said her government was "continuing to play catch up," accusing the previous Liberal government of having dragged its feet on housing.

But Lussier said the government needs to pick up the pace on building social housing in particular, as market prices remain out of reach for many renters. And she said measures that address supply must be taken in tandem with better protections against abusive rent hikes, so-called renovictions, and unsanitary housing.

"Without these real structural solutions, we will continue seeing the housing crisis in many regions just getting harder," she said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting