Several Montreal boroughs are looking to prevent the eviction of tenants from private seniors' residences by limiting what such buildings can be converted into.
"There was some seniors who came to last council and asked us to find a way to protect them and use all the powers we have: all the rights, all the regulations, the bylaws. And that's what we did in the last week," said Benoit Dorais, mayor of the Sud-Ouest borough.
He said his borough's urban planning now forbids a seniors' residence from being converted into anything other than social or affordable housing. Dorais is the executive committee member responsible for housing across the city as well.
"It will also be the same for other boroughs in the next few weeks," he said.
Those boroughs include the Plateau-Mont Royal, Lachine, Côte-des-neiges–NDG, Verdun, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Ville-Marie.
Last month, Montreal's city council unanimously adopted a motion calling on the Quebec government to impose a one-year moratorium on converting seniors' residences — known as RPAs — into apartment buildings.
An example is Résidence Mont-Carmel, a 16-storey housing complex with 216 apartments on René-Lévesque Boulevard in downtown Montreal. Residents there have taken the building's owner to court after they were told to move out or pay more for less service.
Constance Vaudrin has lived in Mont-Carmel for more than five years. She said it is encouraging to see municipal officials taking action.
"We're very hopeful in that way that it seems to be understood on the local level," she said.
She said she and her fellow residents have struggled to get help from the province. They've been told the local health agency will help them move, but that's not what residents want, she said.
"Just the idea of changing is extremely hard," she said. "It really is."
Looking ahead, she said she hopes the Quebec government will take a closer look at this issue.
Advocates push for provincial change
Pierre Lynch, the president of a seniors' rights group, the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées (AQDR), said the borough's action is good first step.
But he suspects lawyers will find loopholes and challenge bylaws.
He said the borough-by-borough effort is a temporary patch to a problem that needs a long-term solution at the provincial level.
"The provincial government should be looking at widening the existing laws," he said.
Marc Fortin is president of the Regroupement québécois des résidences pour aînés (RQRA), which represents some 800 owners of private seniors' residences.
He said more and more of RQRA's members are being forced to sell their buildings because they can't find staff or keep up with administrative red tape and expenses.
"So all these owners are just going to burn out," he said.
"They just can't keep going and that's the main reason. Why don't they give them a municipal tax credit? Why don't they do some things that are positive instead of acting in a way which is just taking a baseball bat and hitting everybody on the head."
Dorais acknowledged the owners of RPAs are having a hard time but said it is up to the provincial government to find long-term solutions to protect both the property owners and seniors at the same time.