One day after Moving Day in Quebec, more than 500 tenant households in the province are without housing — the highest figure in 20 years.
The social housing group Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) unveiled the data in its annual report Friday, with spokesperson Véronique Laflamme calling the portrait of today's housing situation "quite bleak."
According to recent data collected from municipal assistance services, the breakdown of individuals or families without housing is:
128 in Montreal.
75 in Drummondville.
73 in Sherbrooke.
32 in Longueuil.
35 in Quebec City.
28 in Gatineau.
22 in Trois-Rivières.
14 in Châteauguay.
12 in the territory of Lanaudière Sud (Terrebonne, L'Assomption, Repentigny and Mascouche).
11 in Rimouski.
FRAPRU says the numbers are likely even higher. Tenants who live in areas where there are no municipal support services are not counted, nor are those who have decided to manage on their own.
Last year, 373 households — from single renters to entire families — were without a lease on July 2 across the province.
Laflamme says availability of housing is just one part of the problem. Rising rents are another obstacle, as witnessed in Montreal.
"The rate of unoccupied housing is 3.2 per cent in the city of Montreal, which is above the break-even point. However, no less than 554 tenant households have called on the referral service of the municipal housing office this year," Laflamme said. "This situation says a lot about the depth of the crisis."
Even those who have found a home are having a tough time. FRAPRU says tens of thousands of households have had to cut other essentials just to pay rent.
The group says things could get even worse if the provincial government doesn't take immediate action.
FRAPRU is calling for additional investments in the AccèsLogis program, the launch of a vast project of 50,000 social housing units in five years, and better protection for tenant households against evictions, repossessions and excessive rent increases.
Meanwhile, the group is hailing improvements made to emergency aid programs in the province, particularly the service in Montreal which offers temporary accommodation and provides assistance with storage and moving.
The group also says while it appreciates the Quebec government improving its services, measures to help tenants were announced too late to be adequately set up in towns where they didn't exist beforehand.
More than 6,600 housing units built or underway
Quebec's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the government is working to increase supply of housing in all regions of the province. The process includes presenting a new version of the AccèsLogis program to make it more efficient and constructing 15,000 social housing units.
"Under our government, in just over two years, we have invested more than $730 million and more than 6,600 housing units have been built or are underway," said Bénédicte Trottier Lavoie, spokesperson for the ministry in an emailed statement to CBC Montreal.
In regard to "renovictions" — a term housing advocates use to describe the ousting of tenants in the name of renovations, Lavoie said a tenant cannot be permanently evicted for simple renovations.
But for people like Camille Boyes-Manseau, who was given the option of relocating for eight months while her apartment underwent renovations in July, she found it was easier to permanently move than to wait around.
But she said finding her new apartment in Verdun was no easy feat.
"It did take some time for sure," Boyes-Manseau said. She described the process as spending every spare minute on different sites, checking posts and replying to ads.
Finding a place within your budget is even harder, she said. "You can still find those rare gems that work but it's not as easy as it once was. It definitely was stressful."
'We're doing everything we can'
In Montreal, teams in "all boroughs" are actively assisting people who don't yet have leases, with 33 households in temporary housing, according to Craig Sauvé, city councillor for the Southwest borough and associate councillor for housing on the executive committee.
The city has also reserved 50 apartments units to help people find permanent housing and people can call 311 if they need help finding a place to move to.
Staff are helping tenants find lodgings by keeping a close eye on apartment listings, doing apartment visits with tenants and talking to property owners on their behalf.
"Our plan from the very beginning was to not let anybody get stuck without a place to go and make sure that they were taken care of," Sauvé said, who also says the long-term solution to the housing crisis is more affordable housing, which requires spending by the province.
"We're doing everything we can."