Pandemic-worn Montrealers look to move off island in search of cheaper housing, survey finds

·3 min read

As much fun as it is to live in Montreal's Saint-Henri neighbourhood, Rachel Claude says the cost of living is too high and the only affordable residences are too small now that she and her boyfriend are working from home.

"It was the pandemic that motivated my boyfriend and I to start looking at houses on the South Shore," said Claude, but's that something she never thought she'd be doing.

Her neighbourhood, in the Sud-Ouest borough, is full of trendy new restaurants. She loves the nightlife.

"I'm a city girl," she said. "I like it when there's action."

Claude and her boyfriend aren't the only ones looking to get off the island, where rent and property prices have climbed in recent years.

A recent poll commissioned by Radio-Canada and conducted by Michel Berne of Ad Hoc Research found that 42 per cent of respondents said they are likely or very likely to leave Montreal.

The web survey, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4, polled 1,454 adults in the Montreal region. A probability sample of the same size would have a maximum margin of error of roughly 2.6 per cent.

Not a quick process

While the results show people are looking to move out of the city, that doesn't mean people are going to move overnight, said Berne.

"When you have the intention to leave a city, actually doing it is not as easy as changing your brand of yogurt," he said. But even if only a small proportion do leave, the survey suggests there are several factors encouraging people to do so.

Off-island options are cheaper than the city, where renting a two-bedroom apartment can cost more than a low-interest mortgage for a larger living space on the South Shore.

For Claude and her boyfriend, that's a good reason to look off island for a new place because city living comes at such a steep price.

"It's too expensive, especially for a first-time purchase," she said and neither she nor her boyfriend want to bite off more than they can chew financially.

Of those who responded to the survey, 76 per cent say they are thinking about moving to pay less each month.

A total of 55 per cent would also like a larger place and 46 per cent want more green space. Another 25 per cent say working from home is a motivating factor.

"Buying a four and a half or a three and a half in Verdun would not be enough, especially if we continue to work from home," said Claude.

"This is why we turned to the South Shore."

Mass exodus unlikely, says expert

Université de Montréal professor Jean-Philippe Meloche, who specializes in urban economics, doesn't believe a mass exodus is brewing, with vacancy rates in the city still low.

But with far fewer immigrants and foreign students moving into Montreal, he said, it may appear that the city is being drained of residents. As soon as immigrants and foreign students return, that will change, he said.

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

Claude's mother, Micheline Lapierre, is a real-estate broker with Garcia & Lapierre Group.

She said she has never seen so many people looking to move to the South Shore and houses are going for a higher price than posed as multiple bidders vie the same property.

A recent example is a home she sold in Longueuil that was priced at $459,000, but sold for a lot more."I started the tours on Saturday and by Sunday evening, the house was already sold," Lapierre said.