Roughly 100 protesters gathered on Saturday near the Place-Saint-Henri metro station to demand the construction of 2,800 new social housing units in the Ville-Émard, Côte-Saint-Paul, Little Burgundy, and St. Henri neighbourhoods, and to denounce the gentrification of the area.
The Projet d’organisation populaire d’information et de regroupement (POPIR) organized the demonstration as part of a broader campaign by the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) for the construction of 50,000 new social housing units across Quebec in the next five years. The POPIR is a community group dedicated to the defence of tenant rights and the promotion of accessible housing in southwest Montreal.
“Locally, we are asking for the construction of 2,800 new units to [respond to] the needs of the population, because it’s 2,800 households who are paying more than 50 per cent of their monthly income [in] rent,” explained Valérie Simard, community organizer at the POPIR.
The protesters walked around St. Henri, accompanied by several police vehicles. As the demonstration reached the site of a planned condominium project on the intersection of Notre-Dame and Ste. Ambroise, the organizers paused to put up a banner and speak against the project.
“The public knows that they will be for the workers of the immense, gigantic, monstrous mega-hospital of the McGill University Health Centre, which is also a worrisome element for the gentrification of the neighbourhood.”
“The government is acting like a promoter; they want to sell our neighbourhoods to the highest bidder. We know that a promoter is working on a condo project, around 650 condos will be built on this site in the next years,” Simard told the crowd in French.
Simard also spoke to the role of the McGill University Health Centre’s new super-hospital, currently under construction, in the gentrification of the area. “It’s admitted in a very open way that these condos are not for the people of the St. Henri neighbourhood,” she said. “The public knows that they will be for the workers of the immense, gigantic, monstrous mega-hospital of the McGill University Health Centre, which is also a worrisome element for the gentrification of the neighbourhood.”
“Meanwhile, the housing in the neighbourhood is in no way protected to ensure that the people of the neighbourhood can remain,” added Simard.
The protesters then walked up Notre-Dame, an important site of gentrification in St. Henri. “[Notre-Dame] is a good example of gentrification in the neighbourhood,” Simard told The Daily. “There’s a lot of new shops, new restaurants; you see a big difference between these new shops and what was there before. It’s more expensive, more ‘hip,’ it’s different.”
Protesters highlighted the importance of social housing for combatting gentrification and keeping housing accessible for the entire community.
“The government is acting like a promoter; they want to sell our neighbourhoods to the highest bidder.”
“The federal government has been cutting [social housing] a lot and the Quebec government hasn’t been increasing it enough, and that’s why people are getting pushed out of neighbourhoods like this at a tough time,” said Cleave, a St. Henri resident who was present at the protest. “Condos are coming in, rents are going up, people who don’t have enough money can’t live here anymore, and that’s not the way things should go. There should be more social housing and less condos.”
According to an email from the Société d’habitation du Québec (SHQ), which oversees social housing in Quebec, the construction of 3,000 new social housing units across Quebec is planned in the provincial government’s 2013-14 budget, 1,150 of which will be in the Montreal region.
In a press release from Defend Our Social Housing, FRAPRU spokesperson Marie-José Corriveau stated that there were 325,000 households in Quebec in need of social housing. Currently, the federal government subsidizes 127,000 social housing units in Quebec; however, operating agreements with the government covering 72,000 units are set to expire, a problem to which SHQ has not yet found a solution.
For Simard, these investments are insufficient to meet the demand for social housing. She also expressed concern over the uncertainty surrounding federal funding. “The government is [only] financing 3,000 new units each year, and it’s not enough to [satisfy] the needs of the population. Actually, even the social housing [units] built 25 years ago, 30 years ago, we are concerned we might lose them, because the contract between the federal government and those [units] is ending,” Simard told The Daily. “So it’s a lot of financing that [...] social housing [is] losing right now.”