News  Quebec funds 1,000 new public housing units

But 23,000 Montreal families are still on the waiting list

The Quebec government declared on September 14 that Montreal will receive $65-million – half of the funds the province allocated for Quebec public housing – in order to construct 1,000 new units.

But despite the new wave of funding, AccèsLogis, the government’s financial assistance program for social housing, will not be able to meet the high demands for new units, community groups said.

Marie-Jose Corriveau, a representative of Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a social advocacy group, said there is still a lot to be done.

“We have certainly reacted positively to this announcement. But we demand that the government adopts and finances an ambitious plan for five years at least,” she said, adding that an annual investment of $2-billion for Canadian social housing is necessary, and still feasible.

Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Regions, noted that the provincial government has focused more attention on social housing in recent years.

“For the past five years, our government has increased its actions to improve conditions for those who are less fortunate in Quebec,” she said in a press release.

FRAPRU claimed that such funding has been lacking for years, as federal budget cuts in 1994 eliminated the possibility of an additional 52,000 housing units in Quebec.

And with 23,000 families on the waitlist and one in five Montreal renters spending over half of their income on housing, the aid that was recently approved remains insufficient, according to the groups.

Simon Dumais, internal coordinator for the Housing Committee of the Plateau, agreed the government poorly prioritized its budget allocations.

“We are appalled how much money is spent on the war in Afghanistan… without thinking about the crying need for housing in our own country,” Dumais said.

An additional problem, according to community group Project Genesis, a grassroots community organization in Côte-des-Neiges, is that only Canadian citizens and permanent residents can obtain a waitlist spot for a social housing unit.

Cathy Inouye, a community organizer for Project Genesis, noted that immigrants were unfairly affected.

“It is not fair that recently-landed immigrants that are among the most disadvantaged are deprived of governmental aid,” she said, explaining that those who are ineligible needed to look to co-ops or non-profit housing to receive shelter.

Robert Sylvestre, a representative for Commission des Droits de la Personne et des Droits de Jeunesse, an advocacy group for youth, regretted that AccèsLogis had free reign to deny certain people.

“The AccèsLogis administration has the legal right to establish certain eligibility criteria, even though they are discriminative,” he said.

With immediate distribution of the 1,000 new units, some are concerned that inadequate funding, coupled with AccèsLogis’s criteria, could stall projects that might otherwise be underway.

“There are a lot of groups with projects that are ready, but which are waiting for the money to be realized,” said Inouye. “For example, financial restrictions that didn’t consider increasing building material cost removed several projects from the program.”

Inouye also explained that the creation of new indexes would hopefully remove bureaucratic hurdles that blocked the initiation of new housing units.

And it has not only been local groups accusing the Canadian government of disrespecting their responsibility to ensure housing rights.

In October 2007, the UN Special Reporter on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, was dismayed that the devastating housing crisis existed in one of the richest countries in the world.

“Canada’s successful social housing program, which created more than half a million homes starting in 1973, no longer exists…. Canada has one of the smallest social housing sectors among developed countries,” Kothari said in his report.

Kothari stressed that investing in social housing throughout Canada would bring a positive change to the situation.

“Additional housing allowances – funded by the federal and provincial governments – are an immediate, although short-term solution, as part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.”