Article updated – Sunday, Oct 9
To commemorate World Habitat Day, a long-standing activist group is set to launch a week-long caravan campaign to raise awareness and demand government investment in social housing.
The Montreal-based coalition of 138 activist groups in Canada, known as le Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), will begin a caravan campaign around Quebec on October 3. The FRAPRU caravan will stop in various towns and communities to hold demonstrations calling for federal and provincial politicians to take action on the issues of social housing and poverty.
“We’re taking our message to the streets all over Quebec, because we see the same problem in every region,” said FRAPRU organizer Marie-Josée Corriveau. She said she expected around 80 participants in the caravan.
The caravan will consist of two convoys. One departs from Quebec City, and the other from Ottawa; both will end up in Montreal on October 9, the same day FRAPRU is planning a demonstration. Corriveau explained that the convoys’ routes would include stops at the offices of various politicians – among them Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and Minister of Municipal Affairs Laurent Lessard.
According to Corriveau, 160,000 people in Quebec have serious housing needs.
“What we’re asking is that the [federal and provincial governments] agree to investments that will provide for 50,000 new units over five years, if only to deal with the most urgent cases.”
Stéphan Corriveau, who works as a coordinator for a low-income housing advocacy group called the Fédération des locataires d’habitations à loyer modique du Québec (FLHLMQ), spoke to the large demand for social housing.
“There are currently 45,000 households – not people, households – on waiting lists, and, of those, 22,000 are in Montreal. Many more think the list is so long, they won’t even try to put themselves on it,” he said.
There are over 100,000 social housing units in Quebec, with low-income housing making up the largest part of the public housing system. According to Corriveau, the mortgages on many of the buildings are due to expire soon. As they do, the federal government will be free from certain funding responsibilities, which Corriveau predicts will lead to higher rents, a reduction in the quality of services, or the neglect of necessary maintenance projects.
According to Corriveau, maintenance on existing social housing units also has a long history of being underfunded and deferred.
“These buildings are 31 years old on average, and they were often made with inferior materials – they need significant upgrades,” he said.
Maude Ménard Dunn is a community organizer for Montreal-based homeless advocacy group le Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM). She stated that much-needed maintenance to housing units will result in rent hikes to cover the expenses.
“[Housing co-operatives] simply can’t afford to take responsibility for the subsidies because of mounting renovation costs,” she explained.
Dunn predicted a sharp increase in homelessness as a result of the funding shortfalls, something that could cripple Montreal’s already overcrowded shelters.
“Homelessness is a multi-faceted problem, one of the causes is, by definition, the need for social housing; the situation in Montreal has exploded,” she said.
Marie-Josée Corriveau also spoke to the effects of a decrease in government subsidies for rent in low-income housing and other units, such as cooperatives and non-profit housing organizations.
“These people could then be subject to rent increases of two, three, four, even five hundred dollars a month,” she said.