A long-standing Quebec housing rights group held a large demonstration on Sunday to protest the current state of the province’s public housing system.
Organizers from FRAPRU, or Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain, assembled at the corner of Hutchison and Jean Talon, along with representatives from various other social advocacy groups and members of the public. The group is calling for an additional 50,000 public housing units to be built in the province within the next five years.
The demonstration was the final stop in FRAPRU’s Caravane, a nine-day journey throughout the province, during which the group staged protests in various communities to call federal and provincial leaders to account. The caravan travelled with low-income renters and made stops around the province to show solidarity with people living in substandard housing.
Protesters marched through the streets of Parc Extension, a neighbourhood where over one half of all residents are deemed to be living in low income housing, according to Statistics Canada.
As the procession–which FRAPRU estimated at 800 people – made its way towards Boulevard de l‘Acadie, Parc Ex residents stepped out onto the sidewalk to watch and chat with volunteers.
FRAPRU organizers then directed the group to the hitherto unannounced location of Ville Mont Royal, a secluded enclave. Mont-Royal directly borders Parc Ex – the two are separated by a chain-link fence and hedges, with few points of entry.
As demonstrators made their way down Mont-Royal’s streets, a few residents watched from windows and driveways. The demonstration ended in a Mont-Royal park with a speech from FRAPRU’s chief coordinator François Saillant.
“The government is always telling us that there’s no money,” he said in French, prompting vocal responses from the crowd. “As you can see, the money is here. The problem is, it’s not being shared.”
Stéphan Corriveau participated in the demonstration as a representative of the Fédération des locataires d’habitations à loyer modique du Québec (Federation of Quebec Public Housing Tenants). He associated public housing needs with what he sees as a discrepancy in the distribution of wealth.
“I’m not interested to live in a society where it’s the law of the jungle. You end up in a society…where there’s a huge level of mistrust between the different communities,” he said.
Corriveau spoke of Ville Mont-Royal, where the average house costs $750,000, as being symbolic of the situation.
“I’m doubtful that [Mont-Royal residents] work harder than any people who work in a kitchen, or as a janitor, or a construction worker, or the mother that is raising five kids in Parc-Extension just across the fence,” he said, adding that “these people deserve just as much life quality as the people who live in Mont-Royal. We’re not talking about charity, we’re talking about justice, and we’re talking about solidarity.”
While on the road with FRAPRU, Grant Latimer described the housing situation in the Val d’Or native community as “a desperate situation.”
“They don’t even have electricity or water,” he said. “This is a reserve that is surrounded by gold mines.”
Elizabeth, a FRAPRU volunteer, spoke of the caravan’s visit to students in Sherbrooke, who she said are living “in very bad conditions, with a very desperate need for [public] housing.”
Under provincial policy, most university students are ineligible for Quebec public housing.
FRAPRU also voiced concerns that federal funding for public housing, including rent subsidies and renovation payments, will be cut in coming years due to the expiration of funding contracts with provincial and municipal governments.
Alain Roy, who came to the demonstration representing the Association des locataires de Sherbrooke, expressed concern for what he considered to be thousands of people who might lose their homes because of the loss of subsidies. He spoke from his own experiences in Sherbrooke, where many federal subsidy contracts that had benefited low-income renters in co-ops have already run out.
He described how his group has been receiving calls from individuals panicking about sharp rent increases.
“They tell us that they’re completely hopeless, they were paying two or three hundred dollars a month with the subsidies, now they’re paying six,” he told The Daily in French. “They’re just not able to live there anymore.”