Released earlier this month, the Foundation of Greater Montreal’s annual quality of life report, “Vital Signs,” found that economic inequality in Montreal has been steadily increasing.
Vital Signs is a “community check-up” that “measures the vitality of our communities, identifies major trends, and assigns grades in a range of areas critical to our quality of life,” according to its website.
According to the report, Montreal’s poverty rate based on after-tax income is about 14 per cent, a rate 5 per cent higher than the national average and 4 per cent higher than Toronto.
This escalating disparity is also reflected in the city’s housing trends. In the past two years, the average rent has increased from $643 to $708 per month, accompanied by a decrease in rental vacancies and the overall cleanliness and safety of housing conditions. The Régie du logement received 1,638 complaints about unsanitary housing conditions in the last five years.
Marina Boulos-Winton, President and CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal and a McGill graduate, attributed some of these housing issues to the aging population.
In an interview with The Daily, Boulos-Winton explained that the aging population has a greater demand for condominiums than rental apartments. As the population grows, the limited number of rental units becomes problematic.
She also attributed the complaints of unsanitary conditions to the age of the majority of rental buildings.
“Many rental buildings in Montreal are very old and are starting to show their wear and tear,” she said. “It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain these buildings.”
According to a McGill Off-Campus Housing representative, much of the building damage in the Milton-Parc area is due to the nature of lease transfers, which often do not give landlords time to facilitate the necessary repairs between tenants.
The shifts in housing pricing and quality have hit those of lower socioeconomic status particularly hard, as reflected in Vital Signs’ focus on the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor in Montreal.
Suzanne Bourret, intervention coordinator at Montreal women’s shelter La rue des Femmes, told The Daily that there has been a significant increase in the use of shelter services as a result of increased rent pricing.
The recent rise in food prices has also led to a growing demand for La rue des Femmes’ food bank services.
“We are very worried about the situation in Montreal,” said Bourret. “We can see misery and despair in these women coming in to the shelter.”
Unemployment remains a major issue for non-Quebec residents. According to Vital Signs, Quebecers with foreign surnames looking to work in Montreal face a discrimination rate of 35 per cent, and one in three are excluded from the interview process.
“A candidate with a French surname and equal skills and competencies has at least a 60 per cent chance of being granted a job interview, compared to someone with an African, Arab, or Latin-American surname,” the report found.
Bourret noted that immigrants have been hit particularly hard. “When they come in from other countries, they are vulnerable,” she said. “They start with no money and look for work, but it’s hard to find appropriate work.”