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Community members speak out against gentrification in Parc-Ex

On Monday February 20, around twenty protesters gathered in front of the Parc Metro station to denounce a luxury apartment project at Plaza Hutchison. The group shared testimonies in front of the Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension city hall, then marched along Hutchison with banners reading  “Parc-Ex stands up for dignity,” all accompanied by five police vehicles.

The building in question, located at 7300 Hutchison, was purchased by the BSR Group last year, illegally pushing out residents with 32 days’ notice to vacate the building, as well as many associations. The 70 unit apartment complex will be listed according to housing “market prices.” Housing prices are  expected to increase with the opening of the new Université de Montréal campus in 2019. In response, community groups in Park Extension have mobilized against the gentrification of the community and eviction of residents.

“Some places didn’t even have heating for months, […] no maintenance, no garbage collection, […] tenants started to have mice and rat problems.”

Intimidation and eviction of tenants

While the BSR group currently lacks a permit for construction work on the building, community members have alleged that Ron Basal, the project manager and BSR director, has been illegally evicting tenants to pave way for the apartment project since last year.

“There’s a lot of people in the community that are very concerned because of what is going on with the 7300 Hutchison […] He started intimidating people into leaving, and evicting them without respecting the leases,” stated  Bernadette*, a member of Parc-Ex Contre la Gentrification, a group opposed to the redevelopment.

Tenants who had  a lease agreement with the previous property owner were not informed of the transaction by BSR. On March 8, 2017, the building was registered under Baruch Basal in the Quebec business registry. Since then, the BSR Group has claimed to have changed the terms of leases that now run on a monthly basis.

“People sometimes don’t know what their leases are, […] what their rights are,” said Bernadette. “Tenants have been evicted by various methods. They were called, and asked to leave the building.”

Residents received eviction letters and were told to vacate the space by construction contractors. Maintenance of broken amenities have stopped, further pressuring the tenants to leave. The freight elevator, which broke down after a basement flooding last March, was not repaired, forcing elderly tenants to leave the building.

“They weren’t going to climb four, five flights of stairs to go there [to the upper floors],” said Bernadette.

This January, the landlord threatened to cut off water, gas, and electricity for tenants who refused to leave. Currently, there are only a few residents left in the Plaza building, who will be forced out in July, when their leases terminate.

“By actually not even providing the basic services in the building people pay for […] some places didn’t even have heating for months, […] no maintenance, no garbage collection, […] tenants started to have mice and rat problems,” said Bernadette.

City response to illegal construction

The Montreal Police has halted BSR’s construction twice, with notices and fines, ranging from $1000 to $2,800 under Quebec law. However, according to John*, a Parc Ex resident, Basal broke leases, and circumvented authorities by working at night.

“As a neighbour […] it makes me very mad that something like that can happen and the authorities are okay, and giving him a permit to [continue].”

Bernadette told The Daily that the fines do little to halt construction, and that the BSR are expecting permits from the city soon.

“He had fines, but they’re such small fines for him it doesn’t mean anything,” told Bernadette.

Adeel Hayat, a resident of Parc-Ex criticized the city’s inaction in response to the construction and BSR’s treatment of residents.

“The city is going to do what? […] put a little sticker on his door saying, ‘Hey, here’s a fine of a few hundred dollars, please don’t do that.’ What does this say to the people here? […] that people who buy this place can break the rules and do whatever the hell they want? […] and even the people who […] enforce those rules won’t say anything! What does that say?”

Hayat also expressed anger over the amount of policing during the protest: ten police cars surrounded the area, with five accompanying the march.

“Instead of giving us any idea of what they could do to help us, […] they deployed this many police [officers],” said Hayat.

Hayat emphasized that the Plaza Hutchison is located in eye’s view of the borough city hall, where the Comité Consultatif d’Urbanisme’s (CCU) meeting discussing Basal’s permit request was taking place.

“In the matter of few months, the new owner who bought the building […] he really feels like he can […] he can do construction in eye’s view […] from the building that gives permits right across the street.”

“We want to send a message to all developers that […] projects like this are not welcome here and that we will resist them wherever they show up.”

CCU meeting

A recommendation for a permit by the CCU will pave way for it to be potentially adopted at the next borough meeting, allowing further construction. The meeting held on February 13 was closed to the public. Bernadette told The Daily: “the CCU, the identity of its members, the agendas […] are absolutely not transparent. […] What we’re not comfortable with is the fact that […] their meetings are not public.”

The day of the protest, the city hall doors were guarded by police officers to prevent entry. After being individually patted down, protesters were allowed inside. Eventually, Bernadette was allowed to speak to the council, but noted that the document elaborating the communityís position to the council was not adequately considered.

During the meeting, Bernadette asked Sylvain Ouellette, the councillor for the Francois-Perrault district, whether the council had read the community report. According to Bernadette, Ouellette mentioned that he had given ‘the big lines’ of the document to the council instead of distributing the full, 4 page report.

“Are you serious?” said Bernadette, “urbanism is not only about bricks and tiles […], it’s also about the usage of the community.”

“We think that the borough should take responsibility for what’s going on,” said Bernadette. “It’s right in front of their door, they know exactly what is happening, they see the tenants being evicted one after the other, they […] see the demolition and construction without permit.”

Concerns over gentrification

“We want to send a message to all developers that […] projects like this are not welcome here and that we will resist them wherever they show up,” said Amy* a spokesperson of Parc-Ex Contre la Gentrification.

Amy put forward the negative impact of the building’s closure on marginalized communities, such as immigrants who depend on the Carrefour de Liaison et d’Aide Multiethnique (CLAM), one of the last associations left in the building. CLAM is an immigrant and refugee resource centre offering French-language courses for newcomers.

“Parc Extension [has] historically been a place where many […] recent immigrants and low income people of colour have tended to settle,” they explained. “Parc-Extension is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. […] Basically, what Ron Basal is planning to do is to build small luxury apartments that are far too expensive for most people in the neighbourhood to live in.” The 2013 Centraide survey confirms that Parc-Ex is one of the most underserved communities in Canada.

The plaza has been an informal community centre housing various associations for over twenty years, which are now mostly relocated or closed down due to eviction.

“Plaza Hutchison has been a community space, it has housed community organizations, and language schools, and radio stations, and religious spaces, and small businesses for many decades,” said Amy. “We believe that […] these kinds of projects are not at all what Parc extension needs, and we will fight to keep them out of the neighbourhood.”

*Names have changed for anonymity.