After 50 years of business, Slovenia Salaison, a well-loved butcher shop in the community, closed on January 29. The shop’s regulars lament its closing as they remember all the other independent and family-owned businesses that used to occupy the Plateau and Mile End neighbourhoods. The owners have said they could no longer afford to keep it open due to pandemic-related losses.
The shop’s closing follows a pattern of local business being replaced by generic corporate chains as well as student and luxury housing developments in neighbourhoods across Montreal, including Mile End, Chinatown, Saint-Henri, Griffintown, and Parc-Ex. Business closures have been exacerbated by the very sudden municipal lockdowns that have come without giving business owners much warning, and insufficient COVID-19 protection measures in workplaces under the Legault administration. The impact of gentrification-driven price increases have been compounded by decreased revenue and patronage throughout the pandemic. Tenants’ rights are undermined as landlords hike up rent prices annually, often displacing lower-income residents who have lived in a neighbourhood for generations.
In an investigation of rental prices across Quebec, the Regroupement des Comités Logements et Associations de Tenants du Québec (RCLALQ) found that average rents had skyrocketed between 2020 and 2021. RCLALQ reports an increase of 2 per cent for a 3½, 11 per cent for a 4½ and 15 per cent for a 5½ in the Montreal metropolitan area. Data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows an overall increase of 4 per cent in 2020. Neighbourhoods undergoing rapid and/or sustained gentrification have seen especially high rent increases, including in Villeray–St-Michel–Parc-Extension, where the average price of a 4½ and 5½ have increased by 17 per cent since 2020 due to student housing development projects. The pattern of rent increases and construction of luxury condos isn’t new: in the 1960s, the same process displaced local residents in the Milton-Parc area. Tenants across Montreal increasingly face “renoviction,” in which they are handed eviction notices, often with little warning, so that the property can be renovated and re-sold at a higher price. In Mile End especially, strategic corporate rent increases by landlords have caused tenants to move out to be replaced by large businesses who can afford the new prices. S.W.Welch Bookseller, Mile-End’s iconic and beloved bookstore, was subject to a 150 per cent rent increase last March, while a Lululemon has moved in down the street. The bookstore survived closure due to outrage and mobilization by local residents.
On January 19, the Tribunal Administratif du Logement established applicable rent increases for the April 2, 2022 to April 1, 2023 year, an increase ranging from 1.28 per cent for apartments without heating to 3.73 per cent for apartments with oil-powered heating. RCLALQ believes that landlords surpassing this recommendation is unacceptable, and urges renters to refuse excessive rent increases. In light of the pandemic and shortage of affordable rentals, Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a social-housing activist group, predicts that landlords will take advantage of tenants with “abusive increases, expecting tenants to comply for fear of … harassment or even eviction.”
RCLALQ urges the Legault Administration to mandate the rent increase recommendations by the TAL, so that predatory landlords are unable to increase rents above recommendations. Currently, landlords are allowed to surpass the recommendations as long as the rent increase is uncontested by their tenants – a government mandate would protect renters from excessive rent hikes. RCLALQ additionally calls for a public rent register to be introduced, so that new tenants know the previous rent amounts and avoid unreasonable increases. Overwhelmingly, housing activists across Montreal assert the need for social housing.
As a tenant, understand your rights, refer to the TAL’s rent increase calculator, and contact housing advocacy groups who work to support residents with housing disputes, income security, and implementing social housing. Neighbourhood specific organizations include Project Genesis of Côte-des-Neiges and Comité logement du Plateau Mont-Royal. Email Housing Minister Andrée Laforest to demand universal rent control. As students, it is our responsibility to prevent further gentrification – if you are moving, be sure to research how much rent previous tenants have paid. If you can, transfer your lease rather than allowing your landlord to buy out your lease. While many students’ living conditions are temporary, the consequences of gentrification are not; we must do right by our neighbours and fight for affordable housing.