NEWS

Quebec's affordable housing funding loss worries tenants' advocates

02/09/2015 06:00 EST | Updated 04/11/2015 05:59 EDT
When John found out the City of Montreal would be evacuating his building, he felt it was like winning the lottery.

"It’s like now, I’m going to move into heaven after three years.”

John (his name has been changed to protect his identity) has lived in a decrepit Côte-des-Neiges rooming house on Goyer Street for the past three years.

For $330 a month, he got a one room lodging, a shared bathroom — and rats.

John says he once caught a rat the size of a rabbit.

"You could put in on a barbecue,” he says.

Now John is leaving behind the rats for an apartment he describes as "a palace.”

He’s been fast-tracked into social housing, because inspectors deemed his building unfit for habitation and forced tenants to evacuate.

There are more than 53,000 Montrealers waiting for social housing; most of them will wait an average of four years before they get a spot.

Tenants’ rights advocates say if elected officials truly want to crack down on Montreal's decrepit housing, they should invest in affordable housing.

Otherwise, people like John wouldn’t have to live with cockroaches, rats and mould.

But instead of committing to more affordable housing, the Quebec government is pulling back.

AccèsLogis funding loss: A ‘depressing’ future

AccèsLogis — the main source of funding for new affordable housing projects — is a program administered by the Société d’habitation du Québec (SHQ).

In 2012, the province injected an extra $53.6 million to supplement its subsidy program, and make up for the rising cost of construction and labour.

Last month, the province revealed that fund had been mostly spent, and it wouldn’t be renewed.

That means that going forward, the province’s subsidies for affordable housing projects will be calculated based on 2009 costs of labour, construction and materials.

In the meantime, tenants’ advocates are bracing for the worst.The impact of the funding loss is murky — the SHQ has vowed to find other sources of funding to make up the difference.

"We’re very worried about that because it’s just going to increase the deterioration of buildings. Because where are people going to go? They have to go somewhere. We have to do something about it. We have to look at this as a social problem and start doing something,” says Denise Belec, assistant co-ordinator of OEIL, a Côte-des-Neiges tenant’s rights group.

"I’m not seeing the future very positively right now. It’s a little depressing actually.

Searching for solutions

AccèsLogis representatives refused an interview with CBC News.

Some housing advocates say the province is working hard to find alternative funding options.

"It could have been worse … If they did decide to cut the whole program, it would have been terrible,” says Nathalie Ross, executive director of l’Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec (AGRTQ).

The AGRTQ is a not-for-profit organization that works with community groups to help build affordable housing projects.

Ross says both the SHQ and the City of Montreal have been working with her organization to find solutions.

While they’re not ready to unveil any concrete solutions at this time, Ross says she’s confident most of the affordable housing projects will be able to go ahead.

"We’re not dropping the towel. We are rolling our sleeves [up] and we’re going forward,” Ross says.

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