In the News
Urgent Need to Affirm Right to Housing
Public Funds for Social Housing, Not Private Investors
Arnaud Duplessis-Lalonde is a community organizer with the Rosemont Housing Committee in Montreal.
Workers’ Forum: Can you briefly explain the housing situation in Rosemont and tell us about the committee’s work?
Arnaud Duplessis-Lalonde: We are in a persistent housing crisis that has been ongoing for a few years now. On the one hand, projects are going ahead in dribs and drabs. In the Housing Committee alone, there are around 1,000 households on our list of applications. These are people waiting for new social housing units. For most households, housing is unaffordable. We’re encouraging them to look towards social housing, as we know that it will remain within their household’s ability to pay.
At the Rosemont Housing Committee, we’re seeing real estate speculators target buildings to dislodge tenants, often renovating the units only cosmetically so that they can be rented out again or resold at a much higher price. We’re seeing about twenty cases like that per year. There are also small landlords who take over properties for themselves and their families to live in, doing so under false pretenses. These cases continue to increase year after year.
Repossessions are really on the rise.
Within this situation, on the one hand we are demanding that the private rental housing stock be protected. This requires better laws and improved regulations. Housing must also be taken out of the private market. This requires Quebec government investments in social housing. One of the ways that this is done is through the AccèsLogis program which is used to create social housing with a portion of subsidized housing for which precarious households are able to pay.
Gains have been made, notably with the City of Montreal, through mobilization in coordination with the other housing committees in the city. The city is now purchasing land and withdrawing it from the private market. It has established a bylaw which is not the best, as it is very incomplete, but is nevertheless for inclusion and social diversity. For the city, social diversity means the requirement that real estate developments include 20 per cent social housing. As far as we are concerned, 20 per cent social housing with the rest in private development does not meet the needs of Montreal households for housing below the average rental price or with subsidized rent. For us, the true guarantor of housing affordability is social housing. Still, this is a gain we have obtained through our mobilization efforts.
WF: On February 3, the Legault government presented its new Quebec Affordable Housing Program. What do you think about the program?
ADL: While we’re urging the government to invest massively in AccèsLogis, a program that would work if it were adequately funded, the government has in fact announced that it wants to set up another affordable housing program. This goes against the demand for an end to investing in so-called affordable or private housing. When the government or a developer talks about affordable housing, they’re talking about housing that’s priced according to the ability of households, both owners and tenants taken together, to pay, without considering the large income disparities between the two. When the government speaks of affordable housing, it is referring to a program whereby the developer or landlord is funded to provide housing that is only slightly less expensive than what they’re offering to the market.
According to the government, this will speed up the construction of housing and supposedly put pressure on the market to lower rents or encourage landlords to offer lower rents. The reality is that these units are always going to be expensive because rents are set according to regional median market rents – which are constantly rising. Real estate developers and speculators are contributing to the current crisis by driving up prices. The market is artificially inflated and although developers and investors always talk about the law of supply and demand, supply is never adapted to the demand for truly affordable housing.
The government is not saying that it will abolish AccèsLogis, which could work if it were adequately funded. Instead, it has announced that the new program could be a replacement program. It will fund the private market for housing construction rather than funding not-for-profit social housing developers. We are left in a situation where the government is funding its friends to build housing while leaving vulnerable households out.
Analysts point out that there’s a disequilibrium between private developers who already have much more capital and means and social housing developers who operate with much smaller budgets and who are unable to deliver housing units as quickly.
WF: What are your demands in light of this program?
ADL: We’re asking that the government stop the rhetoric about so-called affordable housing, which it is not, except for households that can already afford to own a home anyway. Subsidizing private landlords so that they rent out cheaper housing and provide it for people in need means that you are financing the landlord. It does not help the person in the long run. It’s not about funding housing to be collectively owned for the long term. It’s the kind of program that the owner could probably get out of without being penalized too heavily. We’re unaware of all of the program’s details, but these are the things that are on our minds. We are asking that the government invest in social housing, such as co-op housing, and non-profit housing organizations. This means investments in a public housing program under the jurisdiction of the state and for us the best program to achieve social housing and meet the needs of the most precarious households is AccèsLogis.
We need to invest in social housing, build new social housing and take dwellings out of the private market. With social housing you could have not-for-profit buyers, financing that could be done for nonprofit purchasers or co-ops ready to expand and interested in buying up the neighbouring block. There are already non-profit bodies that are buying and successfully taking units off the private market. They renovate the unit with the rent going up a little so that they remain within budget, but it would never go up as it would if it were a private property doing some renovating and then renting out again and raising the rent to increase its profits. We are waging our fight for housing on many fronts.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 16, 2022)