Montreal is experiencing a housing crisis. While the exact definition varies depending on who you ask, a housing crisis is commonly defined as an area experiencing scarce supplies of affordable dwellings. In Montreal, and other major cities in Canada, like Toronto and Vancouver, affordable housing is becoming harder to find and the increase in houselessness is cause for concern.
On this page, we’ll explore the causes of Montreal’s housing crisis, and what YOU can do to help!
Montreal’s Housing Context in a Couple Numbers
- 1. Percentage of households in “core housing need”:
- a. In Canada: 9.8% of Canadian households are in core housing need.
- b. In Quebec: 5.4% of Québecers are in core housing need
- c. In Montreal: 10.9% of residents are considered in core housing need.
- d. At Concordia?: SURVEY NEEDED
- 2. Number of people experiencing houselessness: (Infographic):
- a. In Canada: 35,000 people experience houselessness on any given night.
- b. In Quebec: 5,789 people experience houselessness on any given night
- c. In Montreal: 3,016 people experience houselessness on any given night
Core Housing Need and Houselessness
Montreal is experiencing two major housing issues that you likely encountered when living here. First, there is a lack of affordable housing as 10.9% of Montreal’s households are considered to be in what is called “core housing need”, which exceeds Canada’s national average. Second, Montreal is disproportionately affected by houselessness as it accounts for more than half of Quebec’s houseless population, while only housing less than a quarter of people living in the province. These two issues are intrinsically linked and are best explained through two lenses. There is an economic explanation behind Montreal’s housing crisis that can be traced to poor governmental policy, and there are unavoidable social inequalities plaguing Montreal’s housing crisis that overly impact marginalised groups.
The economics behind the crisis
Economically the logic is simple, there is too high of a demand and too low of a supply for affordable housing in Montreal. There are too few affordable housing units being built or developed, and too many people needing affordable units. Only 7.3 per cent of the new units built between 2017 and 2020 were devoted to social housing in Montreal. Coupled with that, vacancy rates, hit a 15 year low of 1.5% in 2019, meaning that the supply of affordable dwellings in Montreal became extremely limited. Simultaneously, Montreal’s population continues to grow larger every year. Hence, certain households are forced to do one of two things: Either spend more than 30% of their income on housing, or live in unsuitable and/or inadequate conditions. While unsuitable and inadequate dwellings represent a prevalent issue, the major culprit which pushes people in core housing needs remains affordability. According to the 2018 Canadian Housing survey, of all Canadians, “almost three-quarters (74.0%) were deemed in core housing need because they did not meet the affordability standard”. Thereupon, affordable housing and core housing need are used interchangeably. But the question remains, how did we get here?
This crisis, that you likely have experienced first hand in Montreal, is caused by a multitude of poor economic policies which worsen the already dire situation of certain minority groups in Montreal. According to the Montreal Homelesness and Indigenous Situation policy report carried out in November 2020, here are the major catalysts that drove much of Canada’s big cities towards a housing crisis;
- In the 80’s and 90’s there were major federal and provincial divestments from social programs, including affordable housing. This responsibility now fell in the hands of municipalities which were under equipped and underfunded. As demand for housing grew in Montreal and other cities, municipalities were not able to build and adequately match the supply of affordable units needed by larger populations.
- At the same time, the federal government started heavily subsidising homeownership, like ‘government insurance for mortgage-backed securitization programs’. This economic operation only benefits commercial banks and wealthy canadian households since “homeownership has declined among lower-income households since the 80s”.
- As a result, housing became viewed more as an asset than for its actual housing use. This pushed Montreal towards international investing markets which drove higher prices, making the city even more desirable for investors. This cycle of higher prices=good investment continuously repeats itself and its effects are notably exemplified by Airbnb’s presence “which has taken tens of thousands of units out of the long-term rental market just on the island”.
These policies have slowed down the construction and addition of affordable housing units, whilst also driving up housing prices in Montreal. This privatisation of Canada’s housing market, Montreal included, pushed a UN special rapporteur in 2017 to claim that Canada’s “over-reliance on private market housing supply to respond to urban housing needs …may result in new housing supply being targeted mostly toward the rich, creating inflated real estate values, speculation and significant deficits of affordable housing”. In summary, Canada and Montreal’s reliance on the private sector is detrimental to affordable housing efforts as investors will naturally seek higher revenues coming from higher-earning tenants. Additionally, these units are subject to fluctuations in price because of our unstable markets which drives housing prices higher than what they are worth. Altogether, these economic policies set out in the 80’s and 90’s commenced a cycle that largely engendered today’s housing crisis.
The Social Factor
The economics behind this crisis help us understand why we face this issue, but of equal importance, we must bring attention to the who’s of this crisis. In Canada and Montreal the housing crisis does not affect everyone equally. More specifically, certain groups are disproportionately experiencing core housing needs and the same can be said of the population experiencing houslessness.
When looking at the demographics of Canada’s households experiencing core housing needs, visible minorities alongside seniors represent the two groups that are the most affected by this inequality. In Canada, “over one-third of seniors living alone (37.0%) lived in an unaffordable home in 2018”. And “visible minority groups are twice as likely to be experiencing core housing needs when compared to those not belonging to visible minority groups”. The poorest neighbourhoods, who are often the most ethnically diverse, experience much worse housing conditions. For example, in Parc Extension, more than one in four households are considered in core housing need(26.6%), while other neighbourhoods like Candiac, a 30 min drive away, sit at 2.7%.
Similarly, Montreal’s houseless population is not representative of Montreal’s population as a whole. Ethnicity, gender and age all play a larger role. The figures cited here are taken from The state of Homelessness in Canada which is the most recent and extensive data accessible.
- Nearly half of all of Canada’s houseless are single adult males(47.5%)
- Around 20% of houseless are youth (16-24 years)
- Indigneous people are overrepresented in all urban centres
- 71% of houseless women experienced some form of abuse
Another worthy mention worsening the economic and social aspect of affordable housing and houselessness in Montreal is gentrification. Its effects are two fold since it raises the price of rents, but it does so in the poorest neighbourhoods where affordable housing is desperately needed. While it may seem counterintuitive, this issue stems from richer neighbourhoods and their faulty zoning laws.
Wealthier neighbourhoods prefer low density communities, hence they lobby politicians to protect old zoning laws which prevent new housing developments. They have the resources to do so, therefore very few or no new housing units are built. Yet, the demand for high priced units still exists, and that demand shifts to poorer neighbourhoods where people do not have sufficient resources to block off these developments. Ultimately, new expensive units appear on the market in poorer neighbourhoods which naturally pushes the price of surrounding units higher. This gentrification is happening in many areas of Montreal, notable examples include Parc Extension, Verdun or Chinatown, where locals are evicted out of their neighbourhoods as rent becomes unaffordable.
In short, when it comes to unaffordable housing and houselessness, Montreal exceeds the Canadian national average. The issue is economical, but disproportionately affects marginalised groups and poor neighbourhoods. Furthermore, the encroaching gentrification of various areas in Montreal exacerbates both unaffordable housing and houselessness.
If you, or someone you know qualifies as someone in “core housing need”, there are some solutions available that can help alleviate the financial and emotional stress endured.
- First, act locally! Most neighbourhoods in Montreal have local housing groups which strengthen solidarity, lobby against rent increase, and may offer resources! (hyperlink this)
- Second, review the rights and laws concerning rent increases. Rent spikes may be illegal, and if they are legal, that does not necessarily mean landlords are allowed to evict tenants if they refuse the rent increase! If you need help with this step, reach out to HOJO! They can help.
- Third, and as explained earlier, effective action against gentrification also means pressuring politicians and richer neighbourhoods to update their zoning laws which alleviates increased housing demand. Find out what zoning laws your borough has, and whether or not public officials intend on changing them! If not, vote them out!
- The city of Montreal also suggests residents who are in desperate need of affordable housing to call 311 or consult l’Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal.
- Stop using Airbnb (and other similar platforms), which are directly linked to this crisis! Here’s why.
- Get Involved! SHAPEM, SOLIDES, UTILE, Interloge, Bâtir son quartier, Accueil Bonneau and Brique par brique, are all nonprofits fighting to keep Montreal affordable. They are always looking for help and resources, don’t hesitate to check them out!
Since unaffordable housing and houselessness go hand in hand, many of the things outlined above will naturally help people experiencing houselessness in Montreal. Yet, there are a couple specific things YOU can do that better target and improve the houselessness crisis.
- The biggest step you can take to tackle the source of this houselessness crisis is to demand safe and affordable housing from elected officials. There is a direct relationship between this crisis and the laws and bylaws officials pass, we need to vote for officials who will address these issues. .
- Offer your help at emergency shelters in Montreal! (List of shelters in Montreal)
- Empathise with your houseless neighbours. (Guide to being a better neighbour)
- Promote Indigenous centred housing efforts.