The sale and redevelopment of a multipurpose building in Montreal's Parc-Extension district has some residents concerned about the future of their neighbourhood.
Mohammed Azizul Haque, who owns Marché Pardesh, a grocery store, has been stressed and unable to sleep ever since he got a letter in his mailbox in October informing him that he will have to leave 7300 Hutchison Street.
"I always feel tension," he said.
After eight years of owning the business — the last two of which have been at the Hutchison location — the business owner was told he has 32 days to vacate the premises.
"I don't know what I will do because now rent is too high," he said. "It's difficult to find a place."
Known as Hutchison Plaza or the Johnny Brown Building, the building sits across the street from the Parc Metro station. For years, it's housed small local businesses, religious spaces, community groups and several floors of residential apartments.
The BSR Group, the new owner, is hoping to convert the building into "fully loaded" apartments near some "culturally diverse, trendy and artistic Montreal neighbourhoods."
The neighbourhood's housing advocacy committee is questioning the move and wondering what will happen to the residential and commercial tenants in the building.
"We would like to know the future for these people," said André Trépanier, who's with the Comité d'action de Parc-Extension.
"People are not feeling safe, especially for a small organization with a small budget, it's not easy to find a cheap place to rent."
Trépanier bristled at the language used to promote the proposed development — words such as "diverse" and "trendy."
"[They] are using the 'exotic' brand of Park Ex to try to make money with the new people, instead of supporting the people and community groups now in that building," he said.
'A better place'
Ron Basal, the project manager of the BSR Group, sounded surprised to hear that some people in the area don't support the project.
"Building a beautiful building is a bad thing?" Basal said. "Everything is old in Park Ex, and there's something new coming up."
He said approximately 60 apartments will be available for rent. Asked if those units would be affordable to low-income tenants, Basal said the rental units would be priced at market value.
"We are a private company, and we are a profit organization, not a non-profit organization," he said.
"I understand there's low income in Park Ex,' he said. "We will only do what the market dictates. Unfortunately, the refugee community in the building that rented, they can't afford it."
The BSR Group is hoping to attract professionals, young families and immigrants to the neighbourhood, he said.
Basal said the building had "druggies over there sleeping" and that "75 per cent of the building" wasn't paying their rent. He said some of those who moved out recently left their units in "catastrophic conditions."
"We're trying to change it to a better place," he said.
The developer still awaits a permit to start construction. Meanwhile, the elevator is boarded up, and only a few tenants are left inside.
Haque, the grocer, said he is not going anywhere.
He sent the new building owners a registered letter saying his lease requires a six-month eviction notice, and he wants his moving costs to be covered, too.
For Trépanier, the concern goes beyond the proposed development project in the Hutchison Street building.
"We are concerned about how Parc-Extension is changing now," he said.
Trépanier said he sees how neighbourhoods like Mile End have changed over the years. He fears that new developments like this one, coupled with the new Université de Montréal campus in neighbouring Outremont, are going to change the area.
"We are the last spot that's very well-located that is still not gentrified," he said. "We are worried that we are now the next destination."
This new development encompasses that feeling, he said, because it doesn't help to resolve the lack of affordable housing for those already in the area.
"We don't want a luxury project that will bring new culture of people from outside Park Ex. We want to focus on developing low-income apartments, cheap apartments, for the people who are actually living in Park Ex."