Quebec, Ottawa dragging their feet, putting 6,000 Montreal housing units at risk, mayor says

The federal and provincial governments are struggling to come to an agreement over funds for social housing. According to Montreal's mayor, the impasse risks compromising the creation and renovation of thousands of units in the city.

Ottawa and Quebec have been negotiating for 4 years

Four shovels are placed on a box on a construction site.
Ongoing negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec are delaying the construction and renovation of nearly 6,000 social housing units in Montreal, according to the city's mayor. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The construction and renovation of nearly 6,000 social housing units in Montreal are being delayed because of a disagreement between Quebec and Ottawa, according to the Plante administration.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of a letter from Mayor Valérie Plante warning the Legault government.

The letter, sent on May 24 to the president of the Treasury Board and minister responsible for Canadian relations, Sonia LeBel, urges Quebec to agree with Ottawa on the parameters of the The National Housing Co-Investment Funding (NHCF), created in 2018.

Four years later, the two governments are still negotiating about the "basic frameworks" that will regulate how the federal government funds will be spent, according to Plante's letter. Housing matters fall under provincial jurisdiction.

The NHCF has a budget of $13.2 billion over 10 years in loans and grants to build 60,000 homes and renovate 240,000 units nationwide.

According to the Plante administration, projects aimed at building 1,207 housing units and renovating 4,700 units in the city have not yet received the funding announced within the framework of the NHCF and can't see the light of day since discussions between Quebec and Ottawa are ongoing.

Without an agreement, the projects, which would initially assist 383 low-income Montreal households, will not be able to receive NHCF funding, said the mayor.

The delays incurred already have consequences on the project's affordability, Plante added in her letter.

Montreal is calling for a quick agreement between the two governments and an accelerated processing mechanism for certain projects that currently need to get the green light from Quebec to access federal funds.

Benoit Dorais, vice-president of Montreal's executive committee, describes the situation as surreal and revolting. He says he doesn't understand why Quebec and Ottawa are unable to agree on a process to make the funds available more quickly. 

"We have to find a mechanism where money will go to organizations quickly, and it unblocks," he said. "People don't want to know who is wrong and who is right. They want to know the money is coming."

Delays are driving up construction costs, especially because of inflation, and tenants will end up footing the bill, he added.

Overall exasperation

Outside Quebec, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation manages the funds from the NHCF. But in the province, public bodies and projects funded more than 50 per cent by Quebec must obtain the approval of the provincial government to receive funding. 

A walkway leads to a grey nunnery surrounded by trees.
The social housing project for seniors in the Maison Mère des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne, in Montreal's Lachine borough, could see its costs increase if it doesn't receive federal funding soon. (Radio-Canada)

The association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec (AGRT), which represents groups that help create housing for people with low or modest income, has identified 12 social housing projects in the province that urgently need a decree from the Council of Ministers.

The association is worried the decrees won't be adopted before the provincial election on Oct. 3.

Bâtir son quartier, a group which helps organizations and co-operatives carry out housing projects, also decried the lack of an agreement between the federal and provincial governments.

The company manages several projects that rely on NHCF funding, including the conversion of the Maison des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne in Montreal's Lachine borough. The 270-unit social housing project for seniors could see its costs climb if it doesn't receive federal funding.

If the costs increase, the group leading the project would need to find other grants or take out a loan. "Either we increase subsidies once again, then we start to run out of subsidies, or we turn to [increasing] rents, and we don't want that," said Edith Cyr, executive director of Bâtir son quartier.

"What we want is for Quebec to stop resolving things piecemeal and for us to have a comprehensive settlement."

based on a report by Radio-Canada's Olivier Bachand