Montreal·CBC Investigates

Affordable housing in Montreal: No new starts in 7 communities

There's a renewed commitment to affordable housing from both the provincial and federal governments, however, a look at social-housing starts over the past five years in key Montreal districts shows it takes political will at the local level, too.

Plateau-Mont-Royal borough council keen to see more mixed housing, but hot rental market makes the going tough

The Coopérative D'Habitation La Familiale on Drolet and Villeneuve streets on the Plateau-Mont-Royal is the only co-operative housing project to be completed in recent years. (Allan Johnson/CBC)

There may be a renewed commitment to affordable housing from both the provincial and federal governments, but a look at social-housing starts over the past five years in key Montreal districts shows it also takes political will at the local level.

After years of no funding at all, federal Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a recent speech that his government will spend $500 million across the country.

The money will be used to "support new construction and renovation of affordable housing and measures to support housing affordability."

Ottawa's plan comes at the same time the Quebec government has promised to overhaul the way social housing is funded. 

Martin Coiteux, Quebec's minister of municipal affairs, says he's frustrated about how inefficient the system is, pointing out there is a big gap between the number of projects promised and what's actually delivered.

"I think the criteria of the program need to be revisited and changed in some cases," said Coiteux.

No new starts

The gaps are geographical, as well.

Social-housing starts on the island of Montreal over the past five years show there are several municipalities and Montreal boroughs that have no new starts. They are:

  • Pointe-Claire.
  • Dorval.
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
  • Westmount.
  • Saint-Léonard.
  • Saint-Laurent.
  • Montréal-Est.

Montreal's 5 top boroughs

The Coopérative d'habitation Petits et Grands in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is nearly completed. In this borough, 507 new social-housing units have gone up in the past five years. (Allan Johnson/CBC)

Contrast that to some Montreal boroughs that have had hundreds of new social-housing starts in recent years.

According to the City of Montreal, the five boroughs with the most new starts over the past five years are:

  •  Le Sud-Ouest: 722 units.
  •  Ville-Marie: 574 units.
  •  Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve:  507 units.
  •  Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce: 463 units.
  •  Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie: 303 units.

Plateau–Mont-Royal: a special case

Despite the high demand for social housing in Plateau-Mont-Royal, in the past five years, just 158 new units have been built.

The Plateau's borough council is keen to develop more social housing. 

"We have to build the community," said Mile End councillor Richard Ryan, who thinks it's important to preserve a mix of condos and housing for people with less money. 

But space is limited, and social housing models such as co-operatives often must compete for land with private developers. 

Demand to live in a hot rental market like the Plateau-Mont-Royal comes with a years' long waiting list. 

According to the Atelier D'Habitation Montreal – one of four technical resource centres on the island for people exploring social-housing options – there are more than 2,600 people seeking social housing on the Plateau. That includes co-operatives, low-rental housing (HLMs) and rent-subsidized apartments.

A bargain too good to give up

If someone does manage to get their hands on a co-op unit on the Plateau, it can be a real bargain.

The Atelier D'Habitation Montreal says an average, non-subsidized four-and-a-half unit in a Plateau co-op is $760 a month. Keep in mind, that's for less than 800 square feet.

In principle, co-ops are for people with modest incomes. The rules state that the suggested income ceiling for a three-person household before taxes is nearly $77,000 annually.

A certain percentage of the units are also subsidized, which means someone on social assistance would pay a fixed percentage of their monthly revenue towards rent.

However, some people waiting years for a co-op unit complain once someone is in a housing co-op, they're reluctant to leave, even if their income climbs above the ceiling over time. There's no mechanism to force a wealthier co-op member to move on – making the waits for those truly in need longer still. 

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Leah Hendry


Leah Hendry is an investigative reporter with CBC in Montreal. She specializes in health and social issues. She has previously worked as a reporter for CBC in Vancouver and Winnipeg. You can email story ideas or tips to