Montreal

Saint-Henri group wants to turn abandoned Canada Malting site into social housing

In a neighbourhood that’s gentrifying quickly, the old malting factory is an appealing site for community organizations hoping to secure affordable housing for Saint-Henri’s lower income residents.

Borough gives $10K to explore possibility of project along Lachine Canal

The community collective À nous la Malting! has been working to get funding for a social housing project on the site for over a year, and the Southwest borough just granted them $10,000 to help them develop a project proposal. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

The old Canada Malting Company site in Saint-Henri is hard to miss — towering over the Lachine Canal, the crumbling buildings that were once a staple of Montreal's economy now sit abandoned and covered in graffiti.

In a neighbourhood that's gentrifying quickly, the former malting factory is an appealing site for a community organization hoping to secure affordable housing for Saint-Henri's lower income residents.

The land is also appealing for condo developers, but neither can act to acquire the site until the city changes the zoning to residential.

The community collective À nous la Malting! has been working to get funding for a social housing project on the site for over a year, and the Southwest borough just granted them $10,000 to help them develop a project proposal. 

"For me, it's like a very powerful letter of support," Shannon Franssen, a leader at À nous la Malting!, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak

"The $10,000 isn't going to pay for all the costs associated with developing our project."

Housing is one of the biggest needs in the neighbourhood right now, Franssen said, especially on the west side, where the Malting factory sits.

"The neighbourhood is experiencing a huge amount of gentrification," Franssen said. "Rents are rising and people are finding it harder and harder to stay in the neighbourhood, especially low-income people."

The Malting factory is a collection of buildings, erected in 1905, that the collective says is big enough for 200 social housing units.

Franssen and her team are also interested in developing urban agriculture projects on the site that could serve other needs in the neighbourhood.

Before they can do any of that, a few things need to happen: first, they need to secure more funding to kick off their project.

Shannon Franssen is a leader at À nous la Malting! (Claire Loewen/CBC)

"This kind of project is expensive, but having [the borough's] financial support means that they believe that we can take this money and do something good with it," Franssen said.

She said the collective is hoping the borough's investment will encourage funding from other levels of government.

Craig Sauvé, Projet Montréal city councillor for Saint-Henri, said the money was offered to help the collective put together a financial plan for their project. 

"The solidity of this financial plan is quintessential for further investment of public money for this project," Sauvé said in an email.

The collective is planning to present scenarios to the three levels of government, and Franssen said she hopes Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante's administration follows through on its promise to expand and improve its supply of social housing units. 

Condos, heritage value and zoning

Before anyone can live on the site, the city has to change its zoning, which is currently industrial.

But A nous la Malting! wants the borough and the city not to change the zoning of the site until a community housing project can be developed, to prevent condo developers from snatching it first.

A 2014 profile of the Southwest by Centraide showed that Saint-Henri had one of the lowest rates of average household income in the borough, and a considerable number of low-income families and individuals.

"As gentrification has sped up, underprivileged populations are constantly moving into ghettoized areas in the west end, where there is decreased access to services and a lack of food services," the report says, adding that the remaining industrial land in the neighbourhood is very desirable to developers.

The current private owner of the Malting has done nothing with it for about 30 years, Franssen said, leaving it vacant and a hotspot for vandalism — and sometimes injury.

The Malting factory is a collection of buildings, erected in 1905, that the À nous la Malting! collective says is big enough for 200 social housing units. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

In July 2017, a 15-year-old fell five metres through a shaft while exploring one of the site's abandoned buildings.

Yet another possible fate for the Malting has been brought up by Heritage Montreal: turning it into a historical site.

"We wish to draw the attention of municipal elected officials and the community to the fact that this complex should be protected and made into a historical-tourist site," Heritage Montreal's website says.

Franssen and her team say they don't want to tear down all the Canada Malting buildings, and that they'd be open to working with Heritage Montreal on preserving the site's industrial heritage. 

"Part of our project is reusing the buildings that are really just falling down and have been abandoned," Franssen said.  

She said that some parts will have to be demolished for reasons of safety and contamination, but other parts could be saved.

With files from Daybreak

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