Montreal·CBC Investigates

Affordable housing hard to find in 'hot neighbourhoods' like Montreal's Mile End

Local governments support building co-operatives to meet the need for affordable housing in high-rent neighbourhoods, but co-op housing projects face many hurdles.

Co-op housing projects face hurdles: shifting political priorities, cuts to subsidies, inadequate financing

The derelict former École des Premières Lettres on de Gaspé​ Avenue in Mile End is slated to be demolished, to be replaced with a 93-unit housing co-operative. (CBC)

Kevin O'Neil wants to stay in Montreal's Plateau–Mont-Royal neighbourhood.

But with a new baby on the way, he and his wife need more space.

Kevin O'Neil and his wife would like to find co-op housing in Mile End, but the wait is so long, they fear they'll be forced out of their neighbourhood. (CBC)

"We have roots here," said O'Neil, who likes the area's community vibe. "We've been here a long time, we know the place, the place knows us. If we could, we would."

But the neighbourhood is so hot, rents have shot through the roof. O'Neil searched for a two-bedroom apartment but couldn't find anything for less than $1,500 a month.

That's more than they can afford, so O'Neil and his wife are looking to co-operative housing, where they'd pay a reduced rent.

Several years ago, the Plateau borough reserved three parcels of land for co-operative housing, aimed at families like the O'Neils.

But so far, only one co-op has been built. The second lot is still being used as a municipal public works yard.

The third is the former École des Premières Lettres, on de Gaspé Avenue in Mile End. 

Project faces hurdles

Here is an architectural drawing of the Mile End Housing Co-op, which is to be built on de Gaspé Avenue near Laurier. (CBC)

The mouldy, asbestos-ridden vacant school was supposed to be ripped down long ago, to be replaced by 93 new apartments and a daycare. But despite years of work by co-op members and Mile End city councillor Richard Ryan, there's still no firm demolition date – making the building a target for squatters and taggers.

"Normally, it's three to four years, not five to six years," said Ryan. "It's a long time, and the needs are increasing each day."

Mile End Councillor Richard Ryan says the need for affordable housing in his district are increasing as rents go sky-high. (CBC)

Corinne Farazli, a member of the co-op's development committee, said the project has faced many hurdles, including shifting political priorities, cuts to subsidies and program changes.

"We felt the project was in peril many times," said Corinne Farazli, a member of the co-op's development committee.

After all the setbacks, co-op members are hoping demolition and construction will start later this year.

But there's one more challenge: the co-op still has to put out tenders for the work and construction costs have to stay within budget.

"The call for tenders is a really big stress," said Farazli, who is worried construction may be delayed even further if the bids come back over budget, forcing them to seek further financing.

Major reform needed

The Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Metro Montreal (FECHIMM) says it has repeatedly asked the government to adjust what it budgets for co-op housing to reflect current market conditions. 
Louise Constantin speaks for the Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Metro Montreal (FECHIMM). She says budgets for co-ops haven't been indexed since 2009. (CBC)

"The source of the problem doesn't lie with us," said Louise Constantin, who speaks for FECHIMM. "It lies with the government because one of the major constraints is the budgets haven't been indexed since 2009."

Money that used to be available for decontamination costs or renovations, even green construction options, has also dried up.

Constantin would like to see the city reserve more land for co-ops, especially in hot ticket areas.

Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux said he, too, is unhappy with the gap between the number of co-op units promised and what's actually built.

He wants to overhaul the entire system to try to reduce construction delays.

None of that will come in time for Kevin O'Neil and his family.

With more than 2,500 people on the waiting list for co-op housing in the Plateau, they are going to have to say goodbye to Mile End.

They have been advised to look to the Saint-Laurent or Montreal North boroughs instead.

"Being able to live somewhere is a right, it's not a privilege," said O'Neil, who has watched the vibe of Mile End change as apartments are bought up, renovated and turned into pricey condos.

"It shouldn't be revoked on a whim because someone decided they can flip where you are for three times the amount all of a sudden because it got hip. That's a little ridiculous."

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Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at


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