What should be done with the Canada Malting site in Saint-Henri?
A group of 40 people in the neighbourhood want to see the land used for social housing
The Canada Malting company site along the Lachine Canal in Saint-Henri has been sitting empty and neglected for 30 years. It's coated in layers of graffiti, fallen into disrepair and sitting on contaminated land.
But the building's owners aren't the only ones dreaming of transforming the site.
A community group called À nous la Malting has proposed an ambitious idea to convert the industrial building into a collectively owned complex with 200 affordable rental units, a rooftop garden, a bike repair shop, a public daycare, a community kitchen and a museum.
The group's goal is to develop some much-needed social housing in the area and create "a refuge for people being displaced by gentrification."
Shannon Franssen, a member of À nous la Malting, says now is the time to start re-imagining how the area can be developed going forward.
"We want to show people that it is possible to develop our city differently," she said. "We don't need to make profit off people's need for housing and for essential services."
About 40 members have been working on the proposal for years, drafting architectural plans and detailed budgets for how each branch of the project would recoup costs.
À nous la Malting will present its plan for the site to the city next week.
In order for their plan to proceed, they are asking the city to pass a bylaw which would put a "mise en réserve" on the property, effectively taking it off the commercial market.
Franssen said this would keep the property's value from going up and would provide a window of two years to negotiate with the owner. She said the group has been asking the city to do this since 2013.
"It won't cost the city a cent," she said. "What it does is give us time to find the financing to buy the site ourselves."
The group says that extra time would give it a chance to raise funds to purchase the lot.
"It's time for Projet Montréal to really show that they are going to be the government of this city that does things differently and we're offering them the way to do that on a silver platter," said Franssen.
Before anything can be done with it, the land will have to be re-zoned from industrial to residential at the borough level.
Renwick, the private developer that owns the land, says if it can get the land re-zoned and it's own project proposal approved, it's ready to break ground tomorrow.
"We're ready to build as soon as we get the permits," said Glenn Castanheira, spokesperson for Development La Malterie, the Renwick-owned subsidiary hoping to carry out the project.
The firm's plan involves the construction of 220 apartments, made up of 160 condos and 60 social housing units.
The design also involves a park, public access to the Lachine Canal, space for offices and artist studios, and a place for specialized education services for children with autism.
Castanheira said the proposal from À nous la Malting is interesting but is missing one major component — funding.
"Sure it's possible to do everything without the private sector if you have unlimited public money," he said. "Unfortunately that's not the case."
He added that the projected construction costs for his company's plan total $120 million, while decontamination of the land is expected to cost $30 million.
Castanheira said that the developer had a meeting with the À nous la Malting collective several years ago, but "it was pretty obvious that although the projects, both ours and theirs, are similar, they do not wish to have private involvement."
For their part, À nous la Malting has not said how they plan to raise the money to buy the land or build the complex, but say the last thing the area needs is more luxury condos pushing out long-time residents.
They say they're just hoping if the city can buy them some time.
With files from Elias Abboud