Montreal

Hampstead mayor defends voting to demolish low-rent building to make way for luxury condos

Hampstead's town council voted Monday evening to approve a project that will have the buildings demolished and replaced with a 10-storey luxury apartment block.

'We're not just an apartment building, we're a community,' said one resident.

The tenants of these two buildings, located on Côte-Saint-Luc Road, were devastated by the decision made by Hampstead's town council to demolish the buildings to make way for a 10-storey luxury apartment block. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Tenants of twin apartment buildings on Côte-Saint-Luc Road are shocked and worried they may soon have to pack their bags and find new housing.

Hampstead's town council voted Monday evening to approve a project that will have the buildings demolished and replaced with a 10-storey luxury apartment block.

"The thought of demolishing perfectly viable housing in the middle of a housing crisis to make way for a luxury high rise just seemed so morally abhorrent to us as tenants," said Sharon Hyman, who has lived in the apartment building for 26 years.

The results of the meeting left her in tears.

"We're not just an apartment building, we're a community," she said.

Hampstead's town council had initially voted three-to-two against the project in a meeting July 15.

But with one councillor, Harvey Shaffer, absent from that meeting, Mayor William Steinberg vetoed that decision, calling for another vote on the project when the entire council would be present.

That vote happened on Monday.

Mayor William Steinberg vetoed the July 15 vote against the project as councillor Harvey Shaffer was absent from that meeting. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Councillors were divided over the project, with three voting in favour and three voting against. Steinberg broke that tie by stating his approval.

Steinberg, and other councillors who voted in favour of the project, said the area was in need of development. They said a large portion of Côte-Saint-Luc Road is currently vacant.

"I don't want to see this continue. How many vacant buildings, how many run down buildings will we have to have on Côte-Saint-Luc Road before we start allowing development?" Steinberg said Tuesday in an interview.

The town's demolition committee had already approved the building's demolition, on the condition the development project is approved.

Marie Pontini, who has lived in the apartment for over 14 years, fears she will never find an apartment with comparable rent.

She uses a wheelchair, and is afraid she won't be able to find another apartment in the area, and will therefore have issues accessing the services and doctors she currently has access to.

"I'm not against progress. I'm a former business owner and I know that it is a good decision, business-wise and money-wise," she said.

But she would like to see residents get more compensation. She said she has already been hunting for an apartment and has little hope of finding anything near her.

Upon seeing the mayor veto the vote last month, Pontini no longer trusts the council and has little faith that residents will be able to stop the project from going through now.

"We're already all tired and it's two months that we're fighting. So we know that the more they're going to extend [the process], the less people are going to be there to fight," she said.

The developers of the new complex are ready to provide the tenants with the equivalent of three months' rent as compensation.

This notice from the landlord, erected outside the buildings in July, advises tenants the owner has applied for a permit to demolish the buildings. (Jaela Bernstein/CBC)

Residents will have until November 2020 to leave the building. They will receive a moving allowance of $1,000 and residents who have lived there for more than 10 years will receive an additional $2,000 compensation.

The developers plan to set up a database where tenants can look for new housing and set aside five of the new apartments as affordable housing.

It plans to offer those apartments to current tenants for rent at 15 per cent below market value, on a seniority basis.

Some homeowners who live outside the two buildings had also opposed the project proposal, fearing the new apartments would change the area's footprint drastically, and ruin the area's old-fashioned charm.

Citizens who are against the project can still try to halt the demolition.

After a consultation on Aug. 19, they will have eight days to gather 12 signatures against the demolition from people within the zones affected in order to start a register.

If enough eligible voters sign that register, Hampstead's town council will hold a referendum, which could stop the demolition outright.

About the Author

Franca G. Mignacca is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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