Hampstead tenants devastated by developer's plans to bulldoze their apartments

Tenants in a pair of apartment blocks say they're heartbroken and confused after being notified by letter and a sign on the front lawn that their buildings could be demolished to make way for a nine-storey apartment complex.

Owner says he's fulfilling marketplace need, but residents say caring community would be destroyed

Marie Pontini, who has lived in her apartment for 14 years, said finding something that's equally affordable and wheelchair-friendly will be nearly impossible. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

Tenants in a pair of apartment blocks in the Montreal suburb of Hampstead say they're heartbroken and confused after being notified by letter and a sign on the front lawn last week that their buildings could be demolished to make way for a nine-storey apartment complex.

They say there's nothing wrong with the twin three-storey brick buildings on Côte-Saint-Luc Road — in fact, they told CBC News, they live in a flourishing, tight-knit community. 

"It's not just an apartment," said Marie Pontini, who has lived in her basement apartment for 14 years. 

"This is our home."

Pontini said the people living in the 26 apartments, including children and seniors, are like family, all caring for one another.

She said when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago, neighbours pitched in to help her — one of them visiting her in the hospital.

Neighbours Andrew Martin, Marie Pontini and Patrick Demers say they'll do everything they can to stop the buildings they live in from being torn down to make way for modern, pricier housing. (Robbie Proulx/CBC)

Pontini and her neighbours feel they're being pushed out of their community, simply because the owner wants to make more money.

"People treat apartment dwellers as if they're just expendable and as if an apartment is not as much of a home," said Sharon Hyman, who has lived in the building opposite Pontini's for 26 years. 

'Fulfilling a need' in marketplace, says landlord

Jonathan Goldbloom, a communications consultant hired to represent the numbered company that owns the building, said the owner will help tenants find equivalent housing elsewhere in Montreal. (Robbie Proulx/CBC)

"We're just fulfilling a need which we see in the marketplace," said Jonathan Goldbloom, a communications consultant who represents the landlord, a numbered company whose principal shareholder is Toronto real estate executive Mitchell Abrahams.

"We're going to build a new complex which will have different amenities — elevators and new things that aren't in the premises now," said Goldbloom.

He couldn't say for sure how much the new apartments would cost, although he acknowledged it's likely rents would increase. 

He said the owner is committed to helping the current tenants find equivalent housing elsewhere in Montreal.

"We will probably set up a data bank which will provide options for them, and [we'll] work with them to see what best fits their means," Goldbloom said. 

Accessible, affordable rental housing rare

Pontini, who uses a wheelchair, said finding an accessible apartment at the rent she now pays — $540 a month — is nearly impossible.

"It's so useful for me to be able to take the bus and do my groceries," she said. "If I move, and there's no direct bus, am I going to pay for delivery every time I need groceries? I can't afford that."

Even if she were able to find another apartment within her budget, Pontini said it would likely mean moving to a new part of town and shaking up her entire life.

Hyman agrees: the tenants would never be able to replicate the neighbourhood they've built.

"Even if they could find comparable housing, they won't find a comparable community," she said.

The owners of these two buildings, located on Côte-Saint-Luc Road, hope to replace them with a nine-storey apartment complex. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Tenants feel abandoned by Hampstead

Hampstead residents have been given 10 days from the date the demolition notice was posted to file objections to the municipality.

But even doing that posed a challenge for Pontini, because the entrance to Hampstead's town hall has stairs and no ramp.

Hampstead's inaccessible municipal offices

4 years ago
Duration 0:46
Watch what Marie Pontini, who uses a wheelchair, has to do to visit Hampstead Town Hall

To deliver her letter in person, Pontini had to use her arms to pull herself up the steps, with great effort.

Once she made it inside, town clerk Pierre Tapp agreed to a meeting. 

He explained there is a multi-step process to follow before anyone is forced out. 

"She can give a petition; with a petition, we open a register. If we have enough signatures on the register, the town council will have to decide to either let the project go, or we hold a referendum," Tapp said. 

Marie Pontini met Hampstead's town clerk, Pierre Tapp, Tuesday. (Robbie Proulx/CBC)

But Pontini feels the project should never have made it this far without consultation. The urban planning committee has already approved the proposed concept for the new complex, although the municipality's demolition committee still needs to sign off on tearing down the original buildings.

"You expect that your elected officials will respect your rights and will protect you as a resident," said Pontini. "None of us feel respected or protected in any way. We feel completely alone against ... people with [a lot] of money." 

Tapp said he spoke with the developer to make sure he is committed to helping the tenants if the project gets the green light.

He said he was assured that he would take each individual case seriously. 

"I said, 'You have to take care of special cases. It's not everybody the same colour. Each person you have to deal with.' And he said, 'Yes, we'll take care of this.'" 

This sign went up on the lawn in front of the buildings on Côte-Saint-Luc Road last week, notifying citizens of a request for demolition. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

Goldbloom said if everything is approved, which is not a sure thing, it's hard to know exactly when residents would have to move out. 

But he said he's certain tenants wouldn't have to move out before next year.

Citizens will have an opportunity to express their concerns and meet with the demolition committee and council at 6:30 p.m. on July 3, at the Hampstead Community Centre. 

Following that, there will be a meeting with the developer on July 15.


Jaela Bernstien


Jaela Bernstien is a Montreal-based journalist who covers stories about climate change and the environment for CBC News. She has a decade of experience and files regularly for web, radio and TV. She won a CAJ award as part of a team investigating black-market labour in Quebec. You can reach her at

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Franca Mignacca