Almost a third of social housing in Quebec in deplorable state

Housing inspection reports obtained by Radio-Canada show 707 buildings - nearly a third of affordable, subsidized housing in Quebec - is in bad or very bad condition. Laval has the worst record, with 31 per cent in a deplorable state.

Inspection reports show years of underfunding have taken their toll on quality of social housing

More than half the tenants of the formerly private Val-Martin social housing complex in Laval were forced to move out because mould and water infiltration made the apartments unlivable. (Radio-Canada)

​Housing inspection reports obtained by Radio-Canada give a failing grade to 29 per cent of the buildings set aside for affordable, subsidized housing in Quebec.

The reports indicated that 707 buildings are in bad or very bad condition. 

Of 2,421 low-cost, social-housing buildings in Quebec, 707 are in poor or very poor condition, according to the Société d'habitation du Québec's own inspection reports. (Société d'habitation du Québec)

Quebec's housing corporation, the Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ), rates the quality of each building in its social housing inventory between A and E, with grades D and E signaling conditions that are either "bad" or "very bad." 

According to the documents obtained by Radio-Canada, 315 buildings set aside for low-income housing were graded as E.

A further 390 were ranked as D. 

Catching up after years of neglect

"It's no joke," said Robert Pilon, who heads the affordable housing group La Fédération des locataires d'habitations à loyer modique du Québec.

"It means your kitchen, your bathroom, are finished and worn out. It means you don't have a good quality of life."

Pilon believes that the poor quality of government-owned, subsidized housing in Quebec can be explained by several years of insufficient investment in maintaining the buildings. 

Fifteen years ago, the provincial government was setting aside only around $30 million annually for the maintenance of its low-income housing stock, he said. 

That number rose to $343 million by 2008, where it has remained ever since. 

​In 2007, the SHQ estimated it would cost $4 billion to repair and renovate its social housing stock. About half that amount has been invested since.

Inspections by the Société d'habitation du Québec found 31 per cent of the social housing stock that got a failing grade is in the City of Laval. (Société d'habitation du Québec)

Better to start from scratch?

Laval has the highest percentage of poor social housing, with 31 per cent getting an E grade, according to SHQ documents.

The worst of the worst is the Val-Martin social housing complex in the Chomedey district – where some 60 buildings are in deplorable condition. 

The complex, built in the 1950s and once privately owned, suffered a serious water-infiltration problem in 2006, caused by a torrential downpour and rapid snow melt. 

More than half the 534 units in the Val-Martin social housing complex in Laval's Chomedey district are vacant, due to insalubrious conditions caused by water infiltration and mould. (CBC)

"The infiltration caused mould, and when you have mould, you have unhealthy conditions," said Laval city councillor Nicholas Borne, who chairs Laval's municipal housing office (OMH). 

Tenants had to be moved out, and now more than half the 534 apartments in the social housing complex stand empty.

Borne said the OMH has renovated 30 apartments from top to bottom, at a cost of $150,000 per unit.

"It's more cost-effective, more reliable and more sustainable to start again from nothing," said Borne.

Translated from a report by Radio-Canada's Olivier Bachand