'Condofication' of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve sparks gentrification concerns

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has seen an increase in high-earning households in recent years, accompanied by vandalism and protest.

Number of high-earning households in the neighbourhood has doubled in the past 6 years

The Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough is third, behind Ville-Marie and the Southwest boroughs, in terms of how much social housing it offers. (Radio-Canada)

After the Plateau and Saint-Henri, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is the next Montreal neighbourhood to be at the centre of debates over gentrification. 

Like Saint-Henri, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has seen an increase in high-earning households in recent years, accompanied by vandalism and protest.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has traditionally been considered a low-income neighbourhood. The borough is third, after Ville-Marie and the Southwest, in terms of social housing units, according to a 2014 study by the city. 

But since 2010 the number of households earning more than $80,000 has doubled — from 10 per cent of the population to 20 per cent, according to the merchant group SDC Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

That matches a push to promote the borough as up-and-coming in campaigns by Tourism Montreal, the city and the borough itself.

Even the U.K.'s The Guardian newspaper considers the neighbourhood as the city's next hip spot. 

"Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in the city's east is hotly tipped and has even got a silly nickname to prove it: Ho-Ma," the newspaper remarked in 2010. 

Seeking to conserve neighbourhood

For some, Ho-Ma has managed to benefit from the influx of the high-income earners without turning its back on long-time residents. 

"It's all a question of balance," said Jimmy Vigneux, the director of SDC Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

"We're in a neighbourhood that's being transformed. There are condos being built as well as social housing and I think that's the ideal, conserving equilibrium."

But for others this "equilibrium" is just the beginning of the kind of gentrification the Plateau-Mont-Royal saw 30 years ago, and which left property there unaffordable for lower-income Montrealers. 

A social housing committee in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, BAILS, is speaking out against what they call the "condofication" of the borough.

As Hochelaga-Maisonneuve attracts more residents, they fear the social housing supply is not keeping up. 

"It takes 100 condos to have even a small percentage of social housing units built, so we're always at the mercy of the private market," BAILS spokesperson Émilie Lecavalier told Radio-Canada.

Anti-gentrification violence

About a dozen acts of vandalism have hit businesses in the borough in recent months, which some blame on anarchists and anti-gentrification groups.

Some examples include a wave of vandalism in February which left at least three stores with smashed windows and covered in paint. In April, about 20 masked protestors clashed with police, throwing Molotov cocktails at them.

Saint-Henri has experienced a similar wave of vandalism, notably when a group of masked individuals looted a boutique grocery store.

Maxime Tremblay's St-Henri grocery store, named 3734, was targeted by anti-gentrification looters in May. (CBC)

Housing activists and local politicians there have been calling for more public funding of social housing and new zoning rules that would allow for stricter rental controls.

Without such measures, it is feared long-term residents of gentrifying neighbourhoods will be forced from their homes, or become increasingly unable to find consumer options they can afford. 

"Something can be done about gentrification," said François Saillant, a spokesman for Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a housing group that has been fighting gentrification since the 1980s.

"But in order for something to be done it takes important struggles that force governments to take action."