Old punk rock venue in Montreal to be turned into affordable housing

What was once a landmark music venue for punk rock fans on Montreal's Saint-Laurent Boulevard will be transformed into affordable student housing in coming years, the non-profit that purchased it announced this week.

Katacombes went out of business in 2019

A former music venue painted black reads "Katacombes" with a skull-and-crossbones logo.
Katacomes, at the corner of St-Laurent Boulevard and Ontario Street, still stands out for its skull-themed street art. (John Ngala/CBC )

What was once a landmark music venue for punk rock fans on Montreal's Saint-Laurent Boulevard will be transformed into affordable student housing in coming years, the non-profit that purchased it announced this week.

The goth venue covered in skulls by the corner of Ontario Street East has been dormant ever since it went out of business in late 2019.

Laurent Levesque, the executive director of the Unité de travail pour l'implantation de logement étudiant, said it could be open as early as 2025.

"We wanted to show it's now possible to build affordable student housing in the downtown," said Levesque.

The organization already runs two student co-ops, one of them by Lafontaine park in the Plateau Mont-Royal, open since 2020, and another that opened in Rosemont this summer. A total of about 300 students live in the two buildings.

Rent at the co-ops is usually about 10 to 30 per cent lower than the average for the borough, he said. For instance, the average cost of a studio in the Papineau Avenue co-op is about $750.

A man sits on a bench next to an apartment building.
Laurent Levesque is the executive director of the co-op that works to house college and university students. (CBC News)

"It's a solution that kills two birds with one stone," Laurent said. "On the one hand, we're providing high-quality below-market options for students, trying to help ease their financial burden."

"On the other hand, we're providing universities and colleges with the capacity for housing that they need to be able to attract the talent they're looking to attract."

They're also freeing up space on the private rental market for families struggling to find affordable options, he said.

"Montreal and other cities are facing a significant student housing crisis," Laurent said. "We've seen in a lot of applications from students telling us if they can't qualify for one of our units they couldn't actually pursue their studies."

"We don't want Montreal to become like Toronto — no offence to Toronto."

Karine Balé has lived in the Woodnote co-op in the Plateau for the last two years.

She'll be graduating soon but isn't stressed about having to find somewhere new to live. The co-op gives a one-year grace period to graduates, knowing just how long it can take to find something affordable, she said.

A fenced off building with a atomic bomb mural defaced by competing graffiti.
The old Katacombes venue has become a free-for-all for muralists and graffiti artists. (John Ngala/CBC )

"I've been living here for over two years now so it's been awhile and I would say I've had a great experience so far," the Concordia University student in economics said.

"I'm definitely going to miss this place, but at least I've met some great friends that I'm going to keep in touch with."

The co-op is also branching out of Montreal, Laurent said, with 200 units already under construction in Quebec City. Construction in Trois-Rivères could also begin within the next year.

Adia Giddings, who works with Concordia University's housing and job resource centre, says it's encouraging to see more co-ops popping up that are geared to students — but said they're just one piece of a tough puzzle.

The city attracts a lot of international and out-of-province students, and she said not all are savvy about what protections exist for tenants in Quebec.

That's why the centre tries to educate them about how lease transfers work, their right to fight rent increases and illegal practices like asking for security deposits or last month's rent.

"They don't know their rights as tenants," Giddings said. "We need to better educate students about their rights."

A Montreal-based non-profit is working to reduce expenses for students in Quebec City. UTILE – or the Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant - is developing high-quality housing that’s adapted to their needs. The two hundred new housing units should be available in 2023. UTILE CEO, Co-founder and spokesperson Laurent Lévesque joined guest host Peter Tardif to describe the project.

With files from John Ngala and Hénia Ould-Hammou


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