Longtime residents forced out of Quebec City's downtown core, housing activists say

Historic neighbourhoods in Quebec City are at risk of being taken over by condominium projects that would squeeze out longtime residents, anti-gentrification activists say.

High-end condos, short-term rentals targeted in citizen campaign, as city reviews housing policy

woman with glasses looking at camera
Véronique Laflamme of the social housing advocacy group FRAPRU says Quebec City needs to act now to address gentrification issues before a new tramway project gets underway. (Julia Page/CBC)

Historic neighbourhoods in Quebec City are at risk of being taken over by condominium projects that would squeeze out longtime residents, anti-gentrification activists say.

This comes in the wake of plans announced by the city last week to renew its housing policy, which dates back to 2005.

"We have to be sure there is an alternative for those who can't afford the price of a brand new condominium," said Véronique Laflamme, a spokesperson for the social housing advocacy group FRAPRU.

Laflamme says three types of housing are putting pressure on low-cost rental units in the downtown core, which includes Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Roch, Saint-Sauveur and Limoilou.

Apartments are being turned into short-term rentals for tourists, new condominiums are being built, and older rental units are being transformed into condominiums.

"We have to be sure that the vision of people who live in this city is heard," said Laflamme.

Posters like this were plastered over condominium building projects in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood over the weekend. (Julia Caron/CBC)

The shortage of affordable rental units means people are leaving the area altogether, said opposition Coun. Jean Rousseau, who represents the Cap-aux-Diamants district.

"There is not enough housing for middle-income people living in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, as is the case for much of central Quebec City," said Rousseau.

Exodus toward suburbs

Those who move away from downtown to resettle in cheaper neighbourhoods face other costs, Rousseau said, because access to services and public transportation is limited.

"I sense there is frustration," he said, nonetheless condemning the strongly worded posters plastered around Saint-Jean-Baptiste last weekend.

Opposition Coun. Jean Rousseau, who represents the Cap-Aux-Diamants district, says affordable housing is hard to come by in the city's central neighbourhoods. (Julia Page/CBC)

The anonymous tracts, entitled "a call for vandalism," were stuck on the windows of future condominium projects, calling the projects "a venereal disease that is sanitizing our neighbourhood."

The posters called for public consultations for "the future of the neighbourhood," ending with a vow to take other measures "to defend these streets and their inhabitants."

While Rousseau said he "wasn't impressed" by the threatening tone of the posters, he, too, wants to see more than simple public consultations, which have already been promised by Mayor Régis Labeaume.

"Very often we have large consultations, but nothing gets done," said Rousseau.

Vincent Baillargeon of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste citizens committee said while he did not necessarily agree with the harsh language used in the tracts, he "understands peoples' frustrations."

"We are worried that tenants won't be able to stay in this neighbourhood in the long term," said Baillargeon. 

Around 30 housing co-operatives already located in Saint-Jean-Baptiste have staved off the gentrification phenomenon so far, he said.

However, the growing popularity of short-term rentals to tourists has increased the pressure on the existing low-priced housing, he said.

The construction of luxury condominiums like this one that's replacing former butcher shop Boucherie Bégin on Saint-Jean Street has been controversial. (Radio-Canada)

Bracing for tramway project

The timing of a new housing policy is particularly important, said Laflamme, because of the $3-billion public transit network announced by Labeaume in March, which will include tramways, an electric trambus and reserved bus lanes.

She said it's important that the neighbourhoods that benefit from the network, which is set to be running by 2026, be protected from a surge in real estate prices.

"We have to act now to be sure that this urban planning project will not be a source of displacement for long-term tenants of the neighbourhood," Laflamme told CBC.

When he announced last week that he hoped to have a new policy adopted by the fall of 2019, Labeaume said all options were open.

"To tackle gentrification we have to ensure there is diversity," said the mayor.

With files from CBC's Breakaway and Radio-Canada