Montreal offers help to at least 160 households as moving day risks leaving them homeless

Mayor Valérie Plante has promised to put people up in hotels acquired by the city during the COVID-19 crisis and store their belongings in municipal buildings if needed.

Lack of affordable housing coupled with low vacancy rate is made worse by pandemic, tenant advocate says

Moving day can be exciting for some Montrealers and devastating for others. In the past, families have been left homeless but not this year, says Mayor Valérie Plante. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

As moving day kicks off in the midst of a housing shortage in Montreal — not to mention an economic downturn spurred by the pandemic — Mayor Valérie Plante's administration says it will ensure no one is forced out onto the street.

The mayor has promised to put people up in hotels acquired by the city during the COVID-19 crisis and store their belongings in municipal buildings if needed.

So far, about 160 households have asked for assistance from Montreal's housing office, the OMHM, and if a new place isn't found for these residents by the end of the day today, "they will be accommodated in emergency housing," said city spokesperson Laurence Houde-Roy.

"Efforts will continue to be made to help them find permanent housing," she said.

The situation is evolving quickly and it's hard to say how many residents will need assistance after the dust settles, she said.

If anybody is still looking for housing, Houde-Roy said, they should call 311 immediately for assistance. 

Back in May, Plante unveiled her plan to keep people off the street, but she added that the federal and provincial governments need to invest in affordable housing.

The vacancy rate was at 1.6 per cent in January, the most recent figures available from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Rental rates on the rise

Rental rates have been skyrocketing in recent years, forcing some 87,000 households to spend more than 50 per cent of their household income on a place to live.

Beyond the high cost, there are distressingly few apartments on the market and the situation has been made worse by COVID-19, says Amy Darwish, a tenants' advocate with the Comité d'action de Parc-Extension.

Amy Darwish, a tenants' advocate with the Comité d'action de Parc-Extension, says just visiting apartments has been difficult during the pandemic. (CBC)

"This neighborhood was already facing a housing crisis long before the pandemic hit," she said.

"But the pandemic has definitely exacerbated it. A lot of people lost their source of income."

She said people aren't interested in moving during the pandemic, meaning fewer apartments are being vacated and yet some people have no choice but to move for a variety of reasons.

Moving companies kept busy during pandemic

Montreal companies say business is booming. Martin Langlois, owner of Déménagement Martin, says he's been extraordinarily busy over the last few months.

Langlois moved some 300 households in June alone.

Mathieu Carrier wasn't moving his family far, but he didn't want to put his friends at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by asking them to help. He hired a mover instead. (CBC)

Sylvain Audet, owner of Déménagement Blais, said he has been busy, too.

"This is my biggest year," he told Radio-Canada. "March and April were my biggest months in five years."

That may be, in part, because the province is discouraging people from relying on friends and family during the pandemic. Quebec recommends people hire professional movers, who have strict public health rules to follow.

That's exactly why Mathieu Carrier hired a professional, even if he's moving his young family down the street.

"We usually did it with he help of friends, but now we can't because that would require a lot of people," he said. "So we checked on the internet, and found this company with a COVID-19 policy."

With files from Alison Northcott and Radio-Canada


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