Montreal to use hotel booked for COVID crisis to house anyone still homeless on moving day

Montreal was already in the midst of a housing crisis before the pandemic struck, and with July 1 moving day around the corner, Mayor Valérie Plante's administration is launching a range of initiatives aimed at assisting the city's most vulnerable residents.

'We cannot do it alone': Montreal mayor calls on federal, provincial governments to help ease housing crisis

Moving day is usually a bit chaotic in Montreal. In this year of the pandemic, the city is taking extra measures to help people find affordable accommodation in time for July 1. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

With the annual chaos of July 1 moving day around the corner, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says the city is doing "everything it can" to ensure no one is left without a roof over their head once the dust settles.

That may mean going as far as putting people up in hotels temporarily and storing their belongings in municipal buildings, she announced Wednesday — saying the city will use the hotel space it acquired during the COVID-19 crisis to house anyone who finds themselves homeless this summer.

Even before the pandemic struck, Montreal was faced with a low vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent, and rents were on the rise, forcing some 87,000 households to fork over more than 50 per cent of their family income to housing costs, she said.

Plante said the housing shortage in Montreal and surrounding suburbs is becoming "more and more intense from one year to the next."

She said other Canadian cities are experiencing the same crunch, and while her administration has been working to come up with solutions, the city can't do it alone.

Calling on Ottawa, province to help

The governments of Canada and Quebec need to develop a housing plan "as quickly as possible" to support those in need, Plante said.

She has asked the Legault government to contribute $5 million to the city to help vulnerable renters find an affordable place to live.

The pandemic has made the situation worse than ever, Plante said, as the economic shutdown has taken a toll on so many, with unemployment spiking.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says public health guidelines should be respected during moves, but the city has asked police to play an educational role and not to ticket people helping others to move. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

She encouraged anybody who needs housing help to call the city's 311 hotline. The city has increased its staff and streamlined resources, boosting its social-housing reference service, so people who need help are accompanied through the process of finding an affordable place to live, Plante said.

So far, 144 people have called for help, and that number is expected to rise as July 1 gets closer, said Coun. Robert Beaudry, who is the city's executive committee member in charge of housing.

Police asked to not fine movers

Once people start moving, it will be expected that they do so with public health guidelines in mind, Beaudry said.

Montreal police have been asked to refrain from issuing fines to groups assisting with moves, but they will be out educating people on the importance of staying two metres apart from one another and of covering their face whenever that's not possible.

Beaudry said people need to remember to wash their hands regularly and not to share food or drinks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the meantime, the city is continuing the effort to curtail COVID-19's impact on the local economy — adding to a laundry list of new initiatives aimed at keeping businesses afloat despite the shutdown.

"It is essential that we connect the needs of housing within our economic recovery plan," Plante said. "There are people out there who are looking for a roof and it is absolutely necessary to recognize that."

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