As moving day approaches, tenants and housing advocates fear hundreds could end up on the streets

According to the Montreal-based social housing advocacy group FRAPRU, the city now has the lowest vacancy rate it has witnessed in 15 years. Even before the pandemic struck, that vacancy rate was only at around 1.6 per cent.

City of Montreal says people who are struggling to find shelter should call 311 for support

Mary Ann McLean says she has no choice but to squeeze into her 90-year-old mother’s storage room, after a year looking for housing.

Mary Ann McLean has spent nearly a year looking for a new place to call home. But after endless hours of phone calls and searching, she has been left with no choice but to squeeze into her 90-year-old mother's storage room.

"I'd been sleeping on the floor, and only recently, I've been upgraded to sleeping on my couch," McLean told CBC News Friday.

"It's very difficult."

McLean is one of hundreds affected by Montreal's housing shortage — a crisis that has been years in the making and has only been made worse by the economic backlash of the pandemic.

According to the Montreal-based social housing advocacy group FRAPRU, the city has its lowest vacancy rate in 15 years. The rate was at 1.6 per cent in January, the most recent figures from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

FRAPRU estimates about 126 families are still searching for a home as their lease comes to an end next week.

Told to leave after nearly 2 decades

McLean had been living in her Hochelaga-Maisonneuve apartment for 18 years, when her landlord informed her she would have to leave.

"He said he wanted his father here," McLean said.

"I was complaining a lot about repairs that he was not doing and I think actually he wanted to get rid of me."

McLean tried to take her case to Quebec's rental board but they told her her landlord was fully in his right to repossess the apartment, since he was moving a family member in.

After years running her own beauty salon, McLean recently had to go on government assistance because of health issues that prevent her from being on her feet all day. Because of that, her housing options are limited.

She turned to the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal (OMHM) for help but says all she got was a list of "affordable" housing to look into.

"The thing is 'affordable' is not in my budget because I'm not working." said McLean.

"The only thing I can do is go into a co-op or an HLM. The waiting list is five to seven years."

McLean said she may be able to get into a subsidized rent program, but even then, she is concerned she won't be able to afford the cost of moving, and she worries because the program is only temporary.

Mayor vows to put people in hotels if needed

Last month, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the city would do "everything it can" to ensure no one is left without a roof over their head July 1.

Plante said if need be, people would be put up in hotels temporarily, with their belongings stored in municipal buildings.

Coun. Craig Sauvé, the special advisor on housing on the city's executive committee, said there's increased pressure on people looking for housing because of the low vacancy rate.

He urged Montrealers to call 311 if they are in need of support or housing.

"Anybody that gets in our system, that calls 311, we won't let you down, and we won't let you out onto the streets," said Sauvé.

Amy Darwish, a tenants' advocate with the Comité d'action de Parc-Extension, wants to see everything from rent control to more social housing. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

However, Amy Darwish, a community organizer with the Comité d'Action de Parc-Extension (CAPE), says the city's initiatives are not enough.

Darwish wants to see rent control measures and an increased investment by both provincial and federal governments in social housing.

"Right now, the rental board just issues guidelines, and landlords are free to decide whether or not they adhere to them, and the onus is always on tenants to challenge that," Darwish said.

Darwish also called on the government to extend its moratorium on evictions, which had been on hold amid the pandemic. However, the rental board is to resume hearings on July 6, and the moratorium on evictions will also end on that date.

With files from Radio-Canada, Elias Abboud, Jennifer Yoon and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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