Facing high rent and limited options, hundreds of Quebec tenants struggle to find new homes

Across the province, 373 households, which can include a single renter or an entire family, were without a lease on July 2 last year. That was the highest since 2003 and advocates worry this year won’t be much better.

Vacancy rate is improving in Montreal, but many renters can't afford rising rents

Hundreds of households, be they single renters or entire families, are expected to be without a lease after July 1 in Quebec. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Jocelin Bautisa lives in Châteauguay, Que., on Montreal's South Shore with her three daughters and her family will get bigger soon. Her eldest is pregnant.

But larger apartments are more expensive and hard to find and, to top it off, she is without a job and needs a co-signer.

"It's complicated," she said.

Bautisa has until September to find a new place, and while that might sound like plenty of time, she's not without competition as there are many more just like her.

There will be about 100 renting households in Montreal without a lease come Canada Day, known as Moving Day in Quebec, says the housing advocacy group FRAPRU (Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain).

Across the province, 373 households — from single renters to entire families — were without a lease on July 2 last year. That was the highest since 2003 and advocates worry this year won't be much better.

FRAPRU spokesperson Véronique Laflamme said the vacancy rate has increased since then but "even if there's more places available, it's too expensive for most of the tenants."

In a statement, FRAPRU says a survey it conducted showed at least 400 households in Quebec are still looking for a lease. These people are already getting help from municipalities, it said.

The organization is calling on the municipal, provincial and federal governments to invest more in social housing.

City officials worry situation is worsening

Last July 1, Montreal received about 800 calls from people with questions about how to find a place to live. That was double the year before and city officials worry this year will be even worse.

Robert Beaudry, the executive committee member responsible for housing, said last week that the city gets calls from all sorts of people — those who live alone, middle-class families and seniors.

Montreal is vowing to help anybody who needs it, encouraging tenants to call 311 for assistance. Staff will help people find an apartment, store their belongings temporarily and even offer temporary housing.

Montreal has units available for short-term stays, said Craig Sauvé, city councillor for the Southwest borough and associate councillor for housing to the executive committee.

"We are not going to let anybody go out into the street on July 1," he told CBC News. "Anybody who contacts us, we will do our very best to help them."

WATCH | Activists say Montreal faces affordable housing crisis: 

The vacancy rate is higher, but activists say Montreal faces affordable housing crisis

2 years ago
Duration 4:58
Catherine Lussier is a community organizer with the group FRAPRU.

Plante pushes for investment

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, throughout her time in office, has called on the province and federal government to invest more in social housing.

While a tentative $1.4-billion social housing agreement was reached between Quebec and Ottawa last September, Plante has said that will take several years to bring to fruition.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has been calling on the province to invest in social housing. Premier François Legault, on other hand, has said investments are being made. (Hugo-Sebastien Aubert/The Canadian Press)

In the interim, her administration passed a bylaw this spring that forces developers to include social, family and, in some places, affordable housing units to any new projects larger than 4,843 square feet (about five units). Those who don't are on the hook for hefty fines.

Quebec Premier François Legault said in late April that under his administration, more than 3,000 social housing units have so far been built and another 3,400 are on their way. 

A provincewide organization of landlords, known as CORPIQ, has accused Plante of exaggerating the housing situation for political points. 

In a statement on its Facebook page this week, the group says 36 per cent of Montreal property owners who had space to lease found it more difficult this year to find a tenant while 22 per cent found it easier.

The other 42 per cent considered this year comparable to last year, the statement says.

with files from Kwabena Oduro