Two years after Valérie Plante’s administration said a new housing statute would lead to the construction of 600 new social housing units a year, the city has not seen a single one.
The Charter for a Diverse Metropolis requires developers to include social, family and, in some places, affordable housing units in any new development larger than 4,843 square feet.
If they don’t, they must pay a fine or turn over individual land, buildings, or units for conversion by the city into affordable or social housing.
According to data published by Ensemble Montréal, the city’s official opposition, and reviewed by Breaking:, there have been 150 new projects by private developers, creating a total of 7,100 housing units, since the statute went into effect in April 2021.
None of the units have yet been converted to affordable housing, and all of the developers of those projects chose to give financial compensation to Montreal. Only 550 units are large enough to be considered single family homes. Five developers gave a property to the city instead of creating affordable housing.
Money from fees paid by developers goes into the city’s affordable housing fund or social housing fund. So far, those fees have totaled $24.5 million, which is not enough to develop a single social housing project, according to housing experts.
“These numbers are catastrophic,” said Julien Hénault-Ratelle, a Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve city councilor with Ensemble Montréal.
“Montreal’s housing affordability crisis is getting worse by the month. We are seeing families across Montreal unable to afford housing. Concrete action will be taken fast.”
The city of Montreal had promised in 2021 to publish the results of two years of the charter in early 2023, but has not done so. Ensemble Montréal says it compiled the data itself, using the city’s open data. He asks the Plante administration to reveal what it plans to do with the five new pieces of land and $24.5 million.
Benoit Dorais, vice president of Montreal’s executive committee and a member responsible for housing, said the two-year review would be ready this fall, despite being promised this spring.
The city emphasizes that the statute is not its only tool to make housing more affordable. It has also been acquiring land and buildings for housing projects, simplifying the approval of real estate projects and working with other partners, he said in a statement.
“The ordinance is a non-negotiable social contract that we have with the population. It is a commitment to build our city and our neighborhoods differently, where everyone has a place, regardless of their wallet,” Dorais said.
Montreal housing groups say they are not surprised by the lack of cooperation from developers.
“If we wanted a real policy that would combat gentrification…we would have had a stricter rule from the beginning to force developers to give up property or include social housing,” said Véronique Laflamme, a spokeswoman for housing advocacy organization the Front d’action populaire en réam enagement urbain (FRAPRU).
“If there is the option of financial compensation, the developers will take it.”
Developer Nicola Padulo agrees, and doesn’t mince words when asked about developer social responsibility.
He says Montreal is not a good city to invest in property: construction costs are high, there is too much regulation, and developers like him are looking for as much profit as possible.
Padulo is already frustrated with the protection of tenant rights in Quebec under the province’s housing court, which he says is biased “against landlords.” Now, he says, the city wants to “poke its nose” into his business.
“If people can’t afford it, they shouldn’t live in the city. The city is made for the privileged,” she said.
Montreal should pay developers the profits they would lose by making housing more affordable or doing it themselves, Padulo said, “because if we’re the only ones that have to swallow the pill, it won’t work.”
“The city would have to buy land, hire contractors and do it themselves and take responsibility for running the building. Why would it be up to me?”
FRAPRU’s Laflamme says the real problem is that social housing programs are underfunded by the provincial government and this delays construction.
AccèsLogis, the province’s social housing fund, only has enough money to complete projects already underway, and the Quebec government said last winter it will be replaced by a program more attractive to private developers.
There are still some 24,000 families on waiting lists for social housing in Montreal and more than 100 renters were homeless as of July 1, Laflamme said.
Although the city cannot solve the problem on its own, it needs the support of the highest levels of government and the private sector, rules such as the diverse metropolis statute are needed, and the statute must be tightened immediately, Laflamme said.
“We can’t count on the goodwill of private developers, but we can’t give them the keys to the city either,” he said.
“It begs the question, who owns the city? The developers or the people who live in it?”