The North Star


Construction reform and housing crisis in Québec

A moratorium on luxury condos instead of Bill 51?

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In recent months, faced with a 32% drop in residential construction, the Quebec government has been promoting the idea of greater worker "flexibility" to boost construction, notably with its Bill 51. In contrast, tenants' advocates, including FRAPRU, are calling for the construction of 50,000 social housing units.

According to Richard Miron of Laval's L'En-Droit community organization, building new housing without thinking about who it's intended for is not the solution. Instead, priority should be given to building social housing, since this would guarantee better quality and accessibility for tenants. In fact, his organization has undertaken to build social housing for its users.

Like the tenant defense coalitions, he is calling for recognition of the right to housing in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a proposal rejected by Quebec's CAQ government.

He explains to North Star that "the issue is not so much creating lots of new housing. It's about ensuring that the poorest people have access to their own housing, and that the housing they're building is accessible. Because we're seeing a lot of construction, but it's a lot of condos or units with rents that are too high for a young worker, for example."

Image source: FTQ Construction

The average vacancy rate in Quebec for rental units is 1.3%. However, for low-cost housing, this rate needs to be revised downwards, according to Miron.

"The vacancy rate for slums right now must be close to 0%. Imagine the competition that creates. And yet, there are plenty of condos for rent. For investors, it doesn't matter if the condos stay empty because they're making their money on speculative value."

"In low-quality apartments, speculative value exists to some extent, but it's tighter. Here, since there's a lot of competition for them, they're relatively expensive for what they're really worth. In the end, you end up with overpriced housing.

For Mr. Miron, in terms of housing quality, social housing is superior to "slum housing". "For new social housing construction, the government demands so much that it becomes like a barrier to developing it. But at the same time, you still end up with quality housing being built."

"At the rate condos are being built, it can't be quality, and the bad apartments are almost unlivable."

PL51 would therefore be going the wrong way. "It's a poorly targeted bill. Labour costs aren't the real issue. The real issue is having housing that can be financially accessible for different sectors of the population."

"At some point, it's not up to workers to pay for the housing crisis. And it's not up to immigrants either. What's more, PL51 has no measures to control rising construction costs."

Image source: Flickr user "Caribb"

Miron thinks we need to review the type of housing we build, giving priority to social housing.

"First of all, I think there should be a moratorium on luxury condos. In any case, we know that no worker is going to have access to them. Or very few. The fact that there's a moratorium on luxury condos frees up contractors to build other types of housing."

Revising the way contracts are allocated is also part of the solution.

"I also think we need to create a community contractor. There's the CSN's Fondaction. There's the FTQ's Solidarity Fund. They could work with community organizations, technical resource groups and various community players to do this. This would enable regions that want to take charge of their own development to do so independently."

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