The neighbourhood of Parc-Extention from its inception in 1910, has been the perfect example of a place where communities like the British, the Jews, the Greeks and the Italians were first able to establish themselves in North America and eventually flourish. Today, its mostly South Asian and Caribbean immigrants are striving to accomplish the same thing. The district is not a melting pot but more of a smorgasbord where each community is able to keep its individuality and is only strengthened by intermingling with others.
With 44 per cent of its residents living below the poverty line, and an unemployment rate of 13,7 per cent compared with 9 per cent in the rest of the city, it isn’t work opportunities that attract immigrants to the area, but affordable housing. Or at least as affordable as possible.
According to an analysis released by Statistic Canada in 2017, residents of the Island of Montreal spend an average of $835 on rent for a two bedroom apartment, compared with $742 for residents of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.
Despite lower rent in the area, 44 per cent of the neighborhood’s residents spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing according to a study released by Centraide in 2016.
But Faiz Abhuani, Director of Brique par Brique, fears that with new developments like the Université de Montreal campus that opened in the area in January, affordable housing in Parc-Extention may soon be a thing of the past, no matter how dilapidated the unit.
“The problem is the housing market is going up but people’s purchasing power is staying the same,” said Abhuani.
For the past two years Brique par Brique has sold more than $300,000 in community bonds with the goal of purchasing a 12 unit building which would provide affordable, spacious, clean and well maintained apartments for its residents. But Abdhuani said housing is really secondary, their first goal is to work in the community to find “infrastructural economic solutions to pragmatic problems.”
“If I have a building that I bought for $500,000 and now because the university shows up all of a sudden my building is now worth 1 million,” said Vivardy Boursiquot a spokesperson for the organization, “I’m then paying twice as much in taxes for a building I didn’t touch at all, and the city makes twice as much money on it.”
“The more the value of your building goes up, the more you pay taxes and the more the city makes money, which doesn’t give them much incentive to slow down the market,” said Boursiquot.
Abhuani said most of the services the city offers are paid for by property taxes. And in Montreal these taxes are calculated based on the value of the residence and not how much revenue the building generates.
“There are large real estate companies that own all of the western side of Parc Avenue,” said Abhuani. “For them this is like storage. Pack people in, they pay the rent, and when something happens like the university, the value goes up and you sell.”
“Parc-Ex is the new Plateau,” said Tasso Kostreves who owns rental properties, and was born and raised in the area. “On one side it’s good because the property value is going up, but on the other it’s bad because a lot of immigrants are leaving the neighbourhood because they can’t afford it anymore. A four and a half will go for as much as $1,000 soon. You used to see different nationalities in the neighbourhood but now it’s mostly only French Canadians moving in.”
Abhuani said more should be done to encourage small building owners to keep renting out affordable housing in the area and not sell their properties to major real estate companies. “When taxes go up they don’t sell their BMW’s, they just up the rent. But if it’s rent controlled they have to do it gradually. But in a place like Parc-X where your tenant may not speak French or English, fears you, and may not have status, it’s so easy to get rid of tenants.”
He worries Parc-Extention may suffer similar consequences as those felt in Harlem, in New York City, where Comlumbia established its campus in a lower-income section the neighbourhood.
“Columbia is much bigger than UDM so the impact was bigger,” said Abhuani. “But rates of incarceration, homelessness, hospitalization, and all these things, they all went up because a lot of people found themselves homeless or more cramped. Their budgets didn’t change but the rent went up.”
“They squeeze more people into one apartment. People go nuts. They might hang out more in public spaces where they are more likely to get a ticket, or get arrested. More likely to get harassed, more likely to get into conflict.”
Brique par Brique’s initial goal was to purchase a building for approximately $800,000, but say it’s looking harder and harder to accomplish since the UDM campus opened.
Abhuami recalled a building on Durocher Street, recently put back on the market, he and his team passed up on last year. At the time it was going for $850,000 but they decided not to make an offer because they believed they could get something in better condition for closer to $800,000.
“From outside you can see it has cracks, the façade is falling, who knows how old the roof is and inside is probably filthy,” said Abhuami.
He says owners will usually do touch ups, in order to increase the value of their property to sell it for more on the market. “But they didn’t even bother doing that,” he said. And they put it back up for 1.15; 1.25, so they’re planning to make an extra $200,000 to $300,000 for not doing any work at all. That’s pretty fierce.”
The organization believes that with a physical dislocation will inevitably come a social dislocation. “And it’s going to affect people of colour mostly,” said Abhuani. “And 20 years down the line people are going to be like, what’s wrong with people of colour; why are they in prison so much, why do they commit so many crimes, why are they so this, and why are they so that.
“I’ve seen an overall whitening of the population,” said Sacha Dyck, a community activist living in the neighbourhood the last then year. “Not only is it a replacing of one social class with another, your classic gentrification. But it is also a replacing of immigrant people with white people.
In the city’s Three-year capital works program released last fall, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante promised her government would develop 6,000 social housing units and 6,000 affordable dwelling units.
“It’s important to make the difference between social housing and affordable housing,” said Dyck. “Affordable is a relative term. I have friends who live in Queens (New York) who were looking at an affordable housing unit in Long Island City, Queens. That rent was only affordable only relative to the other rents around it. It was still twice as much as what they were paying deeper in Queens for the same size unit.”
Giuliana Fumagalli, Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough mayor, recently pleaded in a video posted on her Facebook page to stop the demolition of two buildings in the neighbourhood. She claims the city could have bought the properties, and turned them into affordable housing residencies.
“I am going to oppose the demolition of these buildings,” she said. And I’m calling the elected officials of our borough to do the same.”
“Parc-Extension is a neighbourhood that is experiencing a housing crisis fuelled by speculation. Our municipal government is late responding to the issue of gentrification and we need solutions to help those affected.”
By: Sacha Obas – firstname.lastname@example.org