Users of the Depot Community Center’s emergency food basket program “often tell us that they are unable to afford basic staples after paying rent.”

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As thousands of Montrealers prepare to move on July 1, they’ll be doing it in an increasingly difficult environment for tenants, marked by skyrocketing rents and inadequate housing.

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A campaign advocating for the right to housing for residents of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce was launched by the Depot Community Center in the form of a powerful outdoor art installation.

The installation is an initiative of the Depot’s Social Justice Club, which meets weekly to work on advocacy around issues important to them based on their experiences. It was created by Samatha Gold, an NDG-based artist and activist and worked on by others, including Steven Karook, a longtime Depot volunteer and NDG resident who is part of the Social Justice Club.

It’s a widespread misconception that NDG is exclusively an affluent neighborhood, Karook said. A quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

“Housing is a right, not a luxury,” says the middle of a trio of large fabric posters mounted outside the Depot’s Somerled Ave. building. It is flanked by two brightly colored posters illustrating four common manifestations of inadequate housing participants say they have experienced: extreme rent increases; unsanitary conditions; overcrowding, caused in part by unaffordable rents, and renovic- tions by landlords who evict them and renovate their dwellings, which are then no longer affordable to the original tenants.

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The images, painted in acrylic, are powerful: in one, a terrified, wide-eyed family lies huddled together in a space overrun by rodents, cockroaches and vermin. In another, a landlord handing an eviction notice to tenants, even as a renovation contract is poking out of his pocket.

An art installation mounted in front of The Depot Community Center on Somerled Ave. in NDG, features two large works in acrylic on fabric illustrating what members of the Depot's Social Justice Club say are common experiences for renters, including unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and renovic- tions.
An art installation mounted in front of The Depot Community Center on Somerled Ave. in NDG, features two large works in acrylic on fabric illustrating what members of the Depot’s Social Justice Club say are common experiences for renters, including unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and renovic- tions. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

The goal, the Depot says, is to send a message to policymakers and leaders that housing is a priority for the community and the Depot and immediate action is needed.

“We hear all the time from participants that their rent is eating up more than a third of their income, which leaves less money for the rest of their needs,” said Depot executive director Tasha Lackman.

Those using the Depot’s emergency food basket program “often tell us that they are unable to afford basic staples after paying rent,” said Houda Kerkadi, community engagement co-ordinator at the Depot.

More than one-third of rental households in Greater Montreal already devote more than 30 per cent of their income to housing, Centraide said in a blog post on housing this week — the amount considered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as a marker of affordable housing. As a result, they jeopardize their ability to meet other needs.

Several neighborhoods, including Verdun, Parc-Extension, Montreal East, Montreal North and Chomedey, have experienced rent increases of 15 per cent or more in the two-year period from 2019 to 2021, it said.

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And against a backdrop of the biggest surge in rents since the turn of the century, the cost of housing newly available for rent is considerably higher than that of housing already occupied — 21 per cent higher on the island of Montreal and 41 per cent higher in Laval, said the Centraide newsletter, with the result that many households remain in inadequate housing.

Thousands of vulnerable Montrealers are living in housing that is inadequate for them, because they can’t really afford it, it is too small or unsanitary, or because they are living under the same roof as relatives and others, Centraide said. Still others are on the street.

Co-operative and social housing represents less than 10 per cent of rental housing in Greater Montreal, said the community organization. There are currently 23,000 households on the Island of Montreal on waiting lists for social housing.

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More investment in social housing is needed, say Social Justice Club participants; governments must invest in social housing and mandatory rent control must be implemented to slow the rent increases forcing residents out of the neighbourhood.

“We have to stop dragging our heels,” Karook said. Jurisdictional disputes between Quebec and Ottawa have stalled progress on affordable housing, he said.

“These are issues of social inequity and poverty,” Lackman said. “We want to mobilize our community for longer-term change.”

The City of Montreal said Tuesday that, in the run-up to Friday’s traditional moving day, it has mobilized teams from the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) and elsewhere to help vulnerable Montrealers who have been unable to find housing.

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“We have an effective system in place to help tenant households in need who are looking for housing or accommodation,” said Benoit Dorais, vice-president of the executive committee and responsible for housing, real estate strategy and legal affairs.

The OMHM, which operates a referral service, said Tuesday that 81 households are being accompanied by city services in their search for housing. According to estimates from the city, about 30 households will need temporary emergency accommodation in hotels as of Friday — and the city is prepared to accommodate more if necessary.

Vincent Brossard, director of demand management, affordable housing and rent supplements at the OMHM, said concerned citizens or those needing help should call 311.

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