“Superpowers” ​​to cities

The “not in my backyard” phenomenon is still very much alive, perhaps even more than ever.

You know, these neighbors, more or less immediate, who oppose all real estate projects in their neighborhood, for fear of seeing traffic increase or losing their peace of mind. A building of 111 apartments was abandoned for this reason last July in the west of the island of Montreal, a stone’s throw from a REM station1.

Examples of this kind are piling up. And too bad for the housing crisis.

The situation could soon change. Quebec municipalities have had access for a month to “superpowers” ​​to avoid this type of situation, under the new “law 31” on housing. They will be able to force the construction of residential buildings that would otherwise be blocked by local referendums.

A first city, Magog, is preparing to use it.

Citizens were beginning to mobilize against a 20 housing project in a central neighborhood. The municipal council wanted to avoid holding a referendum which could have derailed it.


Nathalie Pelletier, mayor of Magog

“People, although we answered their questions, reassured them, they said: ‘it’s a great project, but we don’t want it in our sector’,” the mayor explained to me. Nathalie Pelletier.

The use of this new power will make people unhappy, she knows it.

But Nathalie Pelletier believes that the common good must take precedence over the frustrations of a few individuals. Especially since the future two-story building, surrounded by vegetation, has nothing to do with a tall concrete tower that would be placed in the middle of a neighborhood of bungalows.

It is primarily to tackle the housing shortage that Magog chose this path. The vacancy rate is at 1.3% in the Estrie town of 28,000 inhabitants, well below the equilibrium threshold of 3%.

The rare apartments are more and more expensive, and the houses for sale are out of reach for many families, even those in the middle class, deplores the mayor. The same scenario that we see almost everywhere in Quebec.

The City of Magog has adopted a housing policy to densify its central neighborhoods and reduce its sprawl. It is targeting 220 new construction starts per year, compared to 125 on average in recent years. His bet is that the increase in supply, with projects in different price ranges, will bring back a certain “affordability” in the real estate market.

It is precisely this objective that led to the inclusion of temporary “superpowers” ​​in Bill 31, adopted in February in the National Assembly. The measure will be in effect for three to five years.

These powers will apply to all social, affordable, or student housing projects, regardless of the city. And for buildings with at least three housing units, affordable or not, in cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants where the vacancy rate is less than 3%. The idea is to accelerate construction and increase the supply in all directions.

Several factors explain the recent decline in construction starts in Quebec, including the increase in construction costs and the burden of regulations. Many promoters are waiting on the sidelines right now.

There are also, and this is not insignificant, municipal administrations which are openly opposed to too much densification of their territory. These cities like Pointe-Claire do not want too much new housing, even if the needs are glaring2.

But for cities that want more projects, and there are many of them, the new powers will constitute a concrete tool to accelerate their pace.

An “anti-not-in-my-backyard” power. Because the phenomenon, as I wrote from the outset, is very real.

As things currently stand, a handful of opponents can put serious obstacles in the way of a real estate project. It is often enough for 10 citizens from a neighboring area to request a referendum for the process to begin.

These consultations sometimes make it possible to improve projects, we agree. But in many cases, they mainly contribute to slowing them down, when they do not outright sign their death warrant.

The new “superpowers” ​​are still very recent. City officials are analyzing them from every angle as we speak. Montreal, for example, should have a clear framework of use within a month, according to my information.

The Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ) gave a webinar on the subject last week. The event attracted more than 350 participants from the municipal sector. The interest is enormous.

The UMQ estimates that the new exceptional powers will make it possible to extend approval times for certain projects to 3 or 4 months, compared to 8 to 18 months under the traditional framework.

The efficiency gains promise to be significant, but the UMQ still advocates caution. She invites cities to consult their citizens as much as possible and to demonstrate great transparency when projects are submitted.

We’ll have to see. Many fear slippage.

The Order of Urban Planners of Quebec (OUQ), for example, fears urban integration issues, with the construction of projects that are not adapted to their immediate environment. The organization calls on municipal elected officials to use this new power in a “limited” manner.

The OUQ is also demanding that Quebec table a comprehensive housing plan, with a real overview, rather than piecemeal measures like “superpowers”.

One does not exclude the other.

But I agree with the OUQ on this point: very soon the Legault government will have to unveil a clear and coherent game plan in terms of housing. If he has one…

1. Read the article “Another Case of “Not in My Backyard””

2. Read the column “Urban densification: 50 shades of gray (and bickering)”

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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