Under the leaky roofs of the slums

Five and a half near the Verdun metro station. “Bring your poncho” bathroom with brownish water rain. Pretty balconies that threaten to collapse. Pierced ceilings. Hot water for the shower extra. Molds included. Negligent owner. Adjacent Airbnb. Who is feeling lucky ?

This is not exactly the description of an idyllic home in which to bring a child into the world. However, it is in such a slum that Isabelle Gagnon and her partner Maxime Pilon now live with their newborn.

Their story, told Monday by my colleague Katia Gagnon1, reflects a problem that is growing in Quebec. In the midst of the housing crisis, with the explosion in rents, a growing number of tenants are prisoners of their unsanitary housing.

For delinquent owners, this is the dream godsend. They know that even if they do nothing to resolve unsanitary problems, they have captive tenants. And if the tenants end up leaving, that’s even better. They will be able to renovate, increase the rent or transform the accommodation into an Airbnb at a high price.

For tenants, it’s a nightmare. If they stay in their slums, they put their health and well-being at risk. If they leave, they have nowhere affordable to go. They risk being squeezed financially.

In many ways, there is nothing really new under the leaky roof of Montreal’s slums. In 2015, a report from the Public Health Department (DSP) of Montreal revealed that a third of Montreal households faced at least one unsanitary problem.2. Vermin, mold, water infiltration, rodents, larks… This is the fate of thousands of Montrealers who have not exactly chosen to have rats or cockroaches as roommates or to see their children develop respiratory problems.

“The high price of housing forces certain people to remain in unsanitary housing, because they cannot find adequate housing at an affordable price,” it was explained. Public Health clinicians already noted that it was very difficult to relocate tenants who had become ill due to unsanitary living conditions to healthy, affordable housing.

A decade later, with the current housing crisis, the problem has worsened. So much so that doctors can no longer really tell tenants to leave their unsanitary housing. Because where exactly would they go? If they have affordable housing, they keep it, no matter how unsanitary it is.3.

We tend to reduce the issues linked to the housing crisis to the question of homelessness, which is the most visible extreme manifestation. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the choppy waters of the crisis where real estate speculators and unscrupulous owners happily navigate, a multitude of less visible problems are gaining momentum. Unsanitary conditions and the excessively high cost of housing are part of this. And these are real public health issues, recalled the DSP of Montreal in 2015.

Although the report has not been updated since, everything indicates that the situation is worse than ever. The DD Marie-France Raynault, scientific director of the study in question, carried out with the Léa-Roback Center, observes several clues which point in this direction. The lack of incentive to renovate for delinquent owners in a context where they have no difficulty finding tenants. The fact that there are more migrants than in 2015 and that these are people who do not know their rights. The repercussions of unaffordable housing which are increased tenfold by food inflation. The glaring lack of social housing which means that there is no competition for delinquent owners…

If the most deprived citizens remain the first victims of the housing crisis and the most likely to find themselves trapped in substandard housing, the portrait of slum tenants has diversified over time. Before, it was the lot of migrants, vulnerable seniors, people on low incomes or living on social assistance, castaways from society.

Today, in slums, we also find middle-class households who do not have all these vulnerability factors. Workers who have good jobs, but who know too well that if they leave housing at $900 or $1,000 per month, they will run into excessive debt and will not find anything at an affordable price.

Solutions exist as long as we recognize that the right to safe and healthy housing is not a luxury and that housing is not an investment sector like any other that could be left to regulate itself. all alone, according to the laws of the market.

In 2015, the director of public health of Montreal recommended in particular that we put in place a procedure for inspecting housing based on public health criteria before renting it out. In a context where the City of Montreal’s current approach is not coercive enough and the fines for delinquent owners are not high enough to have a deterrent effect, this would be a very useful preventive tool to combat unsanitary conditions. . For the moment, a “responsible owner” certification project has just been launched by the City to act upstream and play this preventive role. But its first phase only targets buildings with 100 housing units or more.

As town planner Gérard Beaudet recalls in an interview with News“no country has ever succeeded in resolving a housing crisis without the State intervening”.

Intervening here does not mean recommending to aggrieved tenants to invest in real estate, as the Minister responsible for Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, has already done. Rather, it is about investing in state support measures so that no one is forced to live in a slum.

1. Read the report “Housing crisis: “We are more than discouraged””

2. View the report For healthy and affordable housing

3. Read the report “4790, rue Sainte-Catherine Est: the tenants’ ordeal”

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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