Will the homeless population grow July 1?

Canada Day in Quebec isn’t just a time for fireworks and family barbecues. It’s when you see a sudden surge of moving trucks trundling down city streets, movers wrestling mattresses up narrow staircases, and pizza delivery to weary tenants in box-filled apartments across the province.

This year, COVID-19 has cancelled the fireworks and scaled-down the backyard celebrations, but for tens of thousands of Montrealers, July 1 remains Moving Day.

Eighty per cent of Quebecs residential leases expire June 30, and 80,000 to 100,000 Montrealers will be moving on or around July 1, according to a recent article in the Montreal Gazette.

Yet with apartment-hunting complicated by the pandemic, and an extremely low vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent, many Montrealers this year won’t end the day scarfing down pizza in their new apartment’s kitchen.

They’re not even sure if they’ll have a bed to sleep in.

Maxime Roy-Allard, spokesman for the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) told Rentals.ca a housing crisis preceded COVID-19, and the outbreak has only made things worse.

“It’s going to be a very difficult year,” he said. “We have many, many tenants calling us who are not able to find affordable apartments for July 1.

Timing was part of the issue. The pandemic became worrisome in Montreal in mid-March, just after most tenants who planned to move would have given their notice to their landlords. Some changed their minds and decided to renew for another year, but if their landlords had already rented the apartment to someone new, staying put was not an option.

“It really changed everything,” Roy-Allard said. “It made things hard for tenants who wanted to move or had to move, and those who were losing their apartments,” Roy-Allard said.

Quebec Landlord Association Communication Director and Account Manager François Bonhomme agreed that it’s extremely tough to find vacant apartments for rent in Montreal at this time of year.

Were talking about a catastrophic situation regarding a lack of apartments,” Bonhomme said.

The supply shortage has been made worse, he said, because landlords have been prevented from evicting tenants for any reason since the pandemic hit, even if they already had a judgement from the rental board, the Régie du Logement, to  allow it. That means there are more apartments that would have been on the market that are not available to rent.

There’s a perception that landlords have deep enough pockets to absorb a few months of unpaid rent. Yet the majority of landlords in Quebec rent out only a few properties, often as the owner-occupant of a duplex or triplex, Bonhomme said.

As the CBC has reported, many banks have refused to allow owners of income properties to defer their payments. Mom-and-pop investors who rely on rental income to cover their mortgage payments have struggled to cover the expense when a tenant can’t or won’t pay. Some now fear they will lose their properties.

They have a mortgage to pay, and when the government gives help to the tenants and tenants dont pay their rent, the landlord has no way to turn around and get help to pay the mortgage,” Bonhomme said. Barely any landlords were able to get a break on their mortgage while tenants were not paying, paying partly or paying late.”

Help for those in danger of becoming homeless

Montrealers who have run out of options and fear they’ll have nowhere to go on July 1 can turn to the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal (OMHM) for advice and some assistance to find an apartment.

The city of Montreal is advising anyone struggling to find a place to live to call 311 for help.

Those living outside of Montreal can search for community organizations and local housing authorities on the Société d’habitation du Québec’s website.

On June 11, the provincial government announced more than $71.5 million in programs to help tenants in danger of becoming homeless this summer, including:

  •  Expanded rental supplement program: The government has added 1,800 subsidized housing units for families in need, 200 of which will be specifically for people who are homeless to support their reintegration in society. Beneficiaries of this program will pay rent equivalent to 25 per cent of their income.
  •   Emergency aid for municipalities: In areas with a vacancy rate below 2 per cent, municipalities will continue to benefit from a program announced last year to help tenants offset the expense of temporary housing or to store their belongings until they can find a permanent home.
  •  Interest-free loans: Renters who have lost income due to COVID-19 can apply for interest-free loans of $1,500 to pay their rent. The application deadline for this program is July 15, and since the program is intended only as a short-term fix, it must be repaid by Aug. 1.
  • Financial aid for households waiting to move into a new residence: Quebecers who were supposed to move into newly constructed or renovated apartments, and have been forced to delay moving in because of  COVID-19, can apply to be reimbursed for a portion of the cost of temporary lodging and storage of their personal effects.

The province has also come up with $1.2 million for Montreal to offer aid to people in danger of becoming homeless, though this is well short of the $5 million requested by Mayor Valerie Plante.

Will this Moving Day mean more Montrealers on the move or more homeless on the streets?

We’ll see July 1.