As the first half of their four-year term draws to a close, Ensemble Montréal is calling Projet Montréal out on its key promise to tackle the housing crisis during the last election campaign. Although all the housing indicators are in the red, the Plante administration is stubbornly pushing ahead with public policies that don’t reflect current market realities.
The By-Law for a Diverse Metropolis, one of the most important tools for realizing their promise to deliver 60,000 new housing units over 10 years, has resulted in just one 86-unit social housing project in two years, and no affordable housing has been built. The available data suggest that every real estate developer who entered into an agreement under this by-law chose to pay the alternate financial contribution. Their proposed change to the by-law could make the situation even worse: forcing real estate developers to pay more might accelerate their exodus and sign a death warrant for housing starts, which have already suffered a historic decline of over 50% on the island of Montréal, though they are on the rise in other major Canadian cities.
Moreover, despite its commitments to the Montréal Abordable initiative and the Cellule Facilitatrice advisory committee, the Plante administration has still not taken key actions that would enable developers to rapidly increase housing supply, particularly speeding up the granting of permits. On the contrary, since they took office, the average time taken to issue construction and conversion permits has risen by 34%. In Ville-Marie, for example, permit delivery has gone from less than 50 days in 2018 to 150 as of today. Patience is also necessary in the Îlot Voyageur, Bridge-Bonaventure, Hippodrome and Est de Montréal districts, where development is stagnating.
There’s also been no action yet on their promise to “limit real estate flips”. The Plante administration had pledged to obtain from the provincial government the power to adjust the transfer or “welcome” tax based on the length of ownership of a residence. And that’s not counting the 300 new units with community support that were pledged to be developed each year to support people experiencing homelessness, so far just a dream.
While Projet Montréal agrees with the experts that densification is a solution to increase housing supply, its actions on the ground are somewhat contradictory. The Square Children project provided the opportunity to do just that, but the Plante administration decided to block the creation of nearly 200 social housing units against the advice of the Office de consultation publique de Montréal.
Higher taxes, fewer services
Last year, the Projet Montréal administration imposed the biggest tax hike in a decade, and it has increased spending by over a billion dollars since coming to power. But residents don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth: they have neither better nor more municipal services. For example, the Plante administration has been slow to improve the supply of enclosed garbage cans in high-traffic areas and to roll out a rat control plan, despite the obvious issues at stake. It even reduced garbage pickup service to Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve residents, by staggering collections. Not to mention:
- Service cuts at the STM, affecting the daily commutes of tens of thousands of Montrealers;
- Snow-clearing practices that have still not been updated despite the continuing challenges to universal accessibility, as evidenced by the thousands of falls recorded in recent years;
- The poor coordination of construction sites that still causes residents so many headaches, despite the promise to start a “revolution” in this area;
- The difficulty of meeting everyone’s public safety needs without paying dearly for overtime, because the administration has been slow to remedy the flagrant shortage of police officers.
“There’s no clear sense of priorities in Montréal. It’s increasingly difficult for people to find housing and to get around the city, be it summer or winter. Our neighbourhoods are increasingly dirty and unsafe. In the meantime, we receive monthly reports of cost explosions, as Projet Montréal has totally lost control and any sense of responsibility. The facts are clear: the administration has to get back to basics and offer citizens effective local services,” declared Aref Salem, the leader of the Official Opposition at Montréal City Hall.