Canada

West Islanders are fighting against a public housing project aimed at helping working Canadians

Danielle Roy knows what it's like to search for affordable housing, and she recommends a proposed project that would bring more value to her area in Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que.  (CBC - photo credit)

Danielle Roy knows what it’s like to search for affordable housing, and she recommends a proposed project that would bring more value to her area in Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que. (CBC – photo credit)

Danielle Roy recalls a recent knock on her door in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que.

It was someone briefing them on a new public housing project in the area that would convert a retirement home into an apartment complex for working Canadians who, despite having an income, are struggling to pay rent amid a housing crisis.

Roy knows the struggle herself, having faced the challenge of finding affordable housing while trying to make ends meet in an increasingly difficult economy.

“In an age where you want to live and eat at the same time, you need projects like this,” says Roy.

However, some residents of the West Island suburb have strongly opposed it, and that outcry was strong enough to delay the council’s vote on the zoning change last Monday. Local residents brought forward a petition signed by more than 160 people, citing concerns about crime, drugs and property values.

Now Mayor Paola Hawa is working to explain to residents that this project is not a stopover for people with criminal backgrounds or substance abuse problems.

“This is for people who have had a difficult hand in the past and need a little help to get back on their feet,” Hawa said.

It could be a single mother or someone returning to work after a long illness, she explained.

The facility would be managed by H├ębergements Ricochet, a non-profit organization that would form a committee to carefully select each of the tenants, who will live in the 21-unit building for six months to three years.

This committee would consist of Ricochet employees, townspeople, and a tenant. To be admitted, a resident would need to have a regular source of income. They would then pay rent at about 25 percent of their salary, and the building would have a 24-hour on-site social worker.

“It’s extremely safe,” Hawa said. “Here you will know who your neighbor will be because he will be checked.”

Hawa said the building itself doesn’t need significant renovations because it’s already a senior citizens’ residence, located on Ste-Anne Street, and it would provide affordable housing in the midst of a housing crisis.

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CBC

The owners of R├ęsidence Ste-Anne de Bellevue are retiring, and the building has been on the market for some time, she said.

If this project doesn’t get the green light, the building could sit empty and unused, the mayor said, and Ricochet’s federal funding could be jeopardized.

However, it does not provide that the Council will force the change without public approval. If the change goes through, citizens could request a register and force a referendum. Local councils in Quebec often withdraw contested motions rather than face a time-consuming and costly referendum.

Efforts to inform local residents

Ricochet Deputy Director Caroline Turpin-Emond said the building is perfect for the project and residents already living in the retirement home will not have to leave, allowing for a smoother transition.

She said the city has held public consultations, including the most recent on Feb. 28, and the organization has gone door-to-door personally briefing residents on the project.

Things seemed to be going well, so it was surprising to see so much concern at Monday’s council meeting, she said.

“We found that people were misinformed and scared,” Turpin-Emond said. She said she believes someone misled local residents to mobilize resistance.

But her organization says this project is needed in the West Island, which has just four percent of all public and community housing in the metro Montreal area.

Separately, on Monday night, people raised concerns about criminal behavior and accused the community of not informing residents about the project. One resident said they only found out about the project through a Facebook group discussion.

The Council has postponed the vote on the second reading of the amendment and now the Turpin-Emond team will take to the streets again and show citizens it will be a home for working people who only need to help with housing costs.

Not everyone was against it

Karl Wockner, who lives about five blocks from the former retirement home, said new public housing is not an unusual addition to the area because people there have different incomes.

Leaving the building as it is makes sense for the neighborhood, he said.

The residents’ petition presented at Monday night’s gathering included many names of people who don’t even live in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, the mayor said.

The community has a mix of multimillion-dollar homes and rentals, and yet people equate low income with criminal behavior, she said.

“When did we get to this point in society?” said Hawa, taking responsibility for the lack of communication.

“Probably we didn’t release enough information and the reflex was to be afraid.”

At this point, it’s unclear when or if the zoning change will be approved. Once all the information is clearly disseminated to the public, “we’ll see where we stand,” Hawa said. She did not want to predict what will happen with the vote on the amendment.

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