Marilène Bédard, from Granby, looked “everywhere” to find an apartment for her and her two teenagers: Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, rental sites, word of mouth and even newspaper ads.
But so far, the only available unit she’s found isn’t ready until December, and she hasn’t been able to secure a lease for it yet.
Bédard separated from her spouse a little over a month ago, forcing her to find new accommodation. But the timing of the separation made her search more difficult because it happened so close to moving day, she said.
“There are no units available – at all. One appears on Marketplace and the minute you try to communicate with the [landlord]you are told it is already rented,” she said.
Until she finds a new place, Bédard and her ex take turns living in their old house and taking care of their 13 and 14-year-old children. The weeks when he gets the house, Bédard stays with his parents.
Bédard’s challenge of finding a home is shared by many people in the regions of Quebec, hours before moving day.
In Trois-Rivières, some 23 families are still looking for housing and will probably have to stay in temporary accommodation set up by the Red Cross, according to the City’s municipal housing office.
In Rimouski, where the average vacancy rate is 0.2%, the Office municipal d’habitation is struggling to find permanent housing for some 25 people still on the waiting list.
Daniel Belanger, who works for the housing office, said many of these people are currently living with friends or relatives because there is nothing available on the market.
The city of Bas-Saint-Laurent is “clearly one of the places where the situation is the worst,” he said. “It’s really difficult for people to get around.”
Some 155 residents have contacted the Office d’habitation de Rimouski for help since the beginning of the year, which is a lot for a city of about 50,000 inhabitants, said Mr. Bélanger.
He said that last year the office was still able to help those who came to them, but that is no longer the case.
“At the moment we are not even able to guide them, we could not even tell them, for example, that we are sending a general email to people [saying] ‘Here are all the available units that were posted today,'” he said.
“Right now, if a person doesn’t respond within five or 10 minutes of a unit being posted as available, it’s over,” he said.
High rents contributing to the crisis
The severe housing shortage is compounded by skyrocketing rents in many municipalities across the province.
A recent study by the Regroupement des committees d’habitation et des associations de tenants du Québec (RCLALQ) shows that the average rent advertised on Kijiji for a dwelling in Quebec has increased by 9% between 2021 and 2022.
But this figure reaches 55% in Granby, one hour east of Montreal, and 30% in Trois-Rivières, two hours northeast of Montreal. Other regions are seeing similar increases.
Bédard says he noticed this surge when looking for housing. “It’s totally real,” she said, adding that the lowest rent she’s seen for a three-bedroom apartment in her small town is $1,500, and it can go up. at $2,000.
Cedric Dussault, spokesman for the coalition, said high prices make it very difficult for people to find accommodation.
“Before, it was low-income people who had trouble finding [affordable housing],” he said.
“But now in some places the situation is such that you have middle-class people, people with good incomes who cannot find housing.”
He expects that many people will have no place to go on moving day. “We will see more and more [people] on the street,” he said.
And the crisis is not only affecting local residents, it is also having “significant economic impacts” on the regions’ capacity for development, according to Dussault.
Several cities in Quebec are facing a labor shortage and would benefit from hiring workers from outside the regions, but they have nowhere to house them, he said.
Regional migration to blame
Bélanger and Dussault say a variety of factors are to blame for the situation, but the main one is that many people left Montreal and other major cities for rural areas during the pandemic.
That added a lot of pressure on smaller regional towns that didn’t have many housing options to begin with, causing vacancy rates to drop significantly, especially in places like Rimouski or the Gaspé Peninsula, Dussault said. .
“People who had houses in Montreal or in the suburbs of Montreal sold them and bought things here,” Belanger said. This drove up prices and also tightened the housing market, making it difficult for residents to find affordable or available housing, he said.
On Wednesday, Quebec Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Andrée Laforest, announced new funding for the construction of 3,000 new affordable and subsidized housing units over the next five years.
The government will provide $350 million to build 2,000 new subsidized homes over the next three years, and another $45 million to build 1,000 homes for low-income residents to purchase.
Although Ms. Laforest did not specify where these new units will be built, she said that housing needs are spread across the province, and are particularly acute in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Grandby and Rimouski.
She said her government wanted the funding to benefit all regions, not just big cities.