Photo: Fabien Barnoud archives Le Devoir The STM has reduced its service offer 10% in the context of the pandemic.
The Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, sends a cry from the heart to Quebec. Two weeks before the Legault government's next budget is tabled, the elected official is asking for more funds to accelerate the construction of social housing on her territory. It also calls for emergency financial support for public transport companies, to prevent them from sinking into “a dangerous downward spiral”.
In a three-page letter sent Monday to the Minister of Finance of Quebec, Eric Girard, and of which Le Devoirobtained a copy, Ms. Plante urges Quebec to help her deal with the two “major crises” experienced by the metropolis. Unsurprisingly, the housing crisis is at the top of the mayor's shopping list, as low-income tenants feel the brunt of the repercussions of property speculation on rents, which last year rose to a record pace of 5.2% on average on the island of Montreal, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Last August, during the election campaign, the Legault government s is committed to building 11,700 social and affordable housing units across the province over the next few years. According to Mayor Plante, one out of 10 housing units, among those promised, would see the light of day in the metropolis.
However, this number is insufficient, considers the mayor, who asks Quebec to finance the construction of 2000 social and community housing units per year in Montreal instead, which corresponds, according to Ms. Plante, to “the annual capacity of the City and of its partners”.
“This threshold is required to ensure equitable real estate development, to contribute to the fight against homelessness and to develop strategic sectors such as Namur-Hippodrome, Bridge- Bonaventure et des Faubourgs,” she continued in her letter to Minister Girard.
In December 2021, the metropolis counted 61,654 social and community housing units on its territory, according to a report from the City. But there are still, from one year to the next, some 23,000 households on the waiting list of the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal to have access to social housing.
To tackle this problem, the City plans to invest more than $900 million “of its own money” in the development of “its social and affordable housing stock”, says Valérie Plante. The mayor had also promised during the election campaign, in the fall of 2021, to contribute to the construction of 60,000 affordable housing units in a decade by acquiring land in various boroughs of the metropolis. “But despite these actions, many housing projects will be threatened for lack of adequate funding”, raises the mayor in her missive.
The head of Projet Montréal thus proposes that the City of Montreal take charge of 12 projects totaling 1,098 social housing units registered in the AccèsLogis Québec program, but which are slow to see the light of day. In exchange, the metropolis would receive financial support of $314.5 million from the Legault government, in addition to a reserve “to offset inflation”, which is severely affecting the construction industry, Ms. Plante proposes.
“The risk of realizing these units would then be borne exclusively by the City of Montreal and disbursements would be expected over three years,” she wrote, when the Legault government plans to end the AccèsLogis program to build on its new program. Affordable Housing Quebec, which is not unanimous.
Save public transit
One emergency does not wait for another. Mayor Valérie Plante does not hide her concern, in her letter to Minister Eric Girard, about the precarious financial situation of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), which has reduced its service offer by 10% in the context of the pandemic. “It goes without saying that this has an impact on ridership, and even more importantly on the attractiveness of public transit. It is therefore imperative to bring the STM's service offer back to its 2019 level, otherwise we risk falling into a dangerous downward spiral,” warns Ms. Plante.
In recent months, the STM has made great efforts to reduce its expenses, said the mayor. However, she fears that an “additional compression” could have the effect of further affecting the carrier's service offer and, by extension, “its ridership”.
“In order to avoid make the public transit supply in Montreal more precarious, the City is therefore asking the government to compensate for the balance of the STM's financial deficit for 2023 and 2024, respectively estimated at recurring $50 million and $40 million,” wrote the mayor. Sums, she specifies, which would be added to the amount of half a billion that the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority is already claiming to help transport companies in the greater Montreal region to complete their budget in 2023.
In the medium term, Valérie Plante is also asking Quebec to review the sources of funding for public transit so that the deficit accumulated by them in the metropolitan area continues to weigh on the shoulders of cities and users, who suffer annual price increases.