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Granby resident Marilène Bédard has looked “everywhere” to find an apartment for herself and her two teenage children: Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, rental sites, word of mouth, and even newspaper ads.

But so far, the only available unit she has found is not ready until December, and she hasn’t been able to secure a lease for it yet.

Bédard separated from her partner a little more than a month ago, forcing her to find a new place to stay. But the timing of the split has made her search more difficult because it happened so close to Moving Day, she said.

“There aren’t any units available — at all. One shows up on Marketplace and the minute you try to communicate with the [landlord], you’re told it’s already rented,” she said.

Until she finds a new place, Bédard and her ex are taking turns living at their former house and caring for their 13- and 14 year-old. On the weeks when he gets the house, Bédard stays with her parents.

Bédard’s challenge to find housing is shared by many people in Quebec’s regions, just hours ahead of Moving Day.

In Trois-Rivières, some 23 families are still looking for a place to live and will likely need to stay in temporary accommodations set up by the Red Cross, according to the city’s municipal housing office.

In Rimouski, where the average vacancy rate is 0.2 per cent, the municipal housing office is struggling to find permanent housing for some 25 people still on the waiting list.

Daniel Bélanger, 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 Lower St. Lawrence city is “clearly one of the places where the situation is the worst,” he said. “It’s really hard for people to move.”

Some 155 residents have contacted Rimouski’s housing office for help since the start of the year, which is a lot for a city of about 50,000 people, Bélanger said.

He said last year the office was still capable of helping those who came to them, but that’s no longer the case.

“At the moment we’re not even able to guide them, we couldn’t even tell them for example that we’re 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 react within the five or 10 minutes that a unit is posted as available, it’s over,” he said.

High rents contributing to crisis

The severe housing shortage is compounded by skyrocketing rents in many municipalities across the province.

A recent study by the Coalition of Housing Committees and Tenants’ Associations of Quebec (RCLALQ) shows that the average rent advertised on Kijiji for a place to stay in Quebec went up by nine per cent from 2021 to 2022.

But that number is as high as 55 per cent in Granby, an hour east of Montreal and 30 per cent in Trois-Rivières, two hours northeast of Montreal. Other regions are seeing similar increases.

Bédard said she has noticed this surge when searching for housing. “It’s totally real,” she said, adding the lowest rent she has seen for a three-bedroom apartment in her small town is $1,500, and it can go up to $2,000.

Cédric Dussault, a spokesperson for the coalition, said the high prices are making it very difficult for people to find a place to live.

“It used to be people who have lower incomes that had trouble finding [affordable housing],” he said.

“But now, in some places, the situation is such that you have people from the middle class, people who have good incomes that cannot find housing.”

He expects many people won’t have a place to go on Moving Day. “We will see more and more [people] on the streets,” he said.

And the crisis is not just affecting local residents, it’s also having “large economic impacts” on regions’ capacity for development, according to Dussault.

Many Quebec towns are facing a labour shortage and would benefit from hiring workers from outside the regions, but they don’t have anywhere to house them, he said.

Regional migration to blame

Bélanger and Dussault say various factors are to blame for the situation, but the main one is that many people moved from Montreal and other big cities to rural areas during the pandemic.

That added a lot of pressure on small regional towns that didn’t have a lot of housing options to begin with, leading to a significant decrease in vacancy rates, especially in places like Rimouski or the Gaspé peninsula, Dussault said.

“People who had houses in Montreal or Montreal suburbs sold them and bought things here,” said Bélanger. That pushed prices up and also tightened the housing market, making it difficult for locals to find affordable or available housing, he said.

On Wednesday, Quebec’s minister for municipal affairs and housing, Andrée Laforest, announced new funding to build 3,000 new affordable and subsidized housing units in the next five years.

The government will be providing $350 million to build 2,000 new subsidized units within three years, and an additional $45 million to build 1,000 units that low-income residents can buy.

While Laforest did not specify where these new housing units will be built, she said the needs for housing are spread across the province, and are especially dire in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Grandby and Rimouski.

She said her government wants the funding to benefit all regions — not just big cities.


Story by: CBC News