HLM: a renovation budget used for construction

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Mould, infiltration, decay: 30% of the buildings in the public low-rent housing stock are in a poor state in Quebec. Despite a $2.2 billion budget earmarked for renovations, funds have so far been invested in new construction.

An E-rated HLM in the greater Montreal area.

The coordinator of the Federation of Quebec Low-Rental Housing Tenants (FLHLMQ) is not getting angry. “I would like the Minister to go and explain to people who are in slums, in housing that belongs to the government, that we have the money but that we will do the work later . This is unacceptable,” argues Robert Pilon, who has been an advocate for tenants' rights for years.

The money in question here is provided for in the Canada-Quebec Housing Agreement (ECQL): it is a $ 2.2 billion pot that comes half and half from the coffers of Ottawa and Quebec City to maintain the province's HLMs, which really need it. The majority of these buildings belong to the government.

This agreement, which Robert Pilon describes as historic, was concluded in the fall of 2020 between the two governments. We were crazy as brooms, until we realized that the money was not used for the benefit of the renovation of the HLM, deplores this activist.< /p>

Robert Pilon, coordinator at the Federation of Low-Rental Housing Tenants of Quebec

Under this agreement, the money must be spent according to a specific timetable by 2028.

However, to date, not a single dollar of the 2.2 billion dollars has been used to renovate HLMs. Instead, all of the money earmarked for the first three years, nearly $170 million, was spent building new affordable housing.

“For me, this is a betrayal. »

—Robert Pilon, Coordinator, FLHLMQ

Robert Pilon, of the FLHLMQ, is not the only one to decry this situation. This is also the case of Andrés Fontecilla, housing critic for Québec solidaire. For me, the priority should be to use these amounts to maintain the current stock, to renovate, to upgrade the HLMs in particular […], before embarking on the construction of new social housing, explains the member for Laurier-Dorion in the National Assembly.

In his opinion, it is necessary to intervene quickly, otherwise the deterioration of the buildings will accelerate, which will lead to increased costs.

HLM : low-income housing

The HLM program allows tenants to pay rent equal to 25% of their income. The first HLMs appeared at the end of the 1960s in Quebec.

Some statistics on the housing stock HLM du Quebec

74,328: number of dwellings, of which 45,340 are public. 7708: number of HLMs, of which 3900 are public.

Source : Strategic Plan 2021-2026, Société d'habitation du Québec

An E-rated HLM in the greater Montreal area.

If Robert Pilon and Andrés Fontecilla are calling for renovations as quickly as possible, it is because a significant part of the Quebec housing stock is in poor condition.

According to the latest available figures provided by the SHQ, 30% of public HLMs are currently rated D or E, that is to say in poor or very poor condition, with a high or very high level of deterioration and defect.

Claude Foster, President and CEO, Société d'habitation du Québec

< p class="e-p">You are stirring up a big storm in a glass of water, replies the President and CEO of the Société d'habitation du Québec, the organization responsible for HLMs, when we ask him why the money from the first three years of ECQL was used to build rather than renovate.

Claude Foster argues that the money was invested in this way because a program had to be written first, i.e. a mechanism to distribute the 2.2 billion intended to renovation. However, almost two and a half years after the signing of the agreement, in October 2020, we are still waiting for it.

For housing specialist Xavier Leloup, such delays are simply unacceptable. It's outrageous because it's too long, for whatever reason. It concerns me because we know the needs. Degraded housing has social effects, psychological effects and effects on physical health, explains Mr. Leloup, who is a professor at the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS).

Seen from the outside, as a stage manager, I could say: "Hey, they slept on gas!" But when I look at the sequence, I find that we are quite efficient. We didn't have a program, but in some cases, we still had sums that were donated to offices, retorts Claude Foster.

Indeed, at In the absence of a program, the SHQ says it has notably paid by decree more than 90 million dollars to the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal to repair HLMs.

However, the fact remains that 'to date, the distribution of the 2.2 billion kitty intended for the renovation of low-income housing has still not started.

France-Élaine Duranceau, Minister responsible for housing in Quebec

In the absence of a program, the minister responsible for housing in Quebec, France-Élaine Duranceau, says she wanted to be agile in her management of the envelope. We have money available. What are we doing? We let him sleep there until everything is ready? We took the money and allocated it elsewhere to immediately launch projects that badly needed funding and aimed to help people in need. I think it's a good thing, adds the minister.

The member for Québec solidaire sees it more as a political choice. Cutting ribbons is an old story. It is always more profitable, politically, to announce the new than to announce the renovation of the old, argues Andrés Fontecilla.

The minister believes that This is an easy and reassuring criticism. We are committed to ensuring that the 2.2 billion from the agreement with the federal government will be deployed for the renovation of low-income housing by 2028 and that is what will be done. , says the Minister in an interview with The Invoice.

That said, to respect her commitment, the Minister will have to find 170 million elsewhere, the amounts intended for the renovation of low-income housing units which were instead spent on the construction of affordable housing.

Without say that this is a formality, the Minister intends to obtain the necessary budgetary appropriations in due time.

However, for Robert Pilon, it is now that he action is needed to ensure that vulnerable tenants have decent housing, free of mould, air infiltration and humidity. Poor people have the right to hope for housing that will not make them sick, concludes Robert Pilon.

This report by Marie-France Bélanger and Jean-François Vézina is accessible on the website of the program The invoice from Tuesday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m.

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