Montreal housing under the microscope

Image by Sasha Plotnikova for The McGill Daily

The McGill Daily’s special issue on Housing is on newsstands and they’ve invented a new word for the invasion of student in the city — studentification.

There’s more talk about Griffintown with a nice overview of the proposed Devimco project with comments from residents, urban planners and fellow blogger A.J. Kandy.

And a reminder about why the Milton-Parc neighbourhood is often called the McGill Ghetto and why longtime residents are fed up. Graffiti anyone? “We’re not just talking about noise. We’re talking about pissing on sidewalks, on lanes, and vomiting and falling on the sidewalk drunk so that your boyfriend has to pick you up from the ground.” The Student Society of McGill University is trying to be the good neighbour and smooth over relationships with the community.

Pointe-Saint-Charles residents want a community centre to be built on the old CN yards.

McGill professor Avi Friedman takes a creative approach on housing and community building.

And finally the editorial collective argues for more non-profit housing and suggests some legislation that could help:

A more democratic vision of housing entails increased funding and better legislation. The provincial government should buy private buildings to convert into social housing, as well as build new Low-Cost Housing. The housing group FRAPRU has called for legislation that would require municipalities to secure 20 per cent social housing among new developments. Municipalities should also have the power to expropriate dilapidated or abandoned buildings or unused property or land. Another option is to turn “inclusion” – the voluntary policy whereby private owners include a portion of social housing units in their developments – into an compulsory practice.


  1. I mostly enjoyed the “studentification” piece and agree with its conclusion that students should become more involved in their neighbourhoods. But there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about it. I find it hard to stomach statements like “universities are cities on hills, where tomorrow’s upper crust learns to inherit its privilege,” which is awfully glib and didactic.

  2. Oh my, this article is going to send me off on several tangents.

    Regarding patronizing comments: that attitude is (to make a broad generalization) McGill in a nutshell. I’m one of the few McGill students I know that lives in the so-called Concordia “ghetto” around Mackay; the rents around Milton-Parc and, of course, the Plateau are untouchable these days.

    The happy upshot is that I get to pretend I go to Concordia instead of McGill. Ironic, though, that I was priced out of the McGill ghetto, and found downtown cheaper.

    The day ANYONE manages to get a decent amount of ghetto-residing McGill students to “get involved” in their community is the day I’ll admit freely that I actually attend McGill. Of course, there’s innumerable wonderful, engaged McGill students. (Very few of whom seem to end up around Milton-Parc…) Realistically, though, you have to figure that those with the cash to afford the “ghetto” aren’t those that have the desire to embark on some grass-roots, community-betterment project.

    Going out on a limb here:

    “Studentification” isn’t a form of gentrification, insofar as it concerns the McGill ghetto. Quite the opposite: you have a sort of decay brought about by less desirable renters who, perversely, have greater means than the incumbent population. Long-time residents aren’t necessarily priced out, though, as in gentrification– the neighborhood has, by any measure save property value, become less desirable. You have this bizarre ghettoization in a centrally-located, physically beautiful, otherwise desirable neighborhood because would be gentrifiers/upgraders can’t afford the area. Hell, there’s even a sort of equivalent of white flight going on; not on racial lines, but on the basis of age.

    If “Studentification” was at all a sort of gentrification, you’d expect some sort of incumbent upgrading among the new residents. Of course, that will never happen insofar as students in the area do not consider themselves stakeholders in the community: it is not their investment that is on the line. The higher income (parental subsidies) of the new residents doesn’t translate into reinvestment in the community, save at Dépanneur du Parc and the SAQ below La Cité.

    Besides, in such a high rent area, have you ever seen a shittier selection of restaurants? Seriously.

  3. In terms of social housing, I think people should take a serious look at the concept of subsidised rent, instead of unit subsidies. The empirical evidence appears to indicate that recipient-based social housing can serve more poor people at a lower cost, without concentrating poverty. Check out this link for a good review.

    I’m not say that we should give people cash (because they might well not spend it on rent), but it’s possible for municipalities to pay for a portion of the market rent directly.

    I’m not always a fan of “market-friendly” approaches, but this one appears to work well in the real world.

  4. Christopher,
    You’re right, but to a large extent, the Ghetto is the public face of the student body to much of Montreal. For the 26,000 students that don’t live in the area, it’s embarrassing. McGill is a good school; unfortunately, going there is a bit of a mark of shame in the city at large. It’s not just the anglo/francophone divide. I can’t think of another school that does a better job of projecting a “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” attitude to the community/city/province that it should be engaged in.

    Call me out on this if I’m off, but have there been many examples of UQAM/UdeM/Concordia students adversely affecting the quality of life of a neighborhood as a whole?

    The idea of subsidized rent is certainly preferable to unit subsidies. But, that being the case, why wouldn’t giving people cash be more preferable to that? If people’s needs dictate that more money should be allocated to things other then shelter, then they should have that financial leeway. Subsidized might serve to drive up rents somewhat, given that those with vouchers can get into a pissing contest over a given area without concern for the opportunity cost of the subsidies.

  5. No, social housing is more effective as it takes a portion of the housing stock out of the private market and creates a social good. Not all social housing concentrates the poorest people; that is the case nowadays for HLMs (public housing units), especially since the ceiling on rents has been eliminated, taking workers out of the HLMs. Co-operatives typically have a range of incomes and life statuses among their members, moreover, they give people a stake in their community, far from fostering ghettos.

    In many countries social housing represents a significant proportion of housing stock, and in such cases it is not necessarily associated with the poorest segments of society, but enables workers to live in cities they work in which would otherwise be too expensive to house the very people who make them function.

    Subsidies do concentrate poverty, and are typically a gift to slumlords.

  6. You really feel the annoyance of McGill students when you take the train to Toronto during a holiday weekend. It’s like a trainload of wannabe Paris Hiltons, trumping around in sweatpants and ugg boots and behaving with such rude entitlement.

    However, that being said, I live next to 3 McGill undergrads, one from Ontario and two from the states and they are really nice, open-minded guys who have all learned french and have decided to try and make a go of it in Montreal post-college. So there’s hope!

  7. Vaguely relevant…

    I’m originally from New Jersey, so what I know of social housing is the Bronx/Brooklyn variety; as you can imagine, my knowlege of social housing is sort of limited (and dismal). Have there been any papers/articles published regarding the success or failure of the Jeanne-Mance projects? It’s so different from the NYCHA projects I’m familiar with.

    Anyway, it’s indisputable that McGill students have a bad reputation, and the Ghetto does nothing to help the image. It’s a great school, with countless wonderful people; still, in casual conversation, I avoid mentioning I go there. It’s the lowest (loudest?) common denominated that creates the reputation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *