Montreal

Quebec's housing crisis is only getting worse: federal housing report

A combination of low vacancy rates, steep rent increases and slow construction is creating the perfect storm for Quebec's housing crisis, according to a new report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Fewer available apartments, higher rents creating perfect storm, advocates say

woman tapping for rent sign on building
The housing crisis is being felt across Quebec as vacancy rates drop, rents increase and construction stalls. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Quebec's vacancy rates are at their lowest in 20 years, according to a new report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

In Montreal, vacancy rates in January 2024 were at 1.5 per cent, down from two per cent in 2022. A rental market is considered balanced when the vacancy rate reaches three per cent, according to the CMHC. But the phenomenon isn't limited to cities. Vacancies across the province are at 1.3 per cent — which hasn't been seen since 2003 — so the squeeze is being felt in every region.

Meanwhile, rent prices keep going up — tenants are facing the largest rent increase in 30 years. The CMHC reports that rents in Montreal went up by an average of 7.7 per cent. That number goes up to 10 per cent for units with a new tenant.

Kevin Hughes, the CMHC's deputy chief economist, said "the market remains tight in Montreal, and rental increases are significant as well," despite Montreal "having the largest rental stock in the country."

He says the crunch could be driven by immigration, young people entering the rental market, older people seeking to downsize and housing affordability issues.

In Quebec City, the vacancy rate is 0.9 per cent, a 15-year low, and rent went up by 4.8 per cent in a year.

Compounded with a stall in new construction, tenant rights advocates say it's the perfect storm.

'Hard year to find a place'

Last year it was reported that Quebec's homeless population almost doubled in four years. The report pointed to the shortage of affordable housing as a reason for the increase.

"It's really a low amount of apartments that are affordable that are available, so for tenants who are not able to pay that much, it's going to be a struggle to find a place they will be able to stay," said Catherine Lussier, a community organizer with the housing group Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain.

Amy Darwish, co-ordinator at Comité d'action de Parc-Extension (CAPE), says the report only confirms what she's been seeing on the ground, and she believes rents have gone up even more than what was reported.

"If you've been evicted or can't renew your lease, it will be a hard year to find a place," she said.

Darwish believes that building new housing isn't enough to address the housing crisis as new units are often unaffordable. She says social housing is the only way to get back to a healthy housing market.

CAPE, along with other housing groups, has long been advocating for measures like a rent freeze, rent registries and formal rent control to be implemented in the province.

Landlords also facing increases

Melissa Lemieux, a member of the Quebec Landlords Association (APQ), pushed back, saying landlords are facing price increases on all fronts. She says mortgage interest rates also increased, which are "not even being covered by the rental increases" as they aren't part of the rental board's calculations.

"Is there a cap at the grocery store for how much meat you can buy? Is there a cap for interest rates at the bank?" she asked CBC Montreal's Daybreak rhetorically.

She admits that rent in Montreal has gone up significantly, but says "if you want an apartment that is safe and secure, you're going to have to pay."

WATCH | What to do if you get an eviction notice:

Got an eviction notice? Here's what to do

3 months ago
Duration 1:00
Eviction and repossession notices in Quebec are often issued in late December, but tenants have options if they want to contest them.

Others, like Benoit Sainte-Marie of the Corporation of Quebec Property Owners (CORPIQ), are fuming over property tax increases, saying "municipalities have gone way too far."

"How can we keep low rent with these increases!" he said.

But CAPE's Darwish says rents are going up more than inflation and salaries are, and more of a household's income goes toward rent.

The Observatoire québécois des inégalités, which monitors social inequality, said in a statement that "the housing crisis in Quebec is far from over — quite the contrary."

Echoing Darwish, it points out that the housing crisis has the largest impact on the most vulnerable people. For example, in the context of a housing shortage, tenants living in low-cost housing on the private market are at greater risk of being evicted. Rising rents also mean people have less money for other needs.

The APQ and CORPIQ say part of the solution they envision includes a subsidy for lower income tenants or subsidize renovations for landlords, as well as refurbishing the housing stock.

Housing minister blames immigration

In a statement, a spokesperson for the provincial minister responsible for housing put the blame for the squeeze on immigrants and asylum seekers.

"We must stop the flow of migrants in Montreal and distribute them better," said Justine Vézina.

Cédric Dussault, a spokesperson for the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), called that statement "utterly disgusting."

"There are slim to none asylum seekers in places like Gaspé, Abitibi, Côte-Nord… yet those places are some of the most severely impacted by the housing crisis," he pointed out.

WATCH | Know your rights as a renter: 

What are my rights as a renter in Quebec?

2 years ago
Duration 7:47
We cut through the legalese to bring you answers to questions you may not even know you should be asking. Can my landlord kick me out for renovations? Does my landlord have to show me the previous tenant’s rent? Are rent decreases possible? While Quebec has rules for protecting renters, tenants have to be pretty savvy to wade through misinformation, bureaucracy and language barriers when learning about the law.

Vézina also said Quebec's latest bill for housing reforms, known as Bill 31, includes provisions that would "increase the housing offer."

Bill 31 is being studied at the National Assembly and is being met with resistance from both tenants and landlords.

Tenants worry that an end to lease transfers would strip them of one of their only tools to keep rents low, while landlords welcome the change. Meanwhile, landlords aren't happy that they might have to pay tenants they evict up to two years' worth of rent and moving costs.

If the eviction process is harder, "it's only fair tenants lose this right," said APQ's Lemieux.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erika Morris

CBC News journalist

Erika Morris is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Daybreak, Sarah Leavitt and Mélissa François

now