Living in a motel due to housing shortage

Living in a motel due to housing shortage

GATINEAU | The Outaouais are experiencing one of the country’s worst housing crises, to the point that families are being reduced to hidden homelessness, migrating from one couch or motel to another.

Such is the case of Renée Boulanger and her spouse Pierre Poirier, who were thrown into the street by a violent fire.

“We don’t have anything anymore, we lost everything, even our cat,” breathes Renée, sitting in the sun outside a very small room in a motel in Gatineau.

The couple jumped from the second floor window of their home in the early hours of August 26 to avoid being burned alive.

After 72 hours of emergency Red Cross care, they were referred to the Office d’habitation de l’Outaouais and the city of Gatineau, which housed them in a motel like 13 other households while they waited to land on their feet.

Rents are skyrocketing

Alain Latulippe, who was also staying at the motel, was evicted by the new owner of the accommodation he had occupied for three years. The 41⁄2 he paid $650 a month for now costs $1,250 in rent.

In July, a 41⁄2 in Gatineau rented an average of $1,810, or 10.6% more than a year ago, while we rented a 31⁄2 $1,551 a month, or 20% more than a year ago.

Median rental costs in Outaouais are the highest in Quebec and the vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country, says Karina Osiecka of the Office d’habitation de l’Outaouais.

“The demand for emergency, transitional and transitional housing increased by almost 38.7% between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021, but the range of services only increased by 4.6% between these years,” laments the state collective for combating homelessness

Outdated Services

One thousand one hundred people are waiting to get Low Cost Housing (HLM) but the Outaouais Housing Office has little more than 2,600, all occupied.

France Belisle.  Mayor of Gatineau

Photo Martin Alari

France Belisle. Mayor of Gatineau

As a result, “we are seeing an increase in hidden homelessness,” laments Gatineau Mayor France Belisle, whose services even accommodate a married couple and their three young elementary-school children at the hotel.

Under these conditions, with a budget of $1,000 a month rent, Renée and Pierre shun long wanderings. In one month they have already moved their meager bundle three times.

“Every week it’s the stress of knowing if and where we’re going to be relocated,” says Renée. I got hives because the stress was so intense. »

Empty federal buildings

As homeless Gatineau families stay in hotels, the federal government occupies 770,000 square feet of buildings in that city, most of which have been left vacant by state officials working from home.

During the election campaign a year ago, the Liberal Party pledged to invest $600 million to help convert vacant office space into housing.

“Not only will we remodel the federal housing stock, but also certain commercial buildings,” Justin Trudeau promised in his election manifesto.

The mayor is impatient

A year later, the results are still pending, and the mayor of Gatineau, France Belisle, which has more federal buildings on its territory than any other Quebec city, no fewer than 200 buildings, is growing impatient.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has been reviewing its real estate portfolio since 2018 to optimize it, knowing that much of the space was underutilized even before the pandemic, according to department spokeswoman Stéphanie Hamel.

In March, the federal budget pledged that this review would evaluate housing conversion options and save $6 billion over five years.

No clear schedule

Since then, only one meeting has taken place between federal officials and those of the city of Gatineau.

“We need to make this assessment, it’s urgent,” Mayor Belisle said. My main concern is when, what the schedule is, because the crisis is urgent. »

The Journal’s questions to PSPC about the review’s progress and timing went unanswered.

Ms. Belisle fears that, in addition to the loss of human life, the lack of housing has become a real obstacle to the economic development of the region, since workers can no longer settle there.

The housing shortage is even affecting enrollments at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and the Cégep de l’Outaouais. The two institutions alone need 500 residential units.

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