Construction of at least 25,000 housing units blocked in Quebec, survey says

MONTREAL — A new survey suggests stalled construction projects are holding up the delivery of at least 25,000 homes across Quebec as the province struggles to alleviate a housing shortage.

That's theoretically enough residences to house the entire population of one of the province's small cities, said Isabelle Demers, vice president of the network of real estate developers and housing construction industry players that conducted the survey.

"Mathematically speaking, we're talking about 25,000 housing units, but if we transpose that to a number of people, with an average of 2.3 people per household in Quebec, it's roughly equivalent to the city of Shawinigan or Saint-Hyacinthe," said Demers, who represents the 20,000-member Association des professionnels de la construction et de l'habitation du Québec.

Though daunting, the figure potentially represents just a fraction of the true number of blocked units, she explained, since just 42 of the association's members responded to the survey. Many others, she posited, might have hesitated to disclose projects that are ongoing or contested.

"It's a big underestimate," said Demers, who admitted some developers may have been reluctant to answer the questionnaire. "Sometimes they don't necessarily want to say that they have projects blocked because they're in discussions with cities or in discussions with banks."

The reasons for construction holdups cited in the survey included burdensome permit-granting processes, zoning obstacles and public resistance to densification projects in residential areas. That kind of opposition, known as the "not in my backyard" phenomenon, is characterized by existing residents' suspicion of attempts to alter the character of their neighbourhoods with multi-dwelling buildings.

Demers gave the example of a recent project offering new social and affordable housing that hit a snag when a group of neighbourhood residents argued it would obstruct a cherished view.

"There was a project that ticked all the measures you could imagine for social acceptability," she said. "Namely (it was) close to public transport, with a grocery store, daycare, schools, units that were both social or affordable and units that were less so — really a project that ticked all the boxes."

"Then 48 citizens decided to block it," she continued. "We understand that for them, this view is important, but it comes at the expense of densification and housing for many other households."

Demers called on all Quebecers to consider how their support for higher-density construction can help address the housing crisis.

"Generally speaking, we need to stop throwing the ball around," she said. "Everyone has to take their share of responsibility and say: what can we do to ensure that we're able to build these homes and these dwellings to house people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2023.

Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press