The Quebec government is earmarking $77 million to help low-income tenants in the lead-up to the province's traditional July 1 moving day, with a plan that includes rental subsidies for 2,200 households.
But tenants' rights advocates say the plan doesn't go far enough to address the affordable-housing crisis.
"There's not enough [housing], and we have to work our way towards coming up with more social housing units," said Catherine Lussier, a community organizer with the housing rights group Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).
To make matters worse, said Cédric Dussault, spokesperson for a coalition of housing and tenants' rights groups, RCLALQ, tenants in many regions, including the Lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé peninsula and the Magdalen Islands, are being pushed out by landlords, in favour of short-term rentals.
"There's a lot of people being thrown out of rental units because landlords want to rent the unit to tourists for the holiday season," said Dussault.
The new government assistance for tenants was announced by Quebec's minister of municipal affairs and housing, Andrée Laforest, in a news release Thursday.
A total of $75.8 million will go toward helping low-income tenants living in privately owned housing pay their rent, with subsidies of up to 25 per cent of their household income.
Quebec is also expanding its existing housing allowance program called Allocation-logement, with the maximum financial assistance increasing from $80 to $150 in the coming months.
The Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ) will also offer assistance over the telephone to those who need help finding housing. The phone service will operate seven days a week during Quebec's busiest moving time, between June 18 and July 18.
Another $2 million has been set aside for municipalities to help them temporarily accommodate tenants who have no place to go and to store their belongings, if needed. The ministry says anybody who cannot find a place to live can also contact the SHQ for help.
Housing vacancy rates are historically low throughout Quebec, and the housing minister acknowledged the current housing shortage in April.
Laforest's news release says since the Coalition Avenir Québec government was elected in 2018, nearly 8,000 social- and affordable-housing units have been built or are now under construction.
"This year, with the evolution of the rental market caused by the pandemic and inflation, we expect that a greater number of people will need assistance in their search or even financial support," said Laforest in the news release.
"This is why we are now launching our action plan for the period surrounding July 1."
Sherbrooke mayor says help is needed
Sherbrooke Mayor Évelyne Beaudin said in her city, the vacancy rate wasn't as low last year as it is now, but the city still spent more than $462,000 to house 48 people. The provincial government only chipped in about $136,000, she said. It took until November to find accommodations for everyone who needed a place to live.
This year, Sherbrooke officials expect the situation to be even worse, as the vacancy rate has fallen below one per cent, and already 36 people are looking for emergency assistance in June and July, Beaudin said. There were will be plenty more come moving season, she predicted.
"We decided to begin the help program in June instead of July, and we know it is going to be a much higher cost for the city this year," she said.
"That's why we are happy to know the government increased its help for cities, but still we need to know how much it means for Sherbrooke."
City officials are already scrambling to offer those in need emergency accommodations, storage and help finding new, affordable accommodations when prices are skyrocketing, Beaudin said.
"Right now the emergency is to see how we can help those people who will not have a roof after July 1."