Normalization of homelessness, renovations, undue pressure on tenants… Tension around housing is intensifying in the region, in particular because of the establishment of the electric car industry.

Francis is desperate to find housing with affordable rent.

Francis is desperate to find housing with affordable rent.

Photo: Radio-United States / Vincent Rességuier

Last year, a few days before Christmas, Francis found himself on the street because his roommate “broke the lease”. Since then, he has been looking for affordable rent so that he can be “able to house and feed himself”.

Victoriaville, Drummondville, Trois-Rivières, this 24-year-old young man regularly scours the ads, but says he finds nothing below “$1200 or even $1400 for 1 ½ or 2 ½, small and not renovated”.

It is abusedhe says in an incisive tone, a clear sign of great frustration.

In the meantime, his life is shared between the street and foster homes, such as Maison Raymond Roy, where he found refuge for a few weeks.

Cindy Kirouac, the director of this accommodation center for young adults located in Victoriaville, notes that the occupancy rate of her establishment is reaching unprecedented levels. It’s often full. When one young person leaves, another arrivesshe explains.

When they leave, they often return to a precarious situation, she continues, while specifying that the destination can be the street, a couch at a friend’s house or a rented room. Rarely accommodation good for oneself.

Julie Barabé.

Julie Barabé, street worker for Répit Jeunesse, an organization in Victoriaville that helps young people in difficulty.

Photo: Radio-United States / Vincent Rességuier

Homelessness trivialized

Francis actually feels drawn into a vicious spiral, with all the difficulties in the world to get out of it. He also lost his job, having moved from one job to another since adolescence, notably as a security guard.

We don’t have an apartment, so we aren’t able to find a place job, then we have difficulty feeding ourselves. We feel caught in this pattern. It’s sad for our generation.

A quote from Francis, itinerant in the Victoriaville region

Profiles of homeless workers like that of Francis, Julie Barabé always sees more. This street worker for Répit Jeunesse notes that homelessness has taken another turn.

If it was rather hidden before the pandemic, it is now in plain sight in Victoriaville. Young people, old people, there is no typical profile, she explains. Everyone risks ending up on the street. I have seen a dramatic increase in homelessness.

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We have itinerant camps, this was not a reality a few years ago, adds Ms. Kirouac. According to the latest count, between 2018 and 2022, the number of homeless people increased by 50% in Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec.

The director of the Centre-du-Québec Tenants Association, Evelyne Heeremans, observes that homelessness has appeared in rural areas. She has heard of situations where people sleep in the areas of credit unions where the ATMs are located. Very often, the only place heated and accessible at all times in the village.

Pascal, itinerant in 2024.

Pascal keeps smiling even if he remains in a shelter.

Photo: Radio-United States / Vincent Rességuier

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Pascal is also going through a period of instability, caused in particular by a divorce. This proud Gaspésie, construction worker, arrived in Centre-du-Québec last June. Until a few weeks ago, he was living in a shared apartment, but the owner decided to reclaim the accommodation to expand his living space.

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For the moment, he is housed in the homeless emergency overflow unit in Victoriaville. This shelter was created in 2022 and can accommodate around ten people each night.

He is delighted to receive lunch, to be able to wash his clothes and to have access to administrative support. Except that he now finds himself unemployed and has lost hope of finding affordable housing.

How do you want to work if you have no roof over your head, no morale, and then you’re hungry? he laments. It’s hardhe lets out after a long sigh.

Pressures on tenants

Yes, it’s playing hard and the owner has the short end of the stick at the momentconfirms Evelyne Heeremans, director of the Centre-du-Québec Tenants Association.

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In several cases, she claims to have accompanied tenants who received a visit from proud with arms to encourage them in a not-so-subtle way to leave their accommodation or sign a rent increase.

The famous renovictions, bad faith takeovers, abusive increases, these are things that we see more and more.

A quote from Evelyne Heeremans

According to Ms. Heeremans, this context unsurprisingly penalizes the most vulnerable, especially the elderly, but also young adults like Gabrielle, 21 years old.

The owner of his last home asked him to leave. She did not have the resources to contest. That was two years ago and she never found a rental again.

As soon as they find someone to pay a crazy price, they take it. It’s still crazyshe is indignant. I’m still packing, trying to find places with a roof over my head, but I’m on the street quite a bit.

We feel the pressure, we see the questionable maneuversreports Evelyne Heeremans, while mentioning frequent cases where owners are careful not to inform tenants about their rights.

Some even find themselves with extremely tight ultimatums that leave little room for reflection before signing.

ULTIUM CAM factory site.

The GM Posco factory under construction in Bécancour

Photo: Radio-United States / Martin Chabot

The battery sector in question

She notes that the pressure on the real estate market is amplified by the arrival of the battery sector. In the coming years, the Bécancour factories will welcome thousands of employees who are promised generous salaries.

The workers mobilized in large numbers to construct industrial buildings have already disrupted the dynamics by stimulating demand. The vacancy rate is close to zero in the area.

Owners smell a good deal, says Nancy Hubert, coordinator of the Association of Autonomous Popular Education Groups (AGÉPA) Centre-du-Québec. They significantly increase rents, knowing well that they will have little difficulty finding a buyer.

If the standard of living increases with good salaries, what will happen to other people?

A quote from Nancy Hubert from AGEPA

Recently, Evelyne Heeremans has seen several apartment buildings change hands. Occupants then turn to his association because they have fear of being kicked out and housing being taken over for these new workers.

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A phenomenon also identified by Paul Morin, professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Sherbrooke. Last year, he produced a report on the housing situation in Centre-du-Québec.

The testimonies he collected indicate that the new owners, often not well established in the region, do not show feelings and increase rents. disproportionately. As a result, there is a rapid decline in affordable housing on the market and not enough new construction to compensate, he analyzes.

Nancy Hubert.

Nancy Hubert, coordinator of the Association of Independent Popular Education Groups (AGÉPA) Centre-du-Québec

Photo: Radio-United States / Vincent Rességuier

Accelerate the construction of affordable housing

One solution, he maintains, would be to merge municipal housing offices in the region whose current capacity is limited by their modest size. He thinks that a merger, for example, of the Nicolet-Yamaska ​​and Bécancour offices would make it possible to have stronger backbones to ensure an ambitious policy of building social and affordable housing.

For their part, municipalities are increasing initiatives to stimulate construction.

Bécancour, for example, has just adopted a new urban plan. It plans to build 6,700 housing units within 10 years, knowing that there are currently 7,000 in its territory.

The mayor, Lucie Allard, is also working on an affordable housing policy. A point of vigilance that concerns us greatlyshe assures, while conceding that it is not always easy to convince investors because they need incentives to guarantee the “profitability of projects”. She therefore intends to turn to government programs to stimulate the construction of affordable housing.

Drummondville has just announced the creation of a complex of 100 social and affordable housing units intended for independent seniors and which must be inaugurated in 2026. At the beginning of the year, Victoriaville adopted a tax credit for the construction of three housing units and more that will emerge from the ground by December 31, 2025.

The market should therefore be flooded with new homes in the coming years. Logic would dictate that prices become softer. But nothing is assured, at least in the medium term, underlines Nancy Hubert, because owners can increase the rent as they see fit for buildings less than 5 years old.

Drummondville is one of the Quebec municipalities where the housing crisis is most acute. In 2023, rents increased by 8.2%, while the vacancy rate was 0.5%. The latter is generally around 1% in the region’s urban centers.

The situation is similar on the other side of the river, in Mauricie, a region which also has to deal with the establishment of the battery industry.

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