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Montreal has rolled out a new strategy that aims to speed up approval for real estate projects and help private developers deal with an administration often decried as too slow and overly complex.
Under a pilot project unveiled Wednesday, four boroughs have each appointed an individual to serve as the point person for real estate development, executive committee member Luc Rabouin said. Ville-Marie, Sud-Ouest, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and LaSalle, as well as the Namur-Hippodrome area, will serve as “laboratories” to test the plan, which includes 23 concrete actions designed to give developers more predictability. About 80 projects will be affected.
Montreal’s announcement comes as the city grapples with a shortage of affordable and social housing while planning for the creation of new neighbourhoods such as Namur-Hippodrome, near the old Blue Bonnets racetrack, and Bridge-Bonaventure, at the southwestern edge of downtown. City hall’s handling of the Bridge-Bonaventure redevelopment has come in for repeated criticism, with developers saying last year that the Projet Montréal administration dragged its feet and misjudged the area’s potential.
“From now on, we will be in a partnership” with private developers, Rabouin said Wednesday after a speech to members of the Urban Development Institute, a lobby group that represents real estate promoters.
“Apparently, it can sometimes be complicated to develop real estate projects in Montreal,” Rabouin said earlier during his address, eliciting laughter from the audience. “Some people even speak of a veritable ordeal. What I want to tell you is that we recognize that the situation is problematic.”
Montreal’s plan is the result of discussions between the city, elected officials and real estate promoters as part of an advisory council known as the “facilitator cell” that was created in 2021. It pledges to create a “flexible regulatory framework,” improve communication between stakeholders, optimize consultation processes and offer developers greater clarity on approval procedures and delays, among other actions.
About 26,000 people work for the city, “and sometimes it’s hard to find your way around,” said Philippe Krivicky, the city’s deputy general manager.
Real estate projects of at least $10 million will automatically be considered “structuring,” meaning they will become a priority for the administration, Rabouin said. All social and affordable housing projects will also be treated as priorities, he said.
“The challenge is that we are in the process of changing the city’s culture in its relationship with real estate promoters,” Rabouin said. “We want developers to stay in Montreal. We want to make it easier for them to develop good projects that meet the needs of citizens and our vision of the city.”
Reactions from property officials who spoke at the Urban Development Institute event were generally favourable. UDI head Jean-Marc Fournier lauded the plan as a “sign of rapprochement” between the city and the real estate industry.
“Of course we would like to see things move much more quickly, but this is a major shift” by the city, said Roger Plamondon, head of real estate operations at builder Broccolini. “We are facing an economic crisis and a housing shortage, so we have to work together to succeed.
“At the end of 2023, we are going to have to sit down to look at what was achieved. I’m very confident, but I will be vigilant.”
Renters’ groups sounded more cautious, in large part because the issue of funding for social housing projects remains unresolved.
Provincial Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau told La Presse in an interview published last week that she plans to end the AccèsLogis program, which has been the biggest source of funding for social housing in Quebec since its creation in 1997. Duranceau said it takes too long for projects approved by AccèsLogis to proceed — sometimes as long as seven years.
Mayor Valérie Plante said Wednesday that she wrote to Finance Minister Eric Girard to ask for help in dealing with the “unprecedented” social and affordable housing crisis. To speed up construction, Montreal is offering to take charge of more than 1,000 AccèsLogis units still waiting for funding in order to be completed, Plante said. In exchange, the city is asking the province for $314.5 million in additional financing.
Close to 24,000 people are on a waiting list for social housing as of March 1, according to data compiled by the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal. The city says it needs to add about 2,000 new social and affordable housing units per year.
“On one side, the city’s announcement is interesting,” Saray Ortiz Torres, a community organizer with the Côte-des-Neiges housing advocacy group Project Genesis, said Thursday in an interview. “It sounds like they want to facilitate development and remove red tape, which hopefully will benefit the co-operatives and non-profit organizations that are also trying to develop housing.
“But it seems they are not really addressing the elephant in the room, which is how to fund social and affordable housing development if Quebec is slashing AccèsLogis. This is missing from this announcement.”
Catherine Lussier, a spokesperson for the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain, voiced similar fears.
“We’re preoccupied,” Lussier said Thursday in an interview. A program such as the one announced by Montreal “will probably result in private real estate projects getting built faster, but we know from experience that these aren’t the kinds of projects that meet the needs of people in search of low-income housing. So it’s a big concern.”
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