News outlets’ accounts of the struggles of Pointe St-Charles residents rarely sided with the Lamarre municipal government’s point of view, that public housing was too expensive and not a budget priority. This observation is true with La Voix Populaire, now known as La Voix Pop. It was a newspaper very present in reporting the unfolding events in Montreal’s South-West region.
Events of 1985
We focus on 1985 because this year was crucial to the development of public housing in Pointe St-Charles. It was in this time that the local community was in turmoil, battling the government in a fight of words and policies, to protect their interests in low rent and welfare protection.
On February 12th, 1985, Quebec’s Ministre de l’Habitation confessed that « son gouvernement n’a pas, depuis dix ans, posé de gestes adaptés à la situation de la Pointe, » a signal to the local community that times were about to change. Two days later, community members interested in a « cooperative d’habitation » and in « l’améloration des conditions de vie et de logement dans le quartier » met in the Polyvalente Charles-Lemoyne auditorium on rue Mullins, a building with a living legacy today as Regroupement Information Logement’s (RIL) present headquarters. #VP12.02.85
The conference that people thought would change their lives, unveiled the idea of Projet St-Charles, the project to add at least 500 new condo units to the poverty-stricken municipality, over the course of the next three years (1985 to 1988). Quebec’s Ministre de l’Habitation, Marc Harvey, was present; he was also the most influential figure there. He would decide on the subsidies that would be granted to the « résidents les plus démunis de Pointe St-Charles. » The municipality’s citizens were optimistic that, finally, there would be change, as captured in Voix Populaire’s headline for this story, « Ça bouge!» #VP12.02.85. Finally, they had a voice.
But two weeks later, the community grew disappointed in Montreal’s absence in response, with regard to their promised development. Their frustration was captured by the next headline by the same author, « Projet St-Charles: rien ne bouge. »
This was the beginning of a long battle to convince authorities that Pointe St-Charles needed this money, that they needed this project, and that they needed this welfare. A major problem was the rift between citizens’ dreams and politicians’ reality. Harvey, it was reported, was very unclear as to what the budget would look like for a project of this size, and withheld any estimates. Meanwhile, député provincial de Ste-Anne Maximilien Polak did not even know that the project existed. Looking back at the community’s increase in campaigning, we believe it is fair to say that the Pointe St-Charles community felt that their voices were not loud enough #VP26.02.85. And conditions worsened by the next month in March, when the new ministre de l’habitation du Québec Jacques Rochefort issued a « refus catégorique… de subventionner le coût de renovation et de construction de 500 unités de logements cooperatifs » #VP06.85.
Some federal programs were in place that helped support struggling families. One of which, known as the programme d’aide à la remise en état des logements (PAREL) pour propriétaires occupants #VP30.01.85, was a sponsorship package for people in need. It would either help support those making below minimum wage; or it would help finance the repair of homes that lacked basic necessities such as heating, electricity, and plumbing (Canada, 2013).
However, despite projects like Project St-Charles that were under negotiation and implementation, the government announced that it would soon abolish PAREL, on March 19th, 1985. Immediately, protests erupted in front of Verdun’s Progressive Conservative MP Gilbert Chartrand’s office, the main protest amassing 125 protesters, who represented the respective « cooperatives d’habitation » of Montreal. Though a small protest in number, it is proportional to the number of families that this government action would have affected. Marcel Sévigny, president of the Fédération des cooperatives d’habitation de l’Île de Montréal, warned that this program’s termination would cost $2 million, directly affecting 616 families who live below the poverty line. #VP20.03.85
There are some recurring arguments that point to why developing poor areas is a bad thing. One argument is about economic theory, that renovation projects increse the value of neighbourhoods, thus driving rent prices upwards #VP30.01.85. Another argument, the one that these demonstrators were sending, was about their position of weakness in negotiating with the Montreal government. The activists were saying that if they do not protest, then PAREL will be abolished; but if they do protest, then these protesting cooperatives d’habitation may make enemies within government circles and have their welfare projects, which were unconnected to PAREL, be abolished #VP19.02.85.
Despite the setbacks, a working document was in order by June of that year. On board were Montreal mayor Yvon Lamarre, who led the comité d’étude sur le schéma d’aménagement du quartier Pointe St-Charles. The committee recommended (1) increasing subsidies for the purpose of reconstructing houses, (2) catering taxation closer to tenants’ economic wellbeing, (3) and sponsoring landlords’ abilities to fix the quality of their tenants’ houses #VP06.85. Though perhaps not ideal, the vocabulary of making life more affordable has clearly entered government circles, which was the intent of protesters only three months earlier.
At this point, in 1985, the passion that drove Regroupement Information Logement forwards was bringing with it more political participants that believed in positive change.