Many Montrealers were thrilled to learn that one of the city's beloved boroughs, Verdun, was named 11th coolest neighbourhood in the world by Time Out Magazine — the only Canadian neighbourhood on the list.
While there's no denying that Verdun is home to charming boutiques and restaurants, unique festivals and a beautiful beach, its official new status doesn't come without controversy.
What's wrong with being cool?
Sure, it's cool to be acknowledged for being cool. And there's nothing wrong with that in itself.
But some Verdun residents fear that if the area gains more exposure as an "it" destination, it could exacerbate existing issues around gentrification and unaffordable housing.
"I love Verdun with all my heart, so of course a part of me gets excited when we get international recognition of this wonderful community, but mostly I get worried that this kind of attention will attract wealthy residents to Verdun," said Monika Jackiewicz, a 23-year-old nursing student who moved to the borough three years ago.
Jackiewicz said she's noticed rent prices "skyrocket" and told MTL Blog she could not afford to move to a different apartment — even a smaller one — in the same neighbourhood based on current rates.
She also said cheap cafés and stores are closing "by the handful" and being replaced by "businesses very obviously catering to a wealthier clientele."
"We don’t need to attract the wealthy here, we need to find ways to keep our poorer residents from being pushed out of the neighbourhood," she said.
What do you mean by 'unaffordable' housing?
According to figures provided to MTL Blog by the Comité d'action des citoyennes et citoyens de Verdun (CACV):
- One in four people in the Wellington-de-l'Église part of Verdun live under the poverty threshold.
- The median price of a four-and-a-half advertised on Kijiji between February and May 2020 in central Verdun was $1,390 (whereas the average rent in Montreal was $841).
- The cost of rents has increased 17.3% in Verdun in five years.
- 34% of the borough's renters devote more than 30% of their income to housing, and 15% of renters devote more than 50% of their income to housing.
- Between 2011 and 2016, the number of low-income people in Verdun decreased by 2,475.
"We believe that the majority of [low-income people] are no longer able to find housing in the neighbourhood because of rising housing prices," reads a CACV statement.
"In Verdun . . . we're seeing more and more visible signs of a housing crisis," said Steve Baird, a CACV community organizer.
"So, yeah, we're concerned even though we agree Verdun is a great neighbourhood."
What do Verdun residents hope to see in the borough's future?
Baird said CACV gets calls every day from people who are being pushed out of housing without valid reasons.
"Some landlords will try all sorts of tactics just to get people out and be able to hike up the rents," he said, a practice also known as "renoviction."
Organizations, such as CACV and Verdun, Ensemble Contre la Gentrification (VECG), are working to curb renovictions. VECG is holding a protest on October 11 to encourage Verdun's city council to adopt bylaws that protect against this.
"Our mayor Jean-François Parenteau really likes to talk about the benefits of 'mixité sociale,' but he only ever supports legislation and initiatives that will raise the proportion of wealthy people in the neighbourhood," said Jackiewicz.
"I love festivals and cafés as much as the next person, but affordable and secure housing should always be the priority."