With news of rental crises, housing shortages, and huge price increases constantly bombarding our news feeds, it's understandable that stories about tearing down apartment complexes make Montrealers nervous.
Developers in Hampstead, an independent municipality on Montreal Island, are following through with plans to demolish two older apartment buildings and put up a 10-storey modern apartment block after getting Hampstead city council approval. The vote was split three-to-three until the mayor broke the tie by signing off on the development.
According to CBC News, some residents no longer trust the council and worry that they won't be able to find an affordable place to live. There will be a consultation meeting on August 19th, where Hampstead residents will have the opportunity to vote for or against the project.
This afternoon, I spoke with Mayor William Steinberg of Hampstead to get his perspective on the matter.
Mayor Steinberg outlined three reasons as to why he voted for the development. First, he explained that Côte-Saint-Luc Road has a lot of rundown apartment buildings
"Côte-Saint-Luc Road has numerous buildings that don't represent the quality of Hampstead. There is a lot of rundown buildings, 50-75 years old, a vacant lot, one of them is vacant and one of them is completely boarded up. It's not good for any town to have all these vacant, empty and rundown buildings past their due date."
Indeed, there has been a vacant lot between Stratford and Fielding for at least the past two years. Not an attractive sight for what apparently is one of Montreal's wealthiest neighbourhoods — a supposed fact that Mayor Steinberg completely rejects.
According to him, Hampstead suffers from lost revenue because it's the only town in Canada that does not have commercial or industrial sectors, let alone a building over 6-storeys tall.
"Many of Hampstead's residents are wealthy but that doesn't make the town wealthy. If you only have property tax revenue, there are severe limits. Everywhere else, they have all kinds of other sources of income. TMR, for example, even before the Royalmount project, 50% of their revenue came from industrial," he says.
Secondly, Mayor Steinberg says that there are limited housing options in the neighbourhood as is. Young families, specifically, have few places to live if they lack substantial wealth.
"If young families want to live in Hampstead, they can choose to live along Cote-St-Luc Road or have to have over a million dollars to buy a home."
There were plans to build a condo in a vacant lot but those plans were "met with some controversy and [the project] was scaled back from 12-storeys to 9-storeys."
New developments in Hampstead would be a boon to the town's tax revenue, allowing for neighbourhood improvements. As per Mayor Steinberg, "I want to have better roads and ideally if we can raise enough money, a recreation centre that’ll replace our pieced-together community centre we have now. There’s a lot of stuff we can do with extra tax revenue."
Mayor Steinberg says that residents have been happy with the town during his time as mayor, but ultimately, he would love to do more for the residents. Development, he says, is one of the best ways for a town to improve.
Hampstead has three projects in the pipeline, including the one that's up for consultation in a few weeks. There are many areas of the town where development cannot happen, so the mayor wants to assure residents that all developers follow stringent guidelines.
"Will there be more after that? Will these three go through? I have no way of knowing. All I know is that if they do go through, it’ll provide more housing options and it provides significant extra tax revenue. And it makes the street look nicer!"
The new project is set to be a rental unit, not condominiums, a misconception that Mayor Steinberg hopes to clear up.
“Hampstead wants to be a success story. People really have to look at the whole thing — if this project doesn’t go through, I don’t think developers will come to Hampstead for a really long time."
In recent weeks, he and his council have faced criticism from town residents. He's even been called out for nepotism, as his 4th cousin is one of the lead developers on the project.
"As one of my councillors says, 4th cousins are like strangers in my family! Everyone knows that they were also the developers of a 16-storey high-rise where the old fire station was. They lost a fortune on that because of penalties that I put in and insisted on enforcing. I assure you that they behaved in a proper fashion throughout that project and they’re doing the same over here."
“If this doesn’t go through, I don’t know what’ll happen, but my guess is they’ll be walking away. What do they need these hassles for? Other developers will see this too."
Mayor Steinberg ultimately wants to improve his town and hopes that the residents will see his side of the story. He says that he will accept whatever verdict goes through.
The 14-year Hampstead mayor has a tough road ahead of him but is determined to see it through.
“I sincerely believe that this project is in the best interest for the residents of Hampstead."