There goes the neighbourhood
October 1, 2007 § 10 Comments
So, that friend of mine who got busted for jaywalking last month? She’s since learned that she’s being evicted from her apartment, which brings the total number of friends of mine who have been evicted from their Mile End apartments to twelve. Seriously. Twelve.
I wrote about the Mile End eviction phenomenon in my very first blog post, although I didn’t yet realize how pervasive it would become. Now that the evictions have reached critical mass, I can say with certainty that this is how it works:
- Long-time Mile Ender rents apartment before real estate boom and still pays enviably low rent
- Landlord decides to cash in on real estate boom and “renovates” apartment
- Landlord sends eviction notice via registered mail, citing shady but superficially legal reason why tenant is to be evicted (e.g. sudden return of aunt/cousin/child to city; renegade pets; noise complaints)
- Tenant thinks about contesting eviction at the Régie de logement, and either
- realizes that resistance is futile, or
- begins legal proceedings but is meanwhile driven out by threats, harrassment, and/or renovation work
- Tenant writes anxious mass email to friends asking for help finding another affordable apartment
- Tenant spends weeks looking at overpriced dumps in Mile End/Plateau/Outremont advertised as “charming” or “funky” or “lofts”
- Tenant settles for moderately priced non-loft in Parc Extension/St. Henri/Verdun at the eleventh hour
- Landlord performs largely cosmetic renovation of newly vacant apartment and
- charges two to three times the original rent, or
- sells unit for several hundred thousand dollars
- Professional couple/web designer/student with trust fund moves into original apartment and marvels at the “liveability” of their new neighbourhood
- Vila seethes and writes another blog post
I should point out that under Quebec law, the process described above is technically illegal, but, as no fewer than twelve of my friends have discovered first-hand, there’s no stopping the real estate market.
Then again, maybe there is? According to The Guardian, economists are concerned that “buy-to-let” landlords could soon trigger a real estate crash in the UK by panic-selling their suddenly devalued properties. The head of the Association of Residential Letting Agents observes:
There is evidence that landlords have been trying to increase rents to cover their higher mortgage payments, even where local market conditions are unable to withstand increases. Many tenants have simply walked away, leaving landlords with voids.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that large swaths of southeastern Queens, central Brooklyn, and the northeast Bronx are on the precipice of becoming ghost towns, the result of predatory lending practices that have disproportionately affected minority homeowners. As one housing activist notes:
“I look at this as a civil rights issue in those neighborhoods where people thought having a home was key to building individual wealth. But what happened is the wealth people built through their hard work has been transferred to Wall Street.”
Finally, the Montreal Gazette cautions that despite the bleating of industry cheerleaders, Canada’s real estate markets are not immune to the housing bubble, and may in fact have farther to fall than those of other countries:
The worry is not that price increases in Canada will taper off; it’s that they won’t do so soon enough. After all, the higher you go, the harder the subsequent drop is likely to be. Already, several economists have pointed out that the price gains of recent years have been so disproportionate to Canadians’ incomes that, in the words of Scotiabank’s Adrienne Warren, “there is little doubt that current trends are unsustainable.”
This state of affairs seemed unthinkable even six months ago, when, despite ample evidence to the contrary, the mortgage industry was still insisting that housing prices would continue to increase in perpetuity. Today, we are confronted by the consequences of our own willing naiveté, which include the highest rate of home foreclosures since the Great Depression and a real risk of global recession. Twelve displaced artists seem inconsequential by comparison.
Still, the health of a
market city is best gauged by its economic accessibility, which, in turn, is reflected by the diversity of its housing options. The housing bubble has substantially eroded this diversity and left a callous sameness in its wake: in place of apartments, flats, flophouses, storefronts, and studios, we have condos and still more condos, the financing of which is predicated on the notion that housing is an investment and not a potential home.
I suspect I’ll be returning to some of these themes in the weeks ahead, but in the meantime, if anyone happens to know of any cheap apartments…