Thursday, May 23, 2024

Montreal Has A Unique Approach to Housing

Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city, has been relatively isolated from the dramatic rise in housing prices faced by Toronto and Vancouver.

The housing crisis is a global phenomenon that is affecting everyone from Shanghai to San Francisco.

by Likam Kyanzaire

Montreal Has A Unique Approach to Housing

The housing crisis is a global phenomenon that is affecting everyone from Shanghai to San Francisco. A housing crisis is a situation where a significant part of the population has limited access to safe, decent homes that are affordable and suitable for their needs. This crisis is caused by a lack of affordable housing to buy or rent, which has led to an increase in homelessness and economic hardship for many individuals and families. 

According to the World Bank, by 2025, 1.6 billion people are expected to be affected by the global housing shortage. In the United States, about 580,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020, due to a continuum of issues that include fewer But up homeowners, higher rents, and more economic homelessness. But up north in Canada, the problem is even more acute. Canada’s largest city (Toronto) and it’s third largest (Vancouver) rank 3rd and tenth respectively for the least unaffordable housing markets. 

Big cities are areas young people prefer to live in, yet it is the young who are disproportionately harmed by the housing crisis in Canada. Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city, has been relatively isolated from the dramatic rise in housing prices faced by Toronto and Vancouver. The largest city in Canada until the 1980s, Montreal has seen somewhat of a decline in stature, but as the French capital of Canada, with some of the world’s best educational institutions Montreal is a world-class city whose unique approach to housing is worth talking about.

History of Montreal

Montreal, the largest city in Quebec and the second-largest in Canada has a rich and fascinating history that is woven into the fabric of the city to this day. From its founding in 1642 to the present, Montreal has seen many changes and transformations that have shaped its culture, architecture, and identity. 

As a city that grew largely before the invention of the automobile Montreal’s urban landscape was denser than cities like Toronto, which developed with the car. With cars, people could live further from the city, and so there was less need to pack density close to urban cores. For cities that developed before the car, they have denser neighbourhoods of row apartments and missing middle houses like duplexes and triplexes. 

A study by the Fraser Institute highlighted the density in Canada’s two major cities: Toronto has 4,457 people per square kilometre, and Montreal has 4,916 people per square kilometre. This level of density puts Montreal in league with other older cities like Boston and Amsterdam, while Toronto shares similar density with newer cities like Seattle and Baltimore. 

Being able to fit more people in a smaller footprint is a big reason why Montreal has such an affordable rental and buying market. They also do this without building massive condos like in Vancouver or New York. Montreal offers lessons for the world in terms of missing middle-class housing.

The Benefits of Montreal-Style Housing

Dense housing can provide several benefits according to various sources. According to a study published in the Journal of Urban Economics, dense cities have a range of benefits, including higher productivity, more innovation, shorter commutes, and better access to amenities. Investing in high-density housing offers several advantages such as making urban living affordable, more efficient use of land, reduction of outdoor maintenance, and creating more land for people who enjoy living in spread-out rural areas. 

But we need to differentiate between the density brought by condos and large apartments vs missing middle density:

Condos & Apartments

While you can increase density fast with condos, there are several health issues with living so high in the sky, and also livability problems for the environment. Living in a high-rise condo building can be challenging from a logistical perspective, especially when lugging up groceries or large items, particularly if there’s an extended distance from the elevator to the door of one’s unit.

Also, according to the Preservation Institute “When you walk through a high-rise neighbourhood, you cannot see this sort of thing in most of the building’s facade. In other words, you lose sight of the human scale in high-rise neighbourhoods.”

Missing Middle

Missing Middle Housing is a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units—compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes located in a walkable neighbourhood. On top of creating a more human environment, missing middle housing can also be put up cheaply and efficiently.

Montreal has been lucky to inherit much of its missing middle housing, even as it continues to build more, but recently another Canadian city has decided to prioritize this type of housing. In a vote of 6-3, the council passed the program, which is designed to encourage medium-density housing options such as house-plexes, small apartment buildings and townhouses rather than the extremes of the housing spectrum: detached single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings.

By allowing rezoning for duplexes ad other multifamily homes Victoria aims to solve the housing crisis in the Montreal fashion. In time the rest of Canada must do the same.