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Developers prefer to pay a fine than to build affordable housing in Montreal

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With affordable housing on the minds of many Canadians and every level of government, the opposition at City Hall says a key part of Montreal's housing plan has been catastrophic.

Part of Mayor Valérie Plante's plan required major residential construction projects to have a certain percentage of social housing units and lower-cost units.

But newly-released data shows that not a single developer in the past two years has built any social housing.

Since 2021, Plante has repeatedly said she wants another 60,000 social housing units in the city within 10 years.

One way to reach the goal was the 20-20-20 plan -- a bylaw requiring developers of large-scale projects to include 20 per cent social housing, 20 per cent affordable housing, and 20 per cent family housing.

However, that plan is failing, according to numbers obtained by Ensemble Montreal.

"We noted that over the past two years, there's been no affordable housing that's been built. No affordable housing in two years," said Julien Hénault-Ratelle, the opposition's housing critic.

There has been some affordable housing defined as "relatively" low-cost units compared to the market, and some family units.

But overwhelmingly, developers prefer to pay a fine to the city instead, which is allowed under the bylaw.

"Over the past two years, the city has [received] about $24 million in the Fond pour le logement social and the Fond pour le logement abordable, but at city council, we don't know where that money went," Hénault-Ratelle said.

The mayor says that money is in city coffers and is used to support social housing.

But Plante argued that the big issue isn't the bylaw -- it's that the provincial government hasn't made social housing a priority.

"The Government of Quebec has always supported social housing and now, for the past three years in Montreal, we haven't had any new money," the mayor said.

Social housing activists say that is a problem but add that the 20-20-20 plan is flawed because it's more profitable for developers to pay the city than build a low-cost unit.

"They should not have that choice, and definitely, the contribution should have been higher since the beginning," said Catherine Lussier, a community organizer with the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).

The opposition plans to press the mayor on what's delaying the construction of new social housing units.

Meanwhile, developers are calling for the abolition of the 20-20-20 plan, saying all it does is raise the cost of building in Montreal.

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