MONTREAL -- Montrealers looking for an apartment this year are in a very, very tight spot.

Just ask Mune Sadovia, who is looking for a ground-floor apartment to accommodate her disabled mother. She finally found one recently, after months and months of searching in a city with vacancy rates at a record low.

“They don't want cats,” she said. “I didn't realize how much people hate cats. They don't want you to smoke. Basically what they want is the rent, but they don't want you to live in the apartment.”

For people with only three weeks left to find a place, who have already given notice, good luck.

The City of Montreal is expecting a crisis on this year’s Moving Day and is setting up some sources of help, saying it has provided extra money to an existing team that helps tenants out in July 1 emergencies.

The average vacancy rate in Montreal is at 1.5 per cent – extremely low compared to most cities – but in some boroughs, it’s dropped below one per cent, including in Ville-Marie, Saint-Henri and Pointe-Saint-Charles.

People who work in the housing field say they haven’t seen such a shortage of available apartments in nearly two decades.

“Hundreds of people, thousands of people, are looking for affordable housing and they don’t find it,” says Maxime Roy Allard of the Tenants Housing Committee Association.

In Montreal, he said, it’s “almost mission impossible” to find new housing at an affordable rent, especially if you’re looking for a place big enough for a family.

Affordability has rarely been so important as right now. Most newly built units rent for more than $1,500 a month. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic means a lot of people have lost all or some of their income, and many have also fallen behind on rent.

Evictions have been suspended, but that measure, too, appears about to be lifted, which will add much more pressure to the rental market.

“We're asking the Quebec government for an eviction moratorium for six months…to help tenants get time to find a new place and not end up on the streets,” says Roy-Allard.

The City of Montreal can already feel the signs of a new pressure. It has received triple the amount of requests for housing assistance as usual. 

It’s now promising that it has emergency measures in place to ensure no one will be left homeless come July 1.

“If you're in situation where you have no place to go on July first, you can call 311 and we can put you forward to a service that will help you find new lodging that you need—how many bedrooms, what neighbourhood,” says city councillor Craig Sauve.

“Obviously it's not an easy task, but we do have a team and they're better financed than last year,” he says.