MONTREAL -- As rents have soared in Parc Extension, so has the price of a huge property in the middle of it—but the City of Montreal decided to snap it up anyway and turn it into affordable housing.

Plaza Hutchison, right across from Parc metro, has been empty for the past two years as condo developers have eyed it and made increasingly sizeable offers.

Recently, one offered $6.5 million. But using its pre-emptive right, the city matched the offer. It will convert the building into 40 units of social housing.

“It's going to conserve diversity—social diversity, economic diversity,” said city councillor Rosannie Filato. 

“It’s going to allow residents of Parc Extension to continue to reside in their borough.”

That price tag was well over the property’s most recent evaluation, which put it at $5 million just last year.

But the price that’s being paid is not only a reflection of how fast real estate prices are rising in Montreal, but a reminder that renters are feeling the fallout too. Borough Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli says the situation is exacerbated in Parc-Ex by the Université de Montreal campus just built in the old Outremont trainyards.

“Because of the new campus, it is true that the prices have risen exponentially and it is harder and harder to find reasonable rents,” said Fumagalli. 

The city said Thursday that it identified the borough as one with a sigificant need for affordable housing.

Considering the broader context, the city didn’t overpay, said executive committee member Robert Beaudry. The bottom line was that the same offer was already on the table, which made it clear $6.5 million was the market price, he said.

“Yes, we pay a little more higher than we evaluated the building, but the market was ready to put this price on [it],” he said. 

The pandemic has brought Montreal’s housing crunch into an even starker light, he said—after all, “if you want to confine, you need to have a house.” It’s been clearer than ever how many people don’t have one, or don’t have an adequate one.

The city plans to consult with community groups about the project as it draws up plans, and it will request funding from both Ottawa and the Quebec government to help renovate the building.