The disappearance of affordable rentals

January 30, 2024

By Guy Plante, the "Whistleblower"  

Guy Plante was one of the experts called upon to collaborate on the Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) research project. He took part in the mobile photovoice exhibit organized in Montreal, an event designed to raise awareness about realities of older people experiencing homelessness. As someone with real-life experience of homelessness, we asked him to choose a theme he felt was important and to tell us a little about it. From the title to the questions, this entire blog post is his own creation.  

Marianne: Where does the title "The Disappearance of Affordable Rentals" come from?

Guy: The title has changed several times. I'm currently doing an "investigation" about rooming houses1- it's important for me to raise awareness concerning this catastrophic phenomenon, caused by real estate speculation, among other things.

Marianne: Why rooming houses, as opposed to apartments?

Guy: Because it affects people on the street, people living in poverty. Rooming houses are the last refuges for the most destitute people, the cheapest homes. Their disappearance is a symptom of the revolution currently taking place, very rapidly, in the real estate market. People living in poverty are being violently evicted, finding themselves on the streets and at risk of discrimination.

Marianne: Why are you interested in this issue?

Guy: I'm a former lawyer and I've always been a human rights activist. I come from a family where I experienced violence: that is, up until I was 18, when I met a psychologist who raised my awareness concerning exploitation and violence. I'm outraged by injustice. I take action, and unfortunately, as a result, I always suffer serious harm. I found myself in a situation of homelessness following a situation of psychological harassment at work that lasted from 2011 to 2017. Because I’m queer, I'd say I've often experienced psychological harassment at work - for nearly 30 years. The last time, I tried several denunciation procedures, but the establishment’s management was based on bullying processes. The bullies had great influence and credibility in front of the boss and the union. I tried to denounce the fact that labor relations couldn't be managed without outside intervention, solely by the employer and the union: but I didn't succeed. They gave me $8,000 to keep quiet, and the union representative made it clear that they wouldn't defend me and that it was in my interest to accept the agreement. So I experienced homelessness as a result of harassment - 4 years of harassment. Filing a complaint only increased the harassment in an exponential fashion. In the end, I lost my condo. That's how I ended up in a situation of homelessness. I found myself in an emergency community shelter, my immune system was shot. I was told I had cancer. That's what happens when you get too excited.

Today, I consider myself to be in end-of-life. I may go 10 more years, you never know. I'm on a very strict diet. But I'm more afraid of the threat of homelessness than of dying. I want to be in environments where I'll feel soothed by seeing people who are fighting against infamy, who are fighting against oppression, discrimination, exploitation and capitalism. I'm interested in people, I'm curious about people who fight, who they are, and right now I'm doing a survey for my neighborhood housing committee.

Marianne: Thank you for sharing your story with us. What do you think the affordable housing situation is like in Montreal?

Guy: The affordable housing situation is catastrophic because of real estate speculation. Landlords use the one law that allows them to repossess the property using the excuse that they want to bring in a family member, or to carry out major, expensive renovations. Then they'll ask for a very high rent increase to get rid of the poor people who used to live there, and bring in richer people who will give them more money. They use intimidation because they realize it works: it's hard for people living in poverty to defend their rights, to plead harassment and to prove it. I've witnessed harassment and violence; I myself was hit by a building caretaker, and I was also confined by a building caretaker with my boyfriend in the past. It was discrimination based on my sexual orientation. The police never came.

When I was making my phone calls, I came across a building caretaker who refused to answer my questions, because I asked him for the owner's name. He immediately hung up and told me to text him: I never heard back from him after that. What's more, he kept shouting at the phone to get me to hang up. So here's the situation: people living in poverty are being intimidated out of their homes through "renovations". We do renovations, and we get people out by the means I've just explained.

Marianne: And for an older person in a situation of homelessness, what are the challenges or pitfalls in accessing affordable housing?

Guy: I'll give the example of a lady who is elderly and lives in a dormitory, like a community emergency shelter. She used to put up posters on street poles, naively saying she was looking for a room. That's from another era! I told her, "Don't do that! A woman putting herself up on street poles! It's dangerous...". I explained to her, along with some people from my local social committee, that apartment hunting is now taking place on the Internet. Today, building caretakers no longer post rental units and phone numbers on front doors. But this lady has never used the Internet, she doesn't even have e-mail. You have to start from scratch. Older people often don't have e-mail, and when they do, it's not easier. I've never been able to help her become independent when it comes to the Internet. So a care worker at her dormitory house put her in touch with an organization that is going to move her, against her will, in a senior home. Now, despite all her difficulties and her unfamiliarity with the modern world, she's fighting to find a place to live on her own.

What's more, a cell phone line, which would give you access to the Internet, is expensive! I have a free line, but I don't have access to many features, and that is limiting. Other older people probably don't even have a phone. They may decide to use their $50 to pay for food rather than a phone.

Marianne: Thank you Guy for sharing your story and view of things.

Guy: Thank you for including people with real-life experience in your research. That's great. Thanks for hearing me out.

Marianne: Thank you!

1Private residence intended to accommodate roomers to whom a single room is rented, and which usually includes a shared kitchen and bathroom. (Office québécois de la langue française, 2017, free translation)



Office québécois de la langue française (2017). Maison de chambres. Dans Grand Dictionnaire
. La Vitrine linguistique.