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Joel Ceausu – The Suburban LJI Reporter

After a hard stop on private buy-in for the city’s 76-hectare Hippodrome development, which included zero takers and bracing criticism on its first private lot sale, the City of Montreal is launching an action plan to kickstart development in four boroughs and the Namur-Hippodrome sector in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Promising a return to the drawing board to make the Hippodrome offer more attractive to private promoters, the city – through its real estate development facilitation unit formed in 2021 – is pledging to change how it does business with actions for some 80 projects.

This “transformation of organizational culture” means appointing a single project leader in each borough; reducing project planning and development delays; giving developers greater predictability through clear milestones and timelines; documenting and sharing best practices within each consultative body (urban planning advisory committee etc.) and better defining stakeholder actions.

Whether residential, industrial or commercial, submitted projects must have a $10 million-or-more price tag, cost $3 million or more but respond to a city priority, or include social, affordable and family housing. New projects in LaSalle, Sud-Ouest, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie and Ville-Marie meeting criteria are automatically included.

It’s a direct response to challenges hampering development, said executive committee point-man and Plateau Borough Mayor Luc Rabouin. “Obviously, the labour shortage and increase in construction and financing costs are global challenges over which the city has little control,” he said, insisting “actions we are implementing will enable us to provide more predictability, reduce approval times, resolve problems, optimize consultative processes and instill a reflex of quality and efficiency in collaboration with real estate developers.”

Broccolini president Roger Plamondon hopes this “first step” in four boroughs means the actions will be implemented across Montreal as quickly as possible. He lauded the “openness of the city, which grasped the hand extended by the economic community as well as the particular contribution of Luc Rabouin. By clarifying everyone’s expectations and roles, we optimize the chances of carrying out new projects at a time when the housing crisis requires a vigorous response.” Bâtir son quartier director Edith Cyr said the plan “is the only way to remove obstacles and identify solutions that allow us to accelerate delivery of real estate projects we need in Montreal.”

The city’s real estate push comes as cries for action on affordable housing reach a crescendo, with some 24,000 Montrealers waiting for housing. The Plante administration, like all housing organizations and advocates, maintains that solutions lie in snagging adequate funds from Quebec. While it seeks to redefine its relationship with private developers, it’s pressing the urgency of accelerating the pace with Quebec City.

In Montreal’s largest borough of CDN-NDG, with thousands on waiting lists and public properties boarded up and decaying due to lack of action, council questioner Sharon Freedman last month pressed the local administration to report its tally of local housing and renovation builds, which it could not. It took three weeks to respond that since 2018, only 225 social housing units are in development, with only a third under construction and 151 in the design phase.

Montreal needs 2,000 new social and community housing units annually and wants to take charge of 1,098 units of the AccèsLogis Québec program still awaiting cash to see the light of day. It also wants Quebec to guarantee additional funding of $314.5 million along with the basic subsidy transfer ($69.5 million). n

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