Two-Day Eviction for Low-Income Senior

Lasalle—On Monday, November 28, one of the tenants in the low-income seniors building at 760 Gamelin came home to find an envelope attached the door handle with an elastic band. Inside was a one-page eviction notice in French requiring the apartment to be fully vacant by the end of today (Wednesday).

“I don’t believe it. It’s supposed to be six or seven days before the day of departure,” said Louise Hébert, the Communications Director for the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal (OMHM). She then agreed to look into the details. Hébert also confirmed that this tenant was treated in the same way any tenant would be treated in similar circumstances. “We followed the same procedure that we always use. We cannot do whatever we want in these cases. We have to follow the official procedure.”

If this case is typical, the OMHM uses the Régie du logement du Quebec (the rental board) as a collection agency. Tenants are given little time to review documents or consult lawyers and can be convicted when absent. English-speaking tenants have no automatic right to be informed about the complicated process in their own language.

In this case, the OMHM took a unilingual English-speaking tenant to the rental board to collect a sum of $412, which included fees in arrears of $70 plus June’s rent for a total of $412. The OMHM representative also argued that the tenant had paid late four previous times and should be evicted. The tenant did not appear during the hearing, which took place on July 18. The rental board decision reflected the OMHM requests and was sent in French to both parties on July 25.

On August 15, the tenant submitted a claim to the rental board to argue that the July decision should be reversed. The tenant claimed to have received no notice about the hearing date due to being on holiday from July 8 to July 24. The tenant claim included receipts for money orders made out to the OMHM on time for May, June and July’s rent and documentation about a misunderstanding about a parking spot leading to a $5 rate plus a $66 late fee being incorrectly charged to the file.

On October 27, the appeal was heard. This time, both parties attended with lawyers. The decision, which was rendered on November 17, upholds the July decision. The administrative judge cited a belief in the OMHM testimony that that the tenant was informed by telephone on July 12 about the hearing date six days later. He also accepted the OMHM representative’s claim to have sent a written notice by post, and made it clear that such notices do not have to be registered, nor is a tenant signature required. He also questioned why the tenant waited more than fifteen days to submit a request to retract the judgement.

The tenant received the four page judgement in French from the Montreal Rental Board last Thursday.

Note: This article appeared in the city edition of the Suburban on November 30.

Citizens Refuse Senior’s Project at Allion School

202 people signed the register for a petition held by the Borough of Lasalle on September 21 to ask for a referendum to consider the Habitation Vieux Moulin plans for a new seniors’ residence in the old Allion School at 5th Avenue and Edouard.

At their regular monthly meeting Monday night, Lasalle Borough councillors announced that, instead of holding a petition, they have set the project in its current form aside. Mayor Manon Barbe said that developers were asked to propose a new project. In answers to resident questions, she added that the borough will follow their usual resident consultation process after a new project has been submitted.

Citizens Have their Say About Mid-Level Seniors’ Residence on 5th Avenue

The planned Habitation Vieux Moulin seniors’ residence in the old Allion School at 5th and Edouard faces its biggest test this week. If enough people sign a register at City Hall between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 21, the project will face a referendum in December or could be halted entirely.  The rules for the register and referendum, if needed, are overseen by Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer and managed by Lasalle Borough secretary Marc Morin.

“If 177 people sign the register, I report to the councillors at the next meeting on October 3. Then it’s up to them what happens,” said Morin. “Lasalle holds referendums rarely. I think they’ve only held one once or twice since I’ve been here. If there’s a lot of objection, they may choose to halt the project.”

They opposition comes from residents in La Village des Rapides, which lays between 1st and 9th avenues, and between Centrale and Lasalle boulevards and used to be known as Le Bronx. They say a register for a referendum is the only way they can influence councillors to consider their needs.

“The city has had this in the works since 2009 but they announced it first to residents on April 26,” said David Pryde, who lives next door to the former school. “They passed the flyers to announce the consultation on Friday of the long weekend and the meeting was during game six of the playoffs, which shows that the minimum of consultation was being done.”

A closure of a school during a mini-baby boom in the neighbourhood seems short-sighted, says Pryde, but he’s most concerned about the size of the project in terms of height and number of residences. He says plans call for only 23 parking spots for 93 apartments and there’s no space for adapted transport and emergency vehicle pickups. He’s also upset about promoters pitching the project as a way to allow current residents to stay in the neighbourhood as they aged. “At one of the meetings, the mayor admitted that Lasalle residents would get no priority on spaces available,” he said. “This is just misinformation, they’re selling.”

One silver lining about the whole experience has been neighbours get to know one another. One of the neighbours Pryde’s met since the process started is Sylvie Clement, who is equally dismayed about the plans, but for different reasons. “We are all cottages and duplexes, and they’re going to destroy the whole architectural character of the neighbourhood,” says Clement, who’s lived in Village des Rapides for 23 years. “When this neighbourhood began, there were a lot of chalets, so that’s why there’s such a disparity of homes. But the height is always no more than two stories. After this, what will stop them from adding more buildings that are equally high?”

Like Pryde, Clement expressed concern that neighbours weren’t consulted on the project while it was being developed so they could help determine its direction. “They spent two and half years working on this project without speaking to any of the residents concerned because they don’t want us to meddle in their project. This is a neighbourhood where everyone lives in their home and they’re changing our environment. We have to remind our elected officials sometimes that they represent everyone, not just a few developers.”

The residents have a blog that details their concerns at http://projetallion.blogspot.com.

When Tagging Goes Too Far

Just prior to the first public tour of Montreal’s oldest country house last August, someone splattered giant graffiti tags across two of its four 300-year-old stone walls.

Twenty days later—after many phone calls, advice from Montreal’s pre-eminent heritage art restorer, and 40 hours of careful nylon brushing by a blue collar employee—a pristine building greeted visitors for the archaeology week celebration.

The incident was the first time anyone has damaged Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier, a two-storey stone cottage built by Gilbert Maillet for the Congregation of Notre Dame nuns in 1710. Yet similar vandalism occurs too often in Montreal, says Dinu Bumbaru, Policy Director at Heritage Montreal. “In the past, there’s been a general consensus that the graffiti guys wouldn’t damage historic monuments. This unsaid convention has broken down.”

All public institutions with property on the island of Montreal—including 19 boroughs, the STCUM, five school boards, and the municipal, provincial and federal governments—have different protocols for handling typical graffiti removal on their territories. When a designated heritage building or monument is tagged, however, an expert art restorer has to approve the removal to protect historic value and prevent permanent damage. The graffiti on Maison Dizier put extra pressure on Verdun’s arts and culture head Nancy Raymond, who was already busy finalizing plans for Maison Diziers’ anniversary celebration this month and next, and who normally wouldn’t deal with graffiti.

Verdun’s protocol calls for removing graffiti from all structures, whether publicly or privately-owned. A local bylaw, and a strong partnership with the Montreal police, enables graffiti-prevention experts to meet with parents and shopkeepers, visit schools, and recover costs from anyone convicted of defacing property. Fines go to parents of taggers younger than 18 years.

The three-pronged approach (education, prevention, control) was developed as a pilot project three years ago. It has since been deemed so successful, that the Montreal police are expanding it across the island. “If every borough could imitate what Verdun does here and could clean all the graffiti in all the public and private places, Montreal would be much better off,” says Commandant Eric Lalonde, chief of police for Verdun’s neighbourhood office 16, who also heads Project Graffiti. “They understand very well the “broken window theory” in that everyone feels safe when it’s clean.”

Removing graffiti as soon as it occurs is expensive, and can’t be handled solely by borough blue collars. At their September meeting, the borough awarded four contracts to three companies (Hydrotech NHP Inc., Solutions Graffiti, and S.R. Vapeur Inc.) to cover graffiti removal for the next five years at an estimated cost of $295,277.94, despite having already awarded a $220,423.89 contract to Hydrotech NHP Inc. last May. None of these contracts include removing graffiti from Maison Dizier or any other historic monument or sculpture.

“When it’s a historic building, they want to make sure that the removal won’t hurt the structure,” says Sebastien Pitre, from Solutions Graffiti in Lasalle. “I’m in charge of the projects for the Lachine Canal, and there are historic buildings there, but I don’t do historic buildings in Verdun.”

“Removing graffiti on this isn’t the same as taking it off an overpass built in the ‘70’s. It is a very precious and fragile monument,” said Bumbaru. “There are sections with mortar and sections with stone. When this house was built, they were taking rocks from the fields and they can be limestone, granite and sandstone mixed together.”

“When the house was restored a few years back, the outside of the house was repointed,” said Gina Garcia, the art restorer who consulted with Verdun on the project. “The old mortar between the stones was removed and replaced by a new historically-correct mortar using traditional lime based mortars, which are much more fragile than cement based mortars.”

To advise on how to clean off the graffiti, Garcia spent a day testing different solvent mixes and strippers which could be used without a high pressure water jet. Then she trained Verdun’s regular maintenance team to apply them properly, leave them rest for the ideal length of time and then rinse them without damaging the mortar or the stones. “The technique was gentle and time consuming but it was done using eco-friendly paint strippers, small plastic brushes and water rinsing at very low pressure. And more importantly, it didn’t attack the fragile lime mortars.”

Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier was supposed to open fully next month, but the permanent exhibition won’t be ready until spring 2012. Instead, Verdun has arranged for costumed interpreters, story-tellers and simulated archaeology digs to occur every Saturday and Sunday from now until October 23 to commemorate the structure’s 300th anniversary.

(A version of this story published on Open File on September 11, 2011)

Misunderstanding between Gamelin Residents and OMHM Resolved

LaSalle—Residents at the Seigneurie des Rapides (760 Gamelin) who are planning a corn roast on Saturday, September 3, have been frustrated by unnecessary road blocks they feel are coming from the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal (OMHM).

Last week, Esther Giroux, OMHM director of social and community development, told event organizer Serge Gagné that he couldn’t have access to any of three common fridges in the building until their representative, Patrick Benjamin, gets back from vacation on September 5, two days after the barbecue is scheduled. Another resident called Montreal’s ombudsman to complain, but was told that the ombudsman’s office doesn’t act until 20 days after a complaint is lodged, long after their help would be needed in this case.

Gagné had already obtained a $5 liquor permit for the activity as Giroux requested in a letter dated August 12, which was delivered to him August 19. “No other group has ever needed a permit for these kinds of events” says Gagné, who believes that his petition to re-establish a residents’ association in the building is the reason for difficult relations with OMHM personnel. “They don’t want us to succeed in making tenants happy.”

When the Suburban called the OMHM communications office to ask why the tenants couldn’t get access to the fridges for their barbecue, Louise Hebert assured us that the problem could be rectified. “We didn’t understand that the two rooms M. Gagné wanted opened contained three fridges, napkins, decorations and other material that they would need for the corn roast,” said spokesperson Louise Hebert. “Once we found out that that was why they needed the space, of course we made arrangements for the rooms to be opened.”

She suggested that Gagné call Giroux Monday, which he did. “We will have access to the tenants’ association equipment on Wednesday,” said Gagné. “I don’t understand why we can’t use the stuff anyway, since it belongs to the tenant association, but we’ll deal with that after the barbecue.”

The fridge refusal wasn’t their first frustration. When residents first began organizing the event, they said that Patrick Benjamin told them not to count on community contributions for their event because he had personally called local businesses to ask them not to support it. The Suburban called a few business owners to see if this was true. So far, only Jocelyne Long, from the IGA on Champlain (Marché d’alimentation Beck inc. ) has returned calls. “Why wouldn’t we support them,” said Long. “A gift certificate for $50 is already prepared.”

(This article appeared on p7 of the city edition of the Suburban yesterday.)

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