|Canada, Quebec City, "The occupation is helping us" --housing coop chairman
The meeting started with a presentation by Marc, an old timer from the Comite populaire, the group that organized the direct action. He gave an historical overview of the struggles on the site. According to him, 30 years ago there was a market in the park the participants where gathering. The demolitions of the houses started in 1972, but thanks to the stubbornness of the tenants, especially a guy named M. Huard, 6 of the houses where not demolish. They led the struggle alone from 1972 to 1976 when the group that would latter become the Comite populaire was founded. He told us that there was an occupation similar to ours that occurred during 3 weeks in 1976 to save the youth house from demolition. The front was quiet until the late 1980's when the city sponsored some horrible towers projects. In 1991, he recall, the Comite populaire moved office on site (in the building next door to today's squat). We then asked for the houses to be repair and a cooperative takeover. We won a partial victory in 1996, when the city buy the whole site, just before the election (they wanted to shut us up). At the time we were forced to negotiate cooperative housing in only 4 of the 6 houses. Since then, it's the current status quo, with a condominium project that never materialize until recently. "The issue today is whether we want condominium on the boulevard or not" he conclude, adding that "the current occupation completely changed the balance of forces, and while in 1996 we were not in a position to oppose the condominium project, now it's different."
Evelyne, from the Comite populaire and the occupation collective, then gave a short presentation on the context of the action. She said that in the last two years the housing crisis completely got out of control with a severe shortage of affordable housing in 17 Quebec municipalities. In Quebec city, only 0.8% of all the housing is currently vacant. This mean that tenants are forced to rent apartments that are too small, inadequate and too expensive. Indeed, close to 50% of them spend more then 30% of their monthly income on housing. She also stress that the crisis was not just conjectural, but permanent and that the root cause was the fact that housing is a good in our society (which is not good!). So landlords are making profits and are funded by the government who, in the mean time make cuts in social housing budgets. She said that for the Comite populaire, the solutions of the government are too little, too late. That's why the group decided to carry direct action in order the force the authorities to consider our demands. She conclude in saying that "there's something better to do then condominiums and that's why we are occupying this house".
A two hour long discussion then followed with the participants. According to Yves, that's the chairman of l'Ilot Berthelot cooperative, who was the second person to speack, the cooperative have been asking the 2 houses for six years but the city only agree to give them a small plot of land to build a new house. For 6 months, they've try to meet with the city to discuss some of their problems but no one ever answered. Now, since the occupation, the city asked them to sit with a community group to develop 25 new cooperative apartments. "Thanks to the pressure of the occupation, the space allotted to social housing have been enlarged" he said, adding that "as soon as we threatened to take the street and openly support the occupation [which they did], the city agreed to sit with us". "The main preoccupation of the 25 cooperative families is to protect our environment, to better our living quality and to have cooperative neighbors" the activist said.
The discussion then revolve on strategic questions such as "is it possible to completely oppose the condominium project" and what should we do next. People agreed that we should totally oppose the condominiums and ask social housing instead. People talked about different possible actions. Among other things, it was agreed to have more discussion on what we want exactly on site (next one is at the squat Monday at 7pm), to organize a demonstration in two weeks, and finally to have a barbecue on the site sunday.
Quebec city oldest community group join the occupation!
On a side note, the ACEF, Quebec city oldest community group (it's a consumer union founded in 1966), decided to support the occupation and some of it's activists and organizers will sleep there tonight. They said in a communiqué that "if each community group and trade-union took one day to occupy this house, we could show to the governments that there is still a network of solidarity able to denounce the injustices and the discriminations created by the race to profits." They added that "housing is an investment and goods for the owners but represents before everything else an essential need for our fellow-citizens tenants, we can deprive ourselves of many things necessary to life but not to house ourself." They also encourage other groups to follow their example.
The occupation was started on friday may 17th by activists from the Comite populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste at the end of a 300 strong support demonstration. The demands of the "squatters" are the transformation of the place into a selfmanaged housing cooperative supported by the community, a ban on any new conversion of existing housing into condominium projects and the building of 8000 social housing units a year Quebec wide.
You can reach the "squatters" at 418-522-0454 or email@example.com
Nicolas Phebus <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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