Building occupation in Quebec City: The resistance continue

Yesterday was the fifth night of the Quebec City occupation of an empty house, wich everyone now call a «squat». The last couple of days where eventfull and people start to envision staying there much longer then planned, maybe even the whole spring and, who know's, summer.

The power's reaction [or rather lack of...]

The city made it's position known on thuesday by way of a communique not specificaly aimed at the squatters but titled «Quebec City is favoring social housing». In fact, the social democrat administration is once again stating what everyone already knows: that it's a pro-social housing administration and that they are among the «best city governements» in this province regarding this issue. In the past couple of years they where the only local governement in the region to invest in social housing, to the point where 90 % of all new social housing units build in the last 5 years in the area where within city limits. We already know that without more money from the provincial or federal governements, the city cannot do much more on the front of social housing. That's why the Comite populaire and FRAPRU --organizers of last week wave of direct actions-- never claimed the issue to be a strictly local one but rather a provincial and canadian one. The main demand to fight the crisis is the building of 8 000 new social housing units a year in the province (wich would mean 700 in the city). To get this done, both the provincial and federal governement need to put some money on the table. The only concession the city administration is making to fight today's housing crisis is to speed up the construction of already planned social housing units. They already commit to build 1000 new units within 4 years, now they are saying they will have 700 of them done by july 2003. While that's a start, the problem is that this is a «one shot deal». It is not even half of what's needed to get the vacancy rate to a reasonnable level. What's more, that's about what we need build every years, not just right now.

We all know that the city cannot do more on this level, the problem is that they didint say a word about what they *can* do. The squatters have three main demands, and they are answering the only one they cannot answer! The Comite populaire is asking that today's squatted building be tomorow new selfmanaged housing cooperative. This is not comming out of the sky, this is already the demand put foward by the surrounding housing cooperatives who year after year present a new project without ever getting the funding. Instead of acting on this reasonable demand, the city is stating that the place already have 21 social housing units (like if we didint know it, we are the one's who fight like hell to get this done in the 1990's!). Furthermore, they want to demolish the house and sell it to a promotor to build luxury condominiums. In short, they didint moved at all on this point. They are trying to hide behind the «there's already social housing there» line to continue their policy of gentrification. The squatters third demand is precisely regarding gentrification: the Comite populaire want's a moratorium on any new condominium project in neighborhoods with a vacancy rate below 3 %. While the city now have the legal power to enforce this demand, they choose to remain silent on that one. Considering Montreal already have a similar policy, with a much more right wing administration, we dont think this is utopian at all.

While I frankly dont know if this have anything to do with the occupation, probably not in fact, the provincial minister in charge of housing made a visit to Quebec City on wednesday and met with city officials to know the «need's of the city» to confront the housing crisis. He too just play the old disc of «we are building social housing» and blablabla. However, since there's a squat going on, we were able to trash it's discourse on the news for a change. He said that his governement will make it's «urgent measures» known on june 5th. That's good since at the same date, there's the FRAPRU conference in Quebec City. People are already talking about organizing a mass demonstration to confront him and the governement on their lack of action.

Building support

The occupation, wich is already supported by a wide array of groups ranging from the Ligue des droits et libertes to the CLAC, is slowly building support. First off, there's a petition visitors can sign inside the building. In five days, more then 200 people sign it. The Comite populaire is also trying to build support among the local population. The support from the immediately surrounding tenants is almost 100%. After all, these people know us and they too want the place to be transformed in a cooperative. Kids from the hood come to play and really love to draw with the chalk on the building and street (one of them made a huge graffitti on the street saying «I may be small but I too am protesting»). Support also translate into all kind of concrete action. To generate more support from the population, the squatters also organize events inside the place. There was a well attend «soupe populaire» (communal meal) on sunday and a good debate on urban struggle and the place history on wednesday night (the place was crammed with some 50 people of all ages). People are now talking about enlarging this support base in the whole neighborhood (maybe with a petition?). As far as groups goes, housing cooperatives and tenants unions are starting to send letters of support, wich is good. Other are visiting from far away. For exemple, a group of 15 montreal activists, in town for the Germinal case trial, came to the squat (in return, the squatters made a banner saying «the squat is offering political asilum to Germinal» to go to the court when the comrades where all found guilty on all counts).

For the moment, there's alway about 15 people sleeping there every night with a rotation. The occupation is open to everyone who share the demands and analysis of the Comite populaire. While some are more regular, there's also activists who come to spend only a night in solidarity and there generaly is a rotation. While the majority of the squatters are anarchists - --most of them members of NEFAC or former CASA activists-- and young, wich explain why the red and black flag is flying on the top of the building, the support base is diverse with people of all left persuasions and all age (but not of all class!). The place is open to everyone till 11pm, and then it's closed to outsiders. There's a meeting of the squatters every morning to share the tasks of the day and a general assembly of all squatters and supporters every other day.

Many are probably wondering why the city administration didint already send the cops. Well, they've said in the media that unless security or public health issue arise, the occupation can continue as long as it stay's peacefull. They probably hope that the squatters will leave the place sooner or latter, exhausted. The city executive council already stated that it is they who will decide what to do and not the cops or the fire departement. This is so because on one hand the administration is a minority governement and, on the other, one of their electoral power base is in Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The local social democrat city councilor, who is a member of the city executive, was elected with 80 % of the vote in the hood. Most of the occupation local supporters that are not members of the Comite populaire voted for her and still support her. But at the same time, this part of the neigborhood is also the Comite populaire historical stronghold. A police intervention without good reasons would clearly alienate the electoral support base of the city councilor without having any tangible result on the right wing electorate elsewhere in the city. Because of contradictions in local politics, the occupation will probably last until someone, wheter the city of the squatters, give in.

Pictures of Friday march and direct action are available at Squatters can be reach at 418-522-0454 and

Nicolas Phebus. May 23th

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