Workers who thought they were starting a new life in the Magdalen Islands are already thinking of leaving because of the glaring shortage of housing, which forces them to relocate against their will every summer to make room for tourists.
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“I did not leave [mon pays] to live in a tent-trailer,” sighs Leo (fictitious name).
“What are we going to do in June? I have no idea,” says this immigrant who arrived with his spouse in 2022. They were attracted to the Islands by an enticing job offer. The island lifestyle appeals to them. But they are unable to find year-round accommodation.
“It’s a somewhat bizarre form of roaming, because it’s not for lack of money”, is surprised the one who prefers to remain anonymous so as not to harm his chances of finding the rare pearl.
The newspaper published, last week, a file on the Neo-Madelinots who contribute to reverse the migratory balance of the archipelago and to reduce the shortage of labor and the aging of its population.
8 month leases
While most have found their “little paradise” there, some have been greatly disappointed.
The archipelago is struggling with a phenomenon of seasonal evictions. As soon as the good weather comes, tourists start to flock, to the delight of owners who can rent their house at a high price.
This is why many leases only last 8 or 10 months, to the chagrin of the workers who themselves have to live year-round.
Every summer, the Housing Search Service (SARL) des Îles must offer emergency accommodation to workers or even elderly people who have found nothing.
“We then accompany them. They have to find. I have to free [l’hébergement d’urgence] because eventually, other people will need it”, explains Pierre Desbiens, speaker at the SARL.
“A year ago I lived under four different roofs,” says Geneviève Demers Lamarche, a nurse clinician exhausted after more than six years of forced nomadism.
In a small island environment where everyone knows each other, it is risky to get a “bad reputation as a tenant”.
“So we would have to put our rights aside to encourage something illegal? […] There is a collective reflection to be there, ”believes Mme Demers Lamarche.
While we are talking more and more about the harmful effects of short-term rentals in Montreal, some are also asking the question on the Islands: is the increase in tourism undermining the quality of life? (see other text)
Charlotte (fictitious name) and her spouse arrived on the Islands in 2022, for work, with their baby under 2 years old. In addition to not finding a 12-month lease or a house at a reasonable price, they have no child care space.
One of their options is to find a trailer for the summer. They would have to live there with their baby, their cat and their personal effects. “And again, you have to have land.”
“We knew it was complex. But we did not know that it was so complex and stressful, ”said the one who juggles with the idea of leaving.
“Should we put our rights aside to encourage something illegal? […] There is a collective reflection to be had there.
– Genevieve Demers Lamarche
Lack of lease, sudden rent increases, unsanitary conditions: a New Madelinienne who had to move 11 times in 6 and a half years bears witness to the dark side of the housing shortage in the Magdalen Islands.
“I’m not even an exceptional case,” says Geneviève Demers Lamarche, 34, who has lived on the Islands since 2016 and worked at the hospital since 2017.
Misadventures related to the phenomenon of seasonal evictions, she has seen all the colors. Very often, she didn’t even have a lease.
During her first two summers on the Islands, she lived in a trailer without a shower and where she could not really relieve herself.
For two years, she rented an old isolated house in the seaweed, which is not out of the ordinary in the Islands. “But let’s say it hasn’t aged very well. It was cold.”
Added to this were mold and water infiltration.
In three different places, his landlords resounded by announcing a sudden increase ranging from $100 to $250 in rent, effective the following week.
She accepted the rise each time to “buy peace” while waiting to find another place.
She does not dare to use the word “abuse” to describe what she has experienced. “There was ignorance on my part and on the part of the owners. There is clearly room for awareness.”
To assert his rights
She now lives in a house where she has an 11-month lease with a roommate. However, its owner requires them to move into the basement for the summer period so that his family can spend their holidays there, she explains.
For the first time, she decided to assert her rights and refuse.
This earned him a notice of repossession. She ticked that she refused the takeover, even if it meant having to go to the Administrative Housing Tribunal.
“At some point, that’s enough,” she blurts out.
“Since this fall, I have been telling myself more and more that if I have to leave, I will leave. […]. Sick people to be treated, there are everywhere.
Last October, the vacancy rate for housing in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine was 0.4%, lower than the 2% for the greater Montreal area, according to data from the Canada Mortgage Corporation. and housing.
A system based on trust
“When I help [Néo-Madelinots], I tell them: “Look, it happens like that in the Islands. There are ways to do it,” explains Pierre Desbiens, worker at the Islands Housing Search Assistance Service (SARL).
For example, there is no fence on the land on the Islands. “Installing a fence here is not done,” illustrates Mr. Desbiens.
The SARL notably offers emergency accommodation to those who already had an address during the winter, but who were unable to find accommodation for the summer.
The first tip he gives them to accompany them is to find the link that leads to a potential landlord or to create one.
“You have to have a relationship of trust. And when you establish a link, you have to maintain it,” explains Mr. Desbiens.
You should also know that the main communication channel is Facebook.
However, he observes that the housing shortage affects “everyone” on the Islands, including the elderly who know the informal rules.
He sometimes hears about owners who, for the sake of conscience, prefer to rent at a lower price on a yearly basis to workers rather than to tourists. “But it is rare.”
Born in the Islands, hit by scarcity
Long-time Madelinots are also victims of the housing shortage, in addition to workers arriving from outside.
This is the case of two natives of the Islands, Huguette Renaud and Jean Martinet, 70 and 73 years old.
Last fall, they started looking for a place to live. They hoped to be closer to the hospital.
“Our house was practically sold, there is someone who wanted to have it,” says Mr. Martinet.
They never found accommodation. So they abandoned the project and kept their house.
“We get invaded”
Real estate boom, traffic, environmental concerns: some Madelinots do not mince words to express their fed up with the increase in tourism.
“We get invaded by tourists. They are eating us. The worst will be for our children, who will be kicked out by tourists,” worries a trader who preferred to keep his name silent so as not to harm his business.
Between last June and September, some 73,600 visitors entered the Islands, which have only 13,000 inhabitants. This is an increase of 17% compared to 2019, according to figures from Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine.
“What I find most disgusting is that in the summer, there’s no way to take the ferry anymore. To go out, you have to book a year in advance, ”says another Madelinot.
“In summer, we are no longer able to go anywhere, there is too much traffic […]. The restaurants are full everywhere.”
Like most exasperated people, he preferred to remain anonymous.
This is not the case of Félix Miousse, a factory worker who recalls the importance of tourism in the Magdalen economy.
“They don’t bother me. I talk to everyone, ”says the 68-year-old man.
Chantal Renaud would be in no position to criticize the increase in tourism: as the owner of a campsite in Havre-Aubert, she lives off it.
“But what worries me is the environment. It’s fragile, the Islands. Whether it’s groundwater, waste, ”she lists.
As for the impact of seasonal evictions, the phenomenon is complex, explains Dominic Lapointe, a professor of tourism studies at UQAM who conducted a study on the subject.
Part of this phenomenon on the Islands is one of “self-eviction”. Owners leave their own house during the summer to welcome tourists and go to live in a caravan.
Several stakeholders mentioned that this habit was not problematic, since it does not affect the ability of workers to find housing year-round.
The problem is rather the rental of second homes for tourist purposes, which has increased and whose prices have become standardized with the arrival of the Airbnb platform.
The money stays in the Islands
“All over the world, tourism is creating phenomena that force cities to think.”
On the other hand, most of the money from tourism stays on the Islands, notes Mr. Lapointe.
You don’t find these big hotels owned by foreign interests. The Marine and Air Transport Cooperative (CTMA), which operates the ferry, is a local business.
“I found there an exemplary environment in its ability to ask questions […]. I’m not saying their model is perfect. But there is a desire to act collectively,” analyzes Mr. Lapointe.