August 14th, 2021
The Royal Victoria Hospital – saving the site for the common good.
By Dimitri Roussopoulos
The Milton-Parc project is the largest social housing project on an urban land trust (housing coops and non-profit housing associations) in all of North America. We successfully removed from the real estate market, a huge area of downtown land and buildings. Within this area (Milton-des Pins-Hutchison-Ste Famille) we do not have private property, and therefore are not victims of property and land speculation. The 645 housing residences of various shapes and sizes, wherein 1200 people live securely. Having secure and comfortable housing allows residents to do other important things with their lives, instead of worrying about a roof over their heads. Within this area, there is a sense of community,of belonging to a neighbourhood which is envied by many. There is a waiting list of several hundred Montrealers who want to live in Milton-Parc. It is also a neighbourhood which has several social and political associations whose members are engaged in improving our community, our city and society in general. We have proven our abilities to come together in the past, and of course, we can do so again. Milton-Parc is not utopia. There are ongoing problems of one sort or another but somehow we can and do talk them out. After all, our coops are based on membership democracy. What is impressive is that there are many citizens in Milton-Parc who want Montreal to become a more democratic and ecological city, and they work tirelessly to this end. So both the significant accomplishment of having established Milton-Parc as a federation of 22 housing coops and obnls, along with numerous social action groups, plus the scale and durability of the project has achieved international recognition. But major challenges often arrive at our doorstep and we are naturally called upon to act together.
Our Major Challenge
Most people in Milton-Parc know about the Hotel Dieu site. Some of us are engaged in making this site serve a social and community vocation. But a more immediate and urgent challenge is the vast site of the emptied Royal Victoria Hospital, hugging the mountain slopes of Mont-Royal. Below you will see and can read on several web-sites basic information. You will be amazed.
The Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) site was entirely emptied out by order of the provincial government and it’s Ministry of Health. All of its medical services were moved to a big mega hospital further west. What was going to happen to this massive piece of public land and its many buildings?
What happen happened?
The land as a whole was placed under the SQI (Societe Quebecoise des Infrastructures) a provincial government agency which has the mandate to control all provincially owned land. By the fall of 2018, the SQI organised a meeting of some 80 persons (by invitation only) to announce its intentions. Earlier in the fall three representatives of the Milton-Parc project (Daniel Trudeau of the CMP, Nathan McDonnell and I of the Milton-Parc Citizens Committee, MPCC) met with the director of the SQI for the RVH project, Sophie Mayers. We stressed to her at that meeting that the citizens of Milton-Parc have a direct interest in what will happen to the entire site.
In late November, the SQI meeting outlined their perspectives for the RVH site and its future. The persons present were very largely from the world of architecture, construction, and the business world. Apart from a few of us from Milton-Parc there were very few people from civil society. No one from Montreal’s ethnic, cultural, trade unions, housing or student associations were present. This SQI announced that a ‘plan director’ was to be put together, to be submitted to the Office de Consultation Publique de Montreal sometime in 2021-22. The SQI also circulated a document by a firm of consultants that they commissioned outlining the steps that could be taken to publicly consult various parts of Montreal society. (While this document was reasonable in what it proposed, the SQI implemented virtually none of it). There were three workshops during this meeting, and at the one that I attended I raised the urgent matter of the housing crisis in Montreal and the crucial need for more social housing. Not only did this plea fall on deaf ears, it was not even reported in the workshop’s report to the concluding plenary session. I left this meeting very concerned about what the future of this site was going to be.
We immediately set out to organise a coalition which would monitor the SQI, and counter-balance the powerful interests who would soon line-up behind projects that they would seek to establish for their own profit. The ‘Royal Victoria Hospital Site for the Public Good’ coalition was formed, and several community-based organisations immediately participated, from the Table de Concertation de Peter-McGill (a council of community organisations in that borough just south of the Plateau where the RVH site is found, as well as student groups, and the MPCC. Our first objective was to announce loud and clear that we wanted all the land of the RVH site to remain public land. In other words no private ownership. An open letter was written up and circulated widely and some 63 community organisations and trade unions signed on, including the CMP and CCMP. (See the complete text and supporters on a web-site below). We also began meeting and lobbying Provincial and municipal government officials and politicians.
The OCPM public consultations were announced recently and will begin on September 8, during which briefs by organisations and individuals can be presented orally or in writing. For more information see the web-sites listed below.
The more community organisations as well as individuals express themselves on the future of the RVH site,the better will be the outcome favouring the common good. To this end in the Milton-Parc community 11 coops and housing associations are involved in preparing individual briefs for the OCMP public consultations. Almost every week more of coops are joining this effort. What we are stressing in our individual presentations are the values and principles that bind Milton-Parc together. Namely, that our priority is social housing, non-profit coops and obnls. To this end the use of the Ross and Women’s Pavilions (one of these can be a senior’s intergeneration residence) is proposed in an eco-village setting preferably on a land trust and an annex of the Montreal Public Library, with an improved public transit service.
If your coop or obnl, or you as an individual citizen, want to participate, simply call 514-842-7432, to connect with us.
Read the Open Letter and other info on royalvic.org and ccmp-mpcc.com