After years lying derelict, a heritage site in the heart of Little Burgundy could soon be transformed into a new housing project. Hushion Bath, a former public swimming pool that has remained closed since a 1988 arson attack destroyed much of the interior, is about to be put up for sale by the City of Montreal.
Valérie De Gagné, a City communications officer, explained that since the building at 757 Des Seigneurs was not needed for any municipal functions, “the City’s Real Estate Management and Planning division intends to sell the property over the next year.”
Social housing is the City’s preferred potential use for the space, with support coming from an important backer in the form of South-West borough Mayor Benoit Dorais.
Dorais favours social housing
“Mayor Dorais is a defender and champion of social housing, which is why he’s looking at this possibility first and foremost,” said Marie Otis, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff. Since the borough has final say on what the site should be used for, this is good news for advocates of affordable housing in Little Burgundy.
The borough has contacted Bâtir son Quartier, a social enterprise that supports community groups around Montreal in their efforts to build social and community housing. Yann Omer-Kassin, a development officer at Bâtir son Quartier, said they have been invited to submit a development plan for the site, but that the path forward will be long.
“We can’t promise anything [to people waiting for social housing in Little Burgundy] at this stage,” said Omer-Kassin, who explained that Hushion Bath’s heritage value makes planning more complex.
Hushion Bath was built in 1914, at a time when the City was looking to improve the grim sanitary conditions in working-class neighbourhoods. After standing in disrepair for the last three decades, the building is in a precarious state. A heavy fence lies flattened against its walls; graffiti covers the bricked-up front door. Yet the Bath’s heritage status means that at least some of it may need to be incorporated into any future housing project built on the site.
“We don’t know at the moment if the borough will accept that we tear down the building because it’s in such bad shape, or if they’ll require us to keep certain parts, like the frame around the main door, the lintels, or even the entire front of the building. Depending on what the borough decides, it will influence the number of housing units that [we] can build,” said Omer-Kassin.
The South-West, for its part, acknowledges that getting a social housing project off the ground won’t happen overnight. “The building’s heritage status and the confined space of the site bring their own share of challenges, and we will have to find creative solutions to make this project happen,” said Otis.
There are currently about 2,000 social housing units in Little Burgundy, but rising house prices have helped fuel demand for more, and there is a waiting list for new spaces.