Review of the City of Montreal’s Major Renovation Subsidy

franglais: a mix of French and English, often spoken in Montréal, North America’s largest francophone city

Today’s post needs to be a bit in franglais, because it is the language in which I live.  For 12 years and 4 days, I have lived in my adopted city of Montréal and loved it.  I arrived not knowing much more than how to read a menu, and now I live and work in French.  But a good many of my thoughts and expressions use the best of both languages, and given that today’s post is about a city program, it will inevitably be in franglais.  So please stay tuned after this public service announcement in French:

Pour ceux et celles qui cherchent plus des renseignements sur la programme des Rénovations Majeurs de la Ville de Montréal, n’hésitez pas de m’écrire directement.  Il me fera plaisir de vous parler de mon expérience.  

Now that we have that out of the way, here has been my experience with the City of Montréal’s Major Renovation program.

The Narrative

We applied for the program last autumn, with our initial inspection taking place on the 14th of December 2016.   The agent we met with, we’ll call him Agent A, walked us through the program, the expectations, and the benefits.  For us, the benefit would be a $15,000 subsidy to help with our home.  Since we seemed to fit the criteria and are willing to work for an amount like $15k, we got started.

In February we had another visit, this time from Agent B.  In March he delivered a mass of paperwork that we needed to go through, which we returned as quickly as possible. It is worth noting at this point that, in the package of information we received at the beginning of March, there was a work plan.  The work plan provided by the City was exhaustive, including things like minimum specifications for the kitchen cabinets, arrangement of closets, and the beauty of the backyard.  When I reviewed this 20-ish page document in detail, I flagged about a dozen items that weren’t relevant or weren’t included in Phase 1 of our project (ex: backyard beautification – our renos will finish in the winter!).  Agent B was cool with all of it.  There was also mention (for the first time) of the need for a notary – I asked specifically about this and was told that it came later in the process.

During March and April we were also getting bids and evaluating them.  In May we submitted all of our documents to the City so that they could submit to our arrondissement (neighbourhood) for the permit.  At the end of May, I started stalking Agent B to find out how it was going, only to find that Agent B had gone on extended sick leave.

I only learned that Agent B was out on extended sick leave because I had been stalking him.  And I only got a call back 4 business days later from Agent C because I stalked everyone I knew within the department (including Agent A) to get a prompt response.

Unsurprisingly, nothing had been done under Agent B to move my file toward permit, and Agent C was completely new to the program.  It took him 15 business days to submit my file to the arrondissement, and he made no other notes about my file.  I knew that he also needed to make sure our funding was secured with the City, so I gave him two weeks and started following up.

When I didn’t get a prompt reply from Agent C, I called the main number only to find that Agent C had gone out on extended sick leave.  Argh!  I asked for a call back, and got a ring the next morning from Agent A (at least he was vaguely aware of my file)!

I brought Agent A up to speed, and asked him to make sure we were approved for funding and move the notary process forward.  He asked for a week to do so, so after a week, on the 14th of July, I emailed him and he responded with several questions about my file.  Some of the questions were straightforward (he needed an invoice from our structural engineer that had never been requested and some financing information that we had sent to Agent B while he was already on sick-leave), others were trickier.

For example, we had thought that we might participate in our project by doing some of the demolition ourselves.  Not ones for taking down load-bearing walls, we just wanted to eliminate some of the plaster and lathe and save some bucks.  We thought this would be alright since the General Contractor would still be responsible for the bulk of the demolition (we are moving the stairs!).  I was informed by Agent A that this was not acceptable.  Further, he noted that the City had been supported by the Ombudsperson when others had brought complaints for just such an issue.  We may think that we are qualified to do something such as paint our own interior, but, Agent A informed me, ben non!, we are not!  Much better if all of these details are taken care of by the contractor.

Same thing for purchases; all purchases should be made by our entrepreneur.  I asked him specifically about our IKEA kitchen, which everyone tells me takes hours and hours of store time to get together, so it’s better if we just buy it ourselves.  This would allow me to get exactly what I want and to save the fees of the contractor, who would have to do the exact same work that I have already done.  Reflechissez-bien, I am told by Agent A, it would be much better for me to give the list to the entrepreneur and have them be wholly responsible.  (And in my head, I am thinking that yes, they would be responsible, but at double the cost and this program is only giving me 5% of my overall budget… wait, who is in charge here?)

Well, if you sign up for the Major Renovation program, the City will be in charge, regardless of the tiny amount they give for your major renovations.  So upon reflection, we have decided to withdraw from the program.  Here are my thoughts for you if you are considering signing up for it for your home:

The Lesssons: 

  • Make sure it is a good wad of cash that you are offered, and then cut the expectation in half.  Yeah, the city will be good for the full amount, but you will have delays and unexpected expenses as a result of this process.  For those that keep a rentable unit in their place, the rewards can be much larger (a friend got $40,000.)  Also don’t forget to factor in your stress level: I will un-humbly note that I am pretty awesome at managing a project, and this bureaucracy brought me to tears.
  • Plan on having every single thing, from nail purchases on upwards, done by your General Contractor, and that you want to do it all at once.  If you want to have any tiny bit of control over purchases or want to have a hand in low-skilled work like demolition or painting, this program isn’t for you.  Same if you want some cosmetic things, like landscaping, to happen later – it all must be done within the confines of the program.
  • Sit on your Agent to go to the notary around the time they apply for the permit.  For us, this was the last straw.  Agent A told us that there was a delay of about 15 days from the time we got to the notary until the documents were enregistré.  Given that we were already delayed by Agent B’s sick leave (3 weeks minimum) and that Agent A wanted to review each line item despite the fact that they had been reviewed with Agent B, I feel like the funding is far from guaranteed at this point – in fact, it is likely to cause much more stress and entirely possible that we will get nothing from it.
  • Then sit on your Agent to have the Ouverture du Chantier as soon as possible.  There will be an official opening to your project when they present you with your permit.  No one talks about this until the time is almost upon you.  Given that we are hot on the heels of Québec’s construction holiday, it’s not the best time to bring us, the City, and our General Contractor all together.
  • So since there is no flexibility for cost cutting and high requirements from the City, I recommend this program for wealthy masochists!  

I hope this is helpful to someone out there who wants more information on the program and what it entails, because when I was searching for information on this program, I couldn’t find a darned thing.  Nothing – no one wrote about how they did it or what their experience was like.  So perhaps in the writing of this, I will have better prepared another applicant who will be able to make it work.

Tell me your frustrations or successes with a government subsidy program – I would love to celebrate your success (or commiserate).


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