Hasidic Jews concentrated in the Outremont and Mile End areas are facing a housing crisis.

The combination of large families and rising real-estate prices is behind what Meyer Feig, director of the Jewish Orthodox Council for Community Relations, calls a "desperate" situation.

Initial plans to participate in a major housing development in western Laval, in an arrangement with a private developer, Construction Betaplex, have fallen through, however.

In a full-page ad in the Heimish News, a brochure targeting the Hasidic and Orthodox communities in Outremont and Mile End, Feig said that project was designed for an initial 75 homes, with future expansion for up to 1,000 families.

Since he is well connected with these communities, Feig agreed to act as a sales representative for Betaplex.

"Housing is expensive in this neighbourhood. The community is growing, and it's not affordable for our large families," Feig said yesterday.

A synagogue and a mikvah, or ritual bath, were to be features of the Laval project, even in its initial phase.

The community is still looking for housing alternatives because the basic problems remains, Feig said.

Followers of the Belz, Satmer, Wiznitz, Skver and other rabbinic traditions are concentrated in the area bounded by Outremont Ave., Van Horne Ave., Jeanne Mance St. and Fairmount Ave.

The Hasidic population there is increasing. It totalled 4,700 in 2002 and, based on the large families most of its followers have, demographer Charles Shahar of Federation CJA estimated it at about 6,000 people now.

His analysis of the 2001 census shows the three areas with the highest gains in Jewish population in the Montreal region from 1991 to 2001 were Outremont (20.7 per cent), Park Ave./Park Extension (19.1 per cent) and the rest of the Montreal metropolitan area (17.1 per cent), which includes the 3,000-member Tosh Hasidic community of Boisbriand.

Shahar also found that Outremont, with a median age of 18.1, and Park Ave./Park Extension, with a median age of 21.2 years, were by far the youngest Jewish communities in Canada.

Combined with the demographic challenge is the area's high and rising price of real estate: a standard two-storey house in Outremont was selling for $450,000 and a typical condominium unit was priced at $330,000 this summer, according to the latest Royal LePage survey.

As a result, Feig said, young Hasidic Jews seek "affordable options, off-island or on the island. And it doesn't have to be new housing."

"Our community, thank God, is multiplying, and there is not enough room here to accommodate everybody.

"Outremont and the Plateau (Mont Royal) are lovely, but we don't expect prices to come down and we just can't afford it."

Moving to Boisbriand is not an option, Feig said, because the Tosh Hasidism who live there follow "extreme ultra Orthodox, with very strict rules," compared with the Hasidic residents of Outremont and Mile End.

"They have their own private community. It's one sect in particular and you would have to adhere to their rules," he said. Gazzette