Rooming houses provide essential affordable housing: advocate

Two rooming houses with roughly 20 units combined, on Spence Street in Winnipeg. .
Two rooming houses with roughly 20 units combined, on Spence Street in Winnipeg. . Jordan Pearn/Global News

WINNIPEG — They are an essential piece of the city’s affordable housing but rooming houses are vanishing around the city according to numbers released by housing advocates.

From 2002 to 2014 there was a 40% decrease in confirmed rooming houses in the Spence Neighbourhood, and from 1995 to 2014, a 63% decrease was observed in West Broadway.

The University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies released a report detailing the state of Winnipeg’s rooming houses and said the homes are rapidly declining in numbers.

In the last 10-20 years Winnipeg’s West Broadway neighbourhood has lost more than 50 houses which were formally used to provide single room units for residents.

Rooming houses are essential dwellings for some of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, but buyers are purchasing the homes and converting them to duplexes of single-family homes.

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“One of the big issues nowadays is that a new unit of affordable housing costs between $100,000 and $300,000 to build,” said Greg MacPherson, executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization. “So if you want to put up a building with 8 to 12 units of housing its going to cost you $1 million to $2 million.”

MacPherson said it is essential to preserve and revamp the ones currently in Winnipeg because once they are gone something new will pop up in their place that likely will not be more affordable units.

“They are irreplaceable,” he said. “Once we lose them we can’t get them back.”

The review done by the U of W found median rents of $345 per month or $60 above the shelter allowance rate of $285.00 ($20 above the maximum amount permitted with the RentAid program). None of the tenants surveyed had a long-term lease. On average these tenants had lived in their units for just over 1 year.

While many affordable housing units have been constructed in West Broadway, the disappearance of rooming houses translates into a loss of 600 to 830 units.

“There are hundreds of these houses in the inner city,” said MacPherson. “Rooming houses are affordable, they are communal. There are a lot of really good aspects of rooming houses.”


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