Residents at a not-for-profit downtown Winnipeg seniors housing complex say they’re worried about what’s going to happen if a tentative plan to sell the building to a private out-of-province buyer goes through.
Residents at Lions Place learned from a letter slipped under their doors late last week about an agreement with an Alberta-based firm that would see the Portage Avenue home change hands for the first time in nearly 40 years.
It was exactly what many residents had feared since the non-profit’s board let them know it was looking for a buyer earlier in the summer.
“We don’t know who the buyer is, we don’t know what they’re credibility is. Have they ever worked with seniors before?” asked Gerald Brown, who chair of the Lions Place residents’ council seniors action committee.
Brown was among a group who spoke to media about the concerns Tuesday. He said residents at the 287-suite building fear a private owner will up rents and price them out of their suites.
“Many of those people have come to me … and they’re saying ‘where are we going to go? What are we going to do?’,” Brown said.
“As the speculation grows people become more anxiety filled, more concerned.”
Gilles Verrier, executive director of Lions Housing Centres, which owns and operates Lions Place, tells Global News the charity has been covering costs at the building since a long-term government funding agreement ended in 2018.
He said a caveat in the agreement with the potential new owners will see Lions continue to pay for a tenant resource coordinator at the building, if it is sold, but with the building set to incur millions in renovation costs, Verrier said the charity ultimately has decided it has to cut its losses.
“It cannot sustain itself with these low rents,” he said.
“When you look at the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg, including the downtown area, it’s $1,030. Lions Place residents are paying $844.
“Which means they’ve benefited from low-rental housing for years on the goodwill of the Lions Housing Centres.”
The group representing residents is calling on the provincial government to immediately put a five-year rent increase moratorium in place at Lions Place and bring in legislation that would see all sales of non-profit housing require approval from the appropriate ministry at the legislature.
“We think this is a real moment of truth for this provincial government,” said Tom Simms, whose 93-year-old mother has lived at Lions Place for 25 years.
“Is this government going to be standing up for the suits and developers, or are they going to be standing up for seniors and the non-profit housing sector?”
Manitoba Families Minister, Rochelle Squires, says the government has been working behind the scenes “to ensure that those seniors living at Lions Place will not experience a rent increase and will not be put out of their housing.”
“We’re also having other discussions to ensure that we’ve got a plan in place, a transition plan, should the sale of the building go through, that the seniors living at Lions Place will be able to experience affordable rent today, tomorrow and well into the future,” Squires said, without elaborating on details of the plan.
“The Manitoba government is committed to ensuring that there is affordable housing for seniors, and particularly looking to ensure the maintenance of the rent that the people living at Lions Place are experiencing.”
Simms said the group wants to see legislation that freezes rent at Lions Place rather than rent assist, which he said would amount to a tax-payer supported subsidy for a private, out-of-province corporation.
“We think we should be supporting non-profit housing in Manitoba,” he said.
The letter given to Lions Place residents says the board has approved the sale and has received a deposit from the potential buyer in Alberta.
The letter says the sale could be finalized as early as late January, once the buyer has done due diligence, including a building inspection, which happened Monday.
— with files from Global’s Skylar Peters