Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba Housing units get makeover for immigrants

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MANITOBA isn't just attracting immigrants, it's also helping to put a roof over their heads.

The provincial and federal governments announced Tuesday a $9-million fund to renovate Manitoba Housing units in the Centennial neighbourhood, which is in the inner city. The 60 transitional housing units will provide new Manitobans with affordable rent.

Helma Mertin, who arrived in Winnipeg from the Philippines last month, has been living with her uncle until she finds a job. She said she urgently wants to find affordable housing in a safe neighbourhood.

"For me, housing is very important. I have three kids and we need our privacy. I need a place where rent is cheaper because it's hard to find a job here," Mertin said.

Premier Greg Selinger said immigrants such as Mertin need help getting settled.

"We need more housing for newcomers because we're bringing new people to Manitoba more than we've ever brought in our history -- over 16,400 in 2009," Selinger said.

"We know that when they get off to a good start, within five years many of them will become homeowners, and most get employment within the first six months," he said.

The new units will accommodate families for up to three years, offering safe, secure and affordable rent.

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) will manage the buildings.

IRCOM will also offer support services to immigrants to integrate into the community. The services include after-school programs, education services, English classes and community gardens.

"This addition of these units to IRCOM is great news for those who need a handout and for Winnipeg itself," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said.

"By providing more rental options in the city, this new building will contribute to the economic and social well-being of the community," Toews said.

Codi Guenther, a rental co-ordinator at New Journey Housing, works with many immigrants in Winnipeg. Guenther says having a first home is crucial for newcomers as it helps with school and employment.

"It's become very difficult for immigrants to find affordable housing in Winnipeg," Guenther said.

"The money given today is helpful but there's always a greater need. For the thousands of newcomers that are coming every year, in order to create affordable housing stock, you're going to have to create thousands of units every single year. But it is a very good start."

katie.dangerfield @freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2010 A5

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