Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Short on solutions for shortage of rooming houses

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Fewer rooming houses mean an increase in the potential for homelessness.

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Fewer rooming houses mean an increase in the potential for homelessness. Photo Store

After dozens of meetings, three reports and a big community forum, the province is still working on a plan to deal with the inner city's rooming-house crunch.

Housing Minister Peter Bjornson said Tuesday he will wait for one more report from an internal committee before taking action on the inner city's dwindling supply of rooming houses, the cheapest and most troubled form of private housing that protects thousands of the poorest Winnipeggers from homelessness.

Bjornson said the province's inter-departmental committee is expected to report to him this fall. Action may not come until after next year's budget, though.

That's despite new research, released at a large community forum Tuesday, that found 140 rooming houses have disappeared in Spence and West Broadway in the last 20 years. What remains is deteriorating, and a mess of government regulations isn't helping.

"We still haven't addressed anything," said Jino Distasio, director of the U of W's Institute of Urban Studies and the author of a key rooming-house report a dozen years ago. "Along the way, we continue to forget the most in need."

Forum organizers, which include the Spence and West Broadway neighbourhood associations and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, hoped the event would spark the creation of a central clearinghouse that brings together the four city departments and three provincial agencies that regulate rooming houses so they can cut through the bureaucratic confusion.

For the last year, provincial staff from residential tenancies, housing, welfare, the fire commissioner's office and others have been meeting to figure out what regulatory changes might improve rooming houses. Instead of expanding that group to include the city and community groups, Craig Marchinko says it might make more sense to simply get to work.

Marchinko, the assistant deputy minister for community development and strategic initiatives, says the provincial committee is looking at ways to help tenants more directly, and how to clearly define what counts as a rooming house and doing better public education.

Marchinko said past attempts to tackle rooming houses have been stymied by disinterested landlords. A grant to help them fix up their properties has had limited take-up, in part because getting the cash means getting licensed with the city and allowing the residential tenancies branch to scrutinize rents.

In recent years, the province has held focus groups with landlords who have said clearly they're not interested in government programs.

Marchinko said provincial staff share many of the same frustrations as community groups, but solving the rooming-house problem is complicated and won't happen quickly.

"Once you start getting into it, it seems to be quite a quagmire," he said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2014 B2

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