Winnipeg's robust real estate market and the cutting back of government funding at all levels have reduced the ability of non-profits to create more low-income housing, producing a double whammy: Fewer of Winnipeg's aging housing stock is being renovated or replaced and the city's poor are forced to live in dilapidated housing that much longer.
The city's higher house prices are even true in the inner city, Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, said.
A decade ago, an older rooming house could be snapped up in the inner city or North End for $25,000 to $30,000 to be renovated.
The price for the same house has skyrocketed out of the reach of many non-profits that rely on government funding.
"The market has changed so radically that there just isn't really... the mechanism for some of the small groups to be able to do this," Distasio said.
"In terms of affordability, how do you take a house, buy it for $100,000, put another $60,000 in for renovation and then try to market it to a low-income family? Could they even afford that even if you could turn it around?"
What's also hurt Winnipeg's non-profit groups is the inability to secure government funding at a time of budget cutbacks, both in Ottawa and by the province.
"It's about a dwindling amount of dollars and a tightening of the regulations to get to them," Distasio said. "There just isn't that much money out there."
Charlie Huband, board member of Westminster Housing Society Inc., said Manitoba Housing a year ago brought in a proposal-call system, in which at specific times, groups could submit funding proposals for their projects. The province has said it wants to add 1,500 new affordable housing units by March 31, 2014.
But Huband, a former Appeal Court judge, said that system doesn't work for Westminster, which was previously funded by the province.
Huband said the non-profit group, which renovates homes in the city's West End, wants to get government funding when a property comes up for sale outside of the province's call for proposals.
"We can't answer a proposal call where they say 'Give us your information about the property you own' and so on," he said. "We don't own it. Proposal calls work when you already own the land and you're coming in with an architect's plans, and we're not in that position and we never were in that position."
This year, Westminster agreed to a one-time funding deal with Manitoba Housing for a two-unit project at 209 Maryland St., with Westminster carrying up to 50 per cent of the project's cost in exchange for Manitoba Housing subsidizing the rent.
The group also met with Housing and Community Development Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross in April to ask the province to set up a fund for smaller non-profits that can't operate within a proposal-call system, but are willing to put more of their own equity into projects.
"We had a good meeting with the minister, but we haven't received an answer," he said.
A spokeswoman for the province said officials are aware some groups would like to see a different funding system to assist in the purchase of properties, such as rooming houses that are now derelict or sub-standard.
At the same time, she said, the province has to ensure appropriate due diligence in the expenditure of public funds and it has to use fair, transparent processes such as requests for proposals when possible.
Non-profits are fighting back in other ways.
They've recently united -- there are more than 250 groups in the province -- under the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association (MNPHA) to bring a louder voice to the need for low-income housing projects. Its first conference is Nov. 22-23.
"We're trying to see if we can get together to make sure affordable housing doesn't go by the wayside," said MNPHA president Menno Peters, also executive director of the Winnipeg Housing and Rehabilitation Corp.
Without that voice and its influence on government, the spectre exists that fewer run-down homes and even apartments will be fixed up.
"I think it's important to improve them, not just to provide low-income housing but also to improve the streetscape," Huband said.
"It does something for the neighbourhood to have a decrepit building reconstituted and become a real credit to the neighbourhood."