Lions Place residents, supporters protest pending sale
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Elderly residents of Lions Place — many with canes, walkers and in wheelchairs — joined community groups outside the building Thursday to protest the pending sale of the non-profit complex to an Alberta company.
Chants of “Stop the sale!” were accompanied by “Save our home” signs.
“It’s not over till it’s over,” Gerald Brown, chairman of the residents action committee, told the crowd of about 70 residents, supporters and media in front of the 287-unit building located on Portage Avenue between Furby and Langside streets.
Until the land title is transferred, the residents concerned about “renoviction” — unaffordable monthly rent after the for-profit company takes over — are not giving up their fight, he said, adding they’ve enlisted legal help and have asked the provincial government to use existing legislation to prevent the sale from going ahead.
Brown said they’ve made several requests for meetings with Premier Heather Stefanson and Families Minister Rochelle Squires. Squires met with residents in October, but there has been no communication from the province since then.
In an interview Thursday, Squires said she has been in conversation with the buyer — she wouldn’t identify the company — to make sure that Lions Place is safe and “significant repairs” and needed maintenance are carried out without anyone being “renovicted.”
It’s believed to have been sold for just over $24 million to MainStreet Equity Inc., an Alberta-based real estate firm that listed the acquisition of a 287-unit building in Winnipeg in a recent presentation to investors. The company’s business model involves buying older, low-rent apartment buildings, fixing them up and raising rents.
“We recognize that people deserve a safe, affordable place to call home,” said Squires, the minister responsible for housing.
“There won’t be any rent increase and (tenants) won’t be displaced,” she said, adding details will be coming soon.
Lions Housing Centres Inc. paid off the $13.5 million mortgage on the 40-year-old complex built with public money through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. to provide affordable housing for seniors.
Stopping the Lions Place sale from going ahead would “stop all Lions Housing Centres’ plans for the future support required for the downtown community we currently serve,” executive director Gilles Verrier said Thursday.
Squires, the MLA for Riel, said she’s not aware of existing legislation that would allow the province to stop the private sale — that to do so would be “unprecedented” and require “extraordinary” action. The province is, however, looking at introducing legislation similar to Quebec’s that would require the minister to sign off on the sale of any non-profit housing, she said.
Several non-profit housing complexes could be in circumstances similar to Lions Place in the coming years as longstanding provincial operating agreements are due to expire.
Lions Place has become a flashpoint for the affordable housing crisis in Winnipeg, one advocate said.
“There’s nowhere for people to go,” said Shauna MacKinnon of the Right to Housing Coalition, which has long advocated for government investment in low-cost, non-profit social housing.
“If we don’t protect the supply of social, rent-geared-to-income housing, if we don’t expand it, we’re going to continue to see what we’re seeing over here,” she said, pointing to a nearby bus shack serving as a homeless shelter.
“The most vulnerable have no place, then also there are the folks like those living (in Lions Place) who don’t need as many wrap-around supports, who are now vulnerable.”
Options for renters of modest means are shrinking, MacKinnon said, pointing to recent reports of old inner-city apartment blocks that had offered low rents until they were destroyed by fire, as well as “landlords completely taking advantage of people.”
“It’s an absolute travesty that seniors living at Lions Place have been put in a position where they have to fight to save their housing,” MacKinnon told the crowd through a megaphone at the start of Thursday’s rally.
“You have been failed by Lions Housing, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to provide housing to vulnerable seniors and you have been failed by government — particularly the Manitoba government that has failed to do what was necessary to keep this housing non-profit — despite the fact that public money has gone into the building of this building as well as its operation for many years,” she said.
Ongoing problems with privately run personal-care homes, the delivery of home care and now housing show that a seniors advocate is needed here, Manitoba Health Coalition provincial director Thomas Linner told the crowd.
“We know a seniors advocate could make real difference in the lives of Manitobans,” Linner said. “All too often, the needs of seniors and vulnerable Manitobans are left at the mercy of the private market.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.