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This article was published 22/7/2019 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Edison Properties, the apartment developer that bought the broken-down Manitoba Housing highrise at 185 Smith St., envisions resurrecting the downtown tower with a mix of market-rate rentals and more affordable units.
"The densification of the area is definitely, to us, a draw in the sense that where there’s lots of people, then there’s lots of activity," said Edison Properties vice-president Frank Koch-Schulte, who highlighted the building’s proximity to restaurants and condos in Winnipeg’s downtown core.
"And we just thought we could do a lot for the building, and it’s an exciting project for us."
Workers are currently gutting the interior of the concrete building, which originally housed more than 300 social-housing units. Koch-Schulte said the project will have closer to 250 units when work is complete.
"We always try and provide what I’d say is good value. But as far as affordable, we are trying to have a good portion of these units be affordable, and also accessible," Koch-Schulte said, stressing that the project is still in its early stages and exact rents have yet to be established. Work could potentially be finished sometime in 2021, he said.
Koch-Schulte said Edison’s renovations to the building will be extensive, citing plans for a new, ground-level commercial plaza that could contain a café or a restaurant.
"It’ll definitely look like a very different building when we’re done with it."
Former families minister Scott Fielding told the Free Press in 2018 that the refurbished building might include seniors housing, but Koch-Schulte said that possibility has since been taken off the table.
Koch-Schulte expects the apartments to attract renters of all ages, including young professionals who want to live and work downtown.
Social-housing advocates in Winnipeg were concerned when the highrise was sold to Edison for $16.2 million in 2018. Residents had been evacuated in 2015 following a flood caused by broken pipes, and the tower sat vacant for years before being sold to the developer.
"By us taking up this building, we’ll be turning it back into multi-family (housing), so it will be contributing in some effect to the affordability issue in the city — maybe not by addressing the lower-rent market, but it’ll still be adding units to the market, which I think is a good thing overall," Koch-Schulte said.
Josh Brandon, a community animator with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said 185 Smith was "perhaps one of the worst-condition properties" owned by Manitoba Housing after decades of insufficient maintenance.
"But in recent years, after about 2009, the provincial government started to ramp up its investment program in Manitoba Housing. And we started to see some positive developments," he said.
Still, Brandon said social-housing construction in Manitoba has mostly stalled, and that units are disappearing overall.
"There’s the property on Smith, there’s another property in Fort Rouge that’s been lost recently. And so the amount of available housing for people with very low incomes has decreased both in absolute numbers, and even more dramatically in terms of the need for that housing."
The social-housing units lost when 185 Smith was abandoned represented about one per cent of all social housing in Manitoba, according to Brandon.
"So that’s a significant loss for the community, and although it’s good that it’s ultimately being replaced by more housing, there’s a question of who is going to access the housing."
Brandon worries that provincial budget cuts have affected maintenance spending on Manitoba’s social-housing stock in recent years.
"There’s still much work to be done, and in recent years we’ve seen some of those capital investments trail off," he said.
"So that’s a concern that we have — we need to make sure that Manitoba Housing invests in building new social housing to meet ongoing need and continues to invest in capital repairs to maintain existing stock."
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Updated on Monday, July 22, 2019 at 6:59 AM CDT: Fixes headline