Lions Place residents worried about ‘renoviction’
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With the sale of Manitoba’s largest non-profit apartment building to a for-profit Alberta company “proceeding as planned,” Lions Place residents concerned about “renoviction” have asked Premier Heather Stefanson to protect renters and preserve non-profit housing units.
“We’re sort of at a crossroads here,” said Tom Simms, whose 93-year-old mother lives in the Winnipeg building that could be sold by the end of the month. If that happens, tenants expect it will be renovated and command much higher rents than they can afford, resulting in eviction — a process often referred to as “renoviction.”
“Do we look at the private market as a place to meet the needs of low-income residents, which we know is problematic?” Simms said.
“Is there a role for non-profits and government to address the issues that the market is not able to address? It’s based on values,” said the community activist who has been helping Lions Place residents council seniors action committee.
The committee sent letters to the premier, NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont last week, asking if they’d support using existing regulations to protect specific non-profit housing buildings such as Lions Place from “financialization.”
The Public Interest Law Centre has taken an interest in the sale of Lions Place, from a public policy perspective, and providing tenants some peace of mind, Simms said.
The committee also asked the party leaders if they’d support new legislation modelled on a Quebec law that gives the housing minister the authority to regulate the sale of non-profit housing.
“We’ll see where people come out on this,” he said.
The minister responsible for housing, Rochelle Squires, promised in November there will be no rent increases for the residents of Lions Place, but wouldn’t say how the Progressive Conservative government would fulfil such a commitment. Neither the tenants nor the landlord — Lions Housing Centres — have since heard anything from the province.
On Monday, neither the premier nor Squires responded to a request for comment. Instead, a statement from government said it is “motivated to work collaboratively with all stakeholders in the housing sector to ensure seniors with low to moderate incomes continue to have access to safe affordable housing, and is committed to working with a new owner to ensure that the current tenant rents for seniors in Lions Place remain affordable.”
Lions Housing Centres won’t say who the buyer is, other than they’re based in Alberta, or what will happen to current residents.
“The new owner has not shared their plans,” executive director Gilles Verrier said in an email. “However, we do know the firm’s business model involves buying (distressed) older, mid-market buildings and upgrading them with new sustainability features and smart-home technology but remain affordable.”
That’s a nearly verbatim description of Calgary-based Mainstreet Equity Corp. reported one year ago in the Daily Commercial News. The Jan. 10, 2022, online edition included Mainstreet founder Bob Dhillon describing the real estate company: “The firm’s business model involves buying distressed older mid-market buildings and upgrading them with new sustainability features and smart-home technology.”
The publicly traded company buying up properties in Western Canada has achieved “double-digit, organic, non-dilutive growth year-over-year for 22 years,” Business in Calgary reported.
On March 18, its stock hit an all-time high of $153 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the report said. (On Monday it closed at $120 per share).
Mainstreet Equity did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The Liberals support new legislation to protect non-profit housing and oppose the sale of Lions Place to a for-profit company — something that could’ve been avoided, Lamont said.
“It’s all because the provincial government dropped the ball and is refusing to do anything,” he said. “They’re sort of shrugging and saying, ‘Well, this is a private matter.’
“These buildings were all built with public money, they were maintained and people were supported with public money until 2018.”
The NDP blamed the Progressive Conservative government for the loss of hundreds of affordable housing units and even more falling into disrepair.
“If we’re going help seniors age at home with dignity and access to supports, we can’t afford to lose any more affordable housing units,” health critic Uzoma Asagwara said in a prepared statement.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.