Renting a rundown rooming house unit? An apartment with broken appliances? A bedbug-infested bungalow? You could be a winner in Manitoba's first Worst Home Welfare Funds contest.

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This article was published 6/6/2013 (3307 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Grant Lambert dealt with some awful housing situations in Winnipeg before finding a suitable home.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Grant Lambert dealt with some awful housing situations in Winnipeg before finding a suitable home.

Renting a rundown rooming house unit? An apartment with broken appliances? A bedbug-infested bungalow? You could be a winner in Manitoba's first Worst Home Welfare Funds contest.

Three prizes of $100 each will go to the worst family residence, individual residence and rooming house in the contest showcasing the struggle to find decent digs on the provincial shelter allowance.

"It took years (to find decent living conditions)," said Grant Lambert, who has lived in a storage locker and a downtown hotel before finding a comfortable, affordable home. The 44-year-old recovering alcoholic has struggled with depression and the stigma of being homeless and on assistance.

"We're all treated like dirt," he said.

The shelter allowance in Manitoba is $285 a month for a single person -- a rate that has barely budged in a decade, say members of the Employment and Income Assistance Advocates Network sponsoring the contest.

The goal of the contest is to illustrate how desperate the situation is, says network member Lynne Somerville, a volunteer mentor helping Lambert get settled.

"It's to draw attention to the fact that people are living in really cruddy housing," she said. "You're lucky if you can get anything for $450. There's just a real crying need in the community to help." The other day, she took two clients to see a place for rent on Simcoe Street.

"The ceiling had caved in and was draped over the fridge and stove," Somerville said. "The landlord said 'Just move in and I'll fix it up.' " The potential tenants had heard that line before and left. You hear that all the time -- 'I'll fix it as soon as you move in,' but they never do."

People with no place to go stay up all night inside Tim Hortons for shelter or sleep in the lobby of financial institutions with ATMs, she said.

The lack of affordable housing drives people to desperation when it comes to housing, said Somerville.

"They'll accept anything."

A perfect storm for unsafe and substandard housing has been created with a Winnipeg vacancy rate below one per cent, low shelter allowance rates and no EIA inspection of rental properties, members of the EIA Advocates Network say.

People are forced to live in leaky units with mould, bugs, broken windows, doors that don't lock and appliances that don't work, said Marianne Cerilli with the Social Planning Council. There are rooming houses with 15 people each paying $400 a month to share one bathroom and no living space, she said.

The 2013 provincial budget added $20 per month for some Employment and Income Assistance recipients who qualify for RentAid. But that's not nearly enough, the network members say. They're calling for an increase in the shelter allowance to 75 per cent of the median market rent.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.