At 82, Eldon Toews left his apartment at a building for seniors to be where the action is — a new kind of housing downtown that’s teeming with life, from First Nations university students to urban professionals to newcomers such as kindergartener Ewun Kidane.

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At 82, Eldon Toews left his apartment at a building for seniors to be where the action is — a new kind of housing downtown that’s teeming with life, from First Nations university students to urban professionals to newcomers such as kindergartener Ewun Kidane.

At his new place in the Downtown Commons, Toews sees a variety of ages and hears a multitude of languages spoken all around him.

"It’s inspiring me to be friendly," said Toews. He’s in one of the mixed-income building’s "premium suites" with a balcony that looks out onto the rooftop patio of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. "I’ve seen three weddings on the gallery rooftop already."

For his neighbour Angela Lavallee, it’s a fresh start. She moved there from a two-bedroom apartment she shared with two daughters and a granddaughter on Mayfair Avenue to attend classes at the University of Winnipeg.

'You could feel the sense of community and see the diversity... It's better than being all cloistered. I love the opportunities to learn about different cultures'‐ Angela Lavallee, resident of the Downtown Commons, a mixed-income housing development at the corner of Colony Street and Portage Avenue

"I’ve just started a new journey in a new home," said Lavallee, 41, as her kids watched TV and played video games in their new rooms.

"It’s awesome," said the First Nations woman who had a good feeling about the place the day she moved in Aug. 27.

"You could feel the sense of community and see the diversity," she said. "It’s better than being all cloistered. I love the opportunities to learn about different cultures."

Lavallee said she has lived in Manitoba Housing and low-income housing in the past, and being in a mixed-income building feels different: "No one knows if I’m working, if I’m middle-class or a student."

Her children and grandchild will get to know neighbours from many different age groups and walks of life, and that makes her hopeful for the future. "It starts there," said Lavallee.

Their five-year-old neighbour Ewun Kidane is also on a new journey. He immigrated to Canada in May with his parents from Eritrea. Clutching a Spider-Man surprise package after a long day at kindergarten, the boy who is just learning to speak English sticks close to his dad, who speaks English as well as four other languages.

"This is, actually, an ideal place," said his dad, Airia Kidane. The former United Nations employee immigrated through the Manitoba provincial nominee program and works downtown as an interpreter while going to school at the University of Manitoba.

His wife attends classes downtown to upgrade her English-language skills. They’re close to where they need to be, and their son is meeting other children in the building, which has a terrace with a playground.

"This is a lovely place to live," said Kidane, who has greeted his new neighbours but didn’t know Lavallee’s or Toews’ name until Wednesday when they gathered in a display suite to talk about their new digs.

The income and cultural diversity of the place is deliberate, said Sherman Kreiner, managing director of the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation — the developer, owner and manager of the property.

"It’s the first mixed-housing building in Winnipeg," said Kreiner. The $31-million project has 102 premium, market, affordable and rent-geared-to-income suites for professionals, students, families and singles.

There are 46 affordable suites, with 30 with rent geared to income. There’s Wi-Fi in the common areas on the first and second floors for tenants who can’t afford the service in their apartments. There’s a multi-purpose room with a common kitchen and a meeting room ventilated to accommodate smudging ceremonies. It has an electric-car-charging station, a Peg City Car Co-op electric vehicle and public reader boards in the lobby that will detail real-time energy use, said Kreiner.

He believes the Downtown Commons is unique in Canada for offering high-quality rental housing in the downtown for residents of varying backgrounds and circumstances.

Its residents from all income levels are mixed throughout the building, said Kreiner, who hopes the Downtown Commons becomes a model for housing projects in the future.

It is bridging a growing economic divide between the rich and poor. "People tend to self-segregate," Kreiner said. The new development at Colony Street and Portage Avenue brings them all together, he said. "You learn about people, and you’re more tolerant if you live next to them."

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.

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