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This article was published 7/11/2019 (595 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Housing needs in our province are significant. The re-elected premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister, recently called the Progressive Conservative victory a step forward for more affordability for families. But to fulfil this promise, the premier must address the affordable-housing crisis in Manitoba.
Currently, 50,000 families are homeless or in core housing need. Two of every five renters in Winnipeg spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, and this problem is only expected to get worse.
Co-op and non-profit housing providers face operating agreements that are expiring. An operating agreement is parallel to a mortgage, and defines responsibilities under the particular housing program with the provincial government. Operating agreements typically include two parts: operating funds, and a rental assistance program to help low-income people pay rent.
Community housing providers will need ongoing investment from the province to provide housing assistance for those who need it most. Without this funding, rents will increase and hundreds of low-income families living in co-op and non-profit housing will face economic eviction.
When rental assistance for low-income members ends, our most vulnerable members are uprooted from their good-quality affordable homes, resulting in seniors, single-parent families, newcomers, Indigenous people and individuals living with disabilities finding themselves displaced from their homes.
Community housing providers whose operating agreements have already ended over the past few years have seen many people forced to leave. This has been devastating and heartbreaking, because it is absolutely avoidable.
I live in the Village Canadien Co-op Limitée in St. Vital, and when I first moved into the co-op, I was a full-time student with a young family, completing a challenging degree at the University of Manitoba. My income varied with my ability to put in work hours during the seasonal terms and around exam periods. As a member of the co-op, housing became one less thing I needed to worry about.
I soon realized the benefits of co-op housing where we, the members, were essentially the landlords and had a voice in literally everything that goes on in running the business and maintaining a safe, affordable place to call home. No person or organization makes a profit off our members, and we supervise our own management, administration and maintenance staff.
Housing co-ops are unique in that they develop people into capable community leaders by empowering members to participate in the management of their home and community. I was elected as a director in 2009, becoming a part of the leadership team governing the co-op. In 2014, I was elected to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, representing Manitoba.
Today, I have the privilege of serving as president for both my co-op and the national federation, which provides services for and represents more than 250,000 people living in housing co-operatives across the country.
I found my community at Village Canadien Co-op, and I want more Manitobans to experience the affordable, attainable and sustainable living that housing co-operatives provide.
Co-operative housing has a rich history in our province, and the Manitoba government should take advantage of the effective co-operative model by working with co-ops like mine to continue rental assistance for low-income people and build new co-op homes to address our province’s housing need.
Frank Wheeler is president of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.