British newspaper pans Winnipeg low-income housing units over safety concerns

A small low-income rental housing complex near Central Park is drawing a large amount of attention after being featured in a prominent British newspaper which described the project as "a magnet for drinking and drug taking."

Manitoba Housing took low-income housing units over in December from CentreVenture

A small low-income rental housing complex near Central Park is drawing a lot of attention after being featured in a prominent British newspaper, which described the project as "a magnet for drinking and drug taking." 2:20

A small low-income rental housing complex near Central Park is drawing a lot of attention after being featured in a prominent British newspaper, which described the project as "a magnet for drinking and drug taking."

Both Manitoba Housing, and the architecture firm that designed Centre Village on Balmoral Street, plan to take another look at the complex — but not in response to the article in The Guardian.

Last month, Manitoba Housing took over the 25-unit complex — which is home mostly to newcomers and refugees — from CentreVenture, the city's arm's-length development agency.

Carolyn Ryan, Manitoba Housing's executive director of portfolio management, said it will begin a safety review of the property next week.

"We'll look at lighting, tree trimming, are there gates or fencing that might improve security on the project," she said.

Ryan added the review is typical for any property Manitoba Housing takes over.

At least three residents at the complex told CBC they felt there should be a gate to keep non-residents out of an interior courtyard. Others said they felt comfortable living at Centre Village.

"I hear people at night. Used to hear them lots because this is my second year here," said Donna, a resident who did not want her last name used. "Some of them are drinking ... it's really loud. Really loud traffic."

Access problems

The city councilor for the area, Cindy Gilroy, said her office has not received any complaints about the complex.

Ryan said the public access to the courtyard is problematic, adding, "There is a parking lot right behind the building that I understand there's some not-so-great activity happening there. So maybe some more lighting or some security cameras can help with that."
This low-income housing complex on Balmoral Street was cast into the spotlight Monday after the British newspaper The Guardian called it "a magnet for drinking and drug taking." (CBC)

Ryan added that some problems in the three-tier units will be harder to address, including a lack of closet and eating space.

The idea for the complex originally came from the belief more home ownership in Central Park was needed, CentreVenture president Angela Mathieson said over the phone. While rent-to-own and co-operative models were initially explored, she said low-income rental housing turned out to be the better fit.

Although the project never became a co-op, Mathieson said she believed the $3.7 million project is still a success because it addresses a low-income rental crisis in Winnipeg.

Complex full

Ryan said the complex is full and has added affordable housing and density to the neighbourhood.

The firm that designed Centre Village said residents have given mostly positive feedback on about 20 instances.

"The project that we've done, the Centre Village, was actually designed after a fairly extensive consultation with the community over a span of several years," said Sasa Radulovic, founding partner of 5468796 Architecture, adding the firm did not want to design a "fortress" structure.

"I would suggest on a number of levels, it was a success," he said.

Radulovic said the firm plans to assess a number of projects, including Centre Village, this year. 

Jino Distasio, director of the institute for urban studies at the University of Winnipeg, said the project can likely be improved with a few small tweaks.

"I just think there is probably a few smaller steps that could have been done to really just fine-tune how that project fit into the neighbourhood, how it fit on to that specific street and in that specific community."

Ryan said any changes to Centre Village would likely be done in the spring.

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