Construction of a three-storey, 19-unit affordable housing building began at a symbolic sod-turning event at an empty lot located at 150 Austin St. North in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas neighbourhood.

"This is so exciting. We're getting 19 new homes for inner city people," said Sel Burrows, chair of the North Point Douglas Residents Committee.

Austin Family Commons is a "dream," said Burrows, because the project combines both beautiful design with input from the local community.

Neighbours across the street from the project site as well as local agencies all had a say in the final design of 150 Austin St. North, he said.

Sod turning

A sod-turning event Tuesday marked the beginning of construction of the Austin Family Commons, a new 19-unit affordable housing building in North Point Douglas. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba's minister of housing and community development, Mohinder Saran, said the point of the project is to help people get out of poverty. Rents at Austin Family Commons will be set at "affordable levels" and half the units will offer rents geared to income, according to the news release.

Manitoba Housing is paying for the construction of the affordable housing unit.

$10M loan to help fund social enterprises

At Tuesday's sod-turning event, Minister Saran announced the government has created a new $10 million fund that will help pay for loans to "employment-focused social enterprises."

The fund will support start-up and emergency loans as well as loan guarantees to these types of non-profit organizations that use business models to achieve social goals.

"Nothing takes a bigger bite out of poverty and all its symptoms than a job," ‎said Lucas Stewart, general manager of Manitoba Green Retrofit (MGR) in a news release.

Social enterprises create meaningful and sustainable jobs for Manitobans who might otherwise be unemployed, he said.

Construction of  Austin Family Commons is expected to be completed in early 2017.