Empty Manitoba Housing highrise going up for sale

The Manitoba government is selling a social housing highrise that it spent more than $3 million on while it sat empty for over two years.

Province spent more than $3M in repairs, utility costs on the vacant building

The downtown Manitoba Housing highrise at 185 Smith Street has been empty for over two years. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The Manitoba government is selling a social housing highrise that it spent more than $3 million on while it sat empty for over two years.

The province confirmed Monday morning it is seeking proposals for a realty firm to market and sell the empty building located at 185 Smith Street.

Families Minister Scott Fielding said the 21-storey building, built in 1973, requires major repairs and doesn't have the proper configuration to work as social housing.

"This vacant property is the wrong building for us to invest in to renovate and re-tenant," he said in a news release.

Fielding said the tower is located on prime real estate and could be developed as an office and residential tower to bring more people to Winnipeg's downtown.

Housing coalition 'very disappointed'

CBC News revealed in May the province had halted renovation plans after spending about $3 million on repairs and more than $237,000 on utility costs for the vacant tower. That same month, Manitoba Housing said there were 1,699 people on a wait list to get into government-assisted housing.

"Who's going to benefit from those investments now?" asked Kirsten Bernas, chair of the Right to Housing Coalition.

Bernas said the sale of the building will leave a big hole in Winnipeg's already scarce low-income housing market. She added the province will lose rental income it would have generated having tenants in the building.

 "We're very disappointed."

Tower's value

The building, which had 373 units for low-income people, flooded in 2015 from a broken water pipe, damaging plumbing and elevators. That forced nearly 200 residents to move out.

New documents from Manitoba Housing obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request show it would cost $72.1 million to rebuild the entire building. 

The latest City of Winnipeg tax assessment pegs the value of the apartment complex at $12.4 million.

A spokesperson for Fielding said Monday that the building would cost at least $20 million to fix up.

Whoever buys the tower will ultimately be left to decide its future and funds from the sale of it will go toward other Manitoba Housing programs, the spokesperson said.

The coalition plans to bring up the government's plan to sell the building along with recent changes to the Rent Assist program at a meeting with Fielding in the coming weeks.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: