Manitoba

City wants 47-unit affordable housing complex to replace Centennial 'eyesore'

A vacant warehouse in the heart of Winnipeg's Centennial neighbourhood could become an affordable housing complex for people struggling with addiction, after city's council's executive policy committee supported a recommendation for a new social housing building.

Building to operate using housing-first model, support tenants who struggle with addiction

A non-profit is behind plans to transform a vacant warehouse on Ellen Street and Ross Avenue into a 47-unit affordable housing building. (Google Maps, Tightlines Drafting and Design )

A vacant warehouse in the heart of Winnipeg's Centennial neighbourhood could become an affordable housing complex for people struggling with addiction.

City council's executive policy committee supported a recommendation by the public service Tuesday to consolidate seven lots into a single piece of land so developers can build a three-storey, 47-unit social housing building at the corner of Ellen Street and Ross Avenue.

"One of the keys to reducing homelessness is giving people a safe, secure place to live, so that's what we're trying to do," John Pollard, the co-CEO of Winnipeg-based Pollard Banknote, said on Tuesday. 

The Pollard family is planning to pay for about 60 per cent of the cost of building the housing complex through a new non-profit called Home First Winnipeg.

"Other than the Bell Hotel, which would be a similar model to what we're doing, we're not aware of anybody who does anything like this," said Pollard, who is president of the non-profit. 

The housing project hinges on the federal government covering the remaining 40 per cent of the building's costs through grants and low-interest loans, Pollard said. The family is also hoping the province will cover some operating costs once the building is up and running. 

The idea to create social housing in the neighbourhood started when Pollard and his family took on the redevelopment of the Winnipeg Hotel on Main Street. Construction work on the dilapidated building will force out about 50 vulnerable people.

Menno Peters, the former executive director of the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation and consultant on the project, said the tenants of the hotel now have an option that can help prevent homelessness. 

"It's amazing what [the Pollards] are giving back to the community," he told the city's Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee on April 16.

The apartment building replaces a warehouse that has been vacant 22 years and has long been an "eyesore," said former Point Douglas city councillor Mike Pagtakhan at the same meeting.

"We're going to transform the neighbourhood," he said. 

Housing-first model

The Ellen Street building will be guided by the principles of housing first — a belief that addiction, domestic problems and mental health issues are best addressed once a person has a home.

Pollard expects a large proportion of the future tenants at the proposed Ellen Street complex would have drug or alcohol dependency. 

"We are prepared to support them in that housing, even with their addiction problems," he said. "It's a very supportive environment."

The building will offer 24-hour support staff on site, as well as three meals per day for residents. The grounds will include patio space, gardens and a bike-sharing program.

The Pollard family believes they should know in fall 2019 whether they will get support from the federal government.

City council still has a final say on whether to allow the Pollards to consolidate the lots at the Ellen Street site and other variances and bylaw changes to build the housing complex. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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