Rally at Lions Place urges halt to 'shameful' sale of downtown Winnipeg seniors' complex

A crowd of seniors gathered in front of Lions Place in Winnipeg on Thursday, chanting, singing and holding colourful placards with messages like "save our home" and "where do I go" to protest the impending sale of their downtown housing complex.

'It's heartbreaking and all Manitobans should be deeply concerned': Right to Housing Coalition

A crowd of people, some holding colourful signs, stand in front of a building with the name Lions Place in yellow letters on a blue background.
The Right to Housing Coalition's Shauna MacKinnon calls for the government to step in and prevent the sale of Lions Place to private interests. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

A crowd of seniors and their supporters gathered in front of Lions Place in Winnipeg on Thursday, chanting, singing and holding colourful placards with messages including "save our home" and "where do I go" to protest the impending sale of their downtown housing complex.

The rally, led by the Right to Housing Coalition's Shauna MacKinnon, took aim at the Manitoba government for allowing the sale of one of the largest non-profit residential buildings in the province to an Alberta-based firm.

"It is shameful and it's heartbreaking and all Manitobans should be deeply concerned," she said.

"What's happening here at Lions Place is happening across our country as large real estate investment firms buy up low-cost rental housing, increase rents and displace tenants unable to afford those rents."

Lions Place, a 287-suite building on Portage Avenue between Furby and Langside streets, has been in existence since 1982. It provides rent-geared-to-income housing for those age 55 and over and is currently owned by Lions Housing Centres.

The sale has been a heated topic since residents learned it was on the market in July 2022.

A large brick building stands in the middle of the photo, in brown brick with hundreds of windows.
Lions Place, a 287-suite building on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, is one of the largest non-profit housing complexes in Manitoba. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A seniors action committee formed in the wake of that news has been pushing Lions Housing to find another non-profit organization to operate the building.

But in late November, notices were slipped under residents' doors informing them an offer from an Alberta-based firm had been accepted. The notice did not identify the Alberta firm by name.

The Nov. 25 notice, signed by Lions Housing Centres executive director Gilles Verrier, said the sale "may be completed by the end of January."

During a meeting with residents in early December, Verrier said multiple non-profit organizations had declined to purchase the building. Two non-profits viewed the facility, but said its rents were too low for them to make an offer, he told residents at that point.

MacKinnon said Thursday it is "an absolute travesty … that the seniors living at Lions Place have been put in a position where they have to fight to save their housing."

"We're here today to support you and to thank you for fighting to keep Lions Place out of private, for-profit hands," MacKinnon told the cheering group of about 100 people that included family of Lions Place tenants, students, professors, community organizations, housing advocates, seniors advocates and union locals.

"You have been failed by Lions Housing, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to provide housing for vulnerable seniors, and you have been failed by government, in particular the Manitoba government who has refused to do what is necessary to keep this housing non profit."

She urged the provincial and federal governments to preserve the non-profit housing that exists and invest in more, implement regulations that ensure publicly funded housing cannot be sold to for-profits, and to restrict Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation from providing mortgages to corporate landlords that displace low-income tenants.

She also called on all levels of government, along with Lions Club members, to "to use all the tools available to them to stop the sale of Lions Place."

'One meeting isn't enough'

Gerald Brown, a resident and chair of the seniors action committee at Lions Place, said letters have gone to Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson but there has been no response.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires has held one meeting with the group during the months they've been scrambling to block the sale, Brown said, and the group has sent out at least three more requests to meet again.

"One meeting isn't enough," he said, leading to shouts of "shame" from the crowd at Thursday's rally.

The group has had discussions with representatives from both the federal and provincial Liberals as well as the provincial NDP, "but we have not had any action from the [governing Progressive] Conservative Party," Brown said.

"It is our rent that has kept this place going and we are really concerned. We don't know what's going to happen with a new owner."

A woman holds a coffee cup while wearing a purple winter vest and face mask. She stands to the right of another woman, who is wearing a red beret and red gloves and a bright yellow shirt.
Jean Feliksiak, right, and daughter Margaret stand in front of Lions Place on Thursday. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

Squires told CBC in an interview following Thursday's rally that she understands residents are worried, and promised seniors won't be displaced or see their rents rise.

"There will be an announcement in future days and our government is working towards that," she said.

"We know with change there's uncertainty, and my hope is we can alleviate all the concerns expressed by the seniors."

Squires wouldn't reveal exactly how the government will help in this case, adding the government is looking at introducing legislation to prevent similar situations in the future.

"We've seen legislation in Quebec and other jurisdictions that would ensure any housing agreement that's coming to an end, that there would be some provisions in place," Squires said.

"It's always easier for government to intervene at the outset of any of those types of arrangements. When it comes specifically to Lions Place it was harder to intervene towards the end, so we're certainly going to set the landscape so that we do not get ourselves into this situation again."

Uncertainty 'making me sick': resident

But resident Jean Feliksiak, who is 91 and has lived at Lions Place since 2008, says she's losing sleep over concerns that rents — currently below market value — will go up with new ownership.

That would force many residents out of a complex that is "like a village," she said at Thursday's rally.

The uncertainty is "making me sick," said Feliksiak.

"I don't sleep properly. I'm just so upset."

Thomas Linner, provincial director for the Manitoba Health Coalition — which was also at the rally along with members of the Council of Women of Winnipeg — said affordable housing "is a crucial social determinant of health."

With the potential loss of Lions Place as an affordable housing option — combined with the ongoing struggles for beds at hospitals, long waits in emergency departments and staffing shortages in home care — "the health and well-being of seniors has never been under more threat than it is right now here in Manitoba," he said.

Rally at Lions Place urges halt to 'shameful' sale of downtown Winnipeg seniors' complex

5 months ago
Duration 2:25
A crowd of seniors gathered in front of Lions Place in Winnipeg on Thursday, chanting, singing and holding colourful placards with messages like "save our home" and "where do I go" to protest the impending sale of their downtown housing complex.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Josh Crabb