New Lions Place owners to hold meeting with residents after buying Winnipeg high-rise
Chair of building's action committee hopes for collaboration, answers from Mainstreet Equity Corp.
After weeks of speculation, a Calgary-based company has confirmed in a letter to residents it's the new owner of a 287-unit housing complex located at 610 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, currently known as Lions Place.
Mainstreet Equity Corporation, a publicly-traded residential real estate company, will hold a meeting for residents at 10 a.m. Feb.16 to introduce themselves as the new owners of the building.
"We're really excited to meet you!" a letter to residents from Mainstreet stated. "We're known for our quality and affordability, and we are looking forward to serving you."
Lions Place, which up until Wednesday had been owned and operated by Lions Housing Centres, had provided rent-geared-to-income housing for people 55 and over since 1982. The building was put on the market last July after the non-profit organization determined they had to sell it to keep other programs running.
Gerald Brown, chairperson of the Lions Place seniors action committee, said even with a new owner identified there are still more questions than answers about what will happen next.
"I'd like to hear from them that they've come to work with us, not to do things to us or for us," Brown said.
"Work with us to make this continue to be the home, the family residence that it's been for so many people here."
On its website, Mainstreet said "we buy under-performing mid-sized apartment buildings at low cost. We improve them, often dramatically, before placing them back on the market at rates that reflect their increased value."
Brown said that has some residents concerned their monthly rents will eventually rise above the $844 they currently pay.
The Manitoba government is providing $1.2 million in subsidies over two years to Mainstreet so residents won't have to pay more, but that doesn't mean Mainstreet can't apply to the Residential Tenancies Branch for a rent increase in the future.
"Two years is fine," Brown said. "Two years, I don't have to pack any boxes but after two years, that rent could jump."
Lions Place is Mainstreet's third property in Winnipeg. The company's website lists Moxam Court Apartments at 280 River Ave. and The Princeton at 314 Broadway as Mainstreet properties.
Mainstreet faced criticism in January 2022 as refugee and Indigenous families were left without heat inside their Saskatoon apartment suites over a 10-day stretch during a record cold snap. They were eventually moved to hotels but only after a fire inspector was called.
The company told CBC Saskatoon it tried to fix the problem but it couldn't be done in a timely fashion due to staffing shortages and supply chain delays, which it blamed on COVID-19, as well as continued extreme weather conditions.
"We regret and take any disruption in our customers' enjoyment of their homes very seriously," Mainstreet said in a statement last year.
In June 2015, Mainstreet Equity Corp. was fined $250,000 in an Edmonton court after being convicted of 129 counts under the Public Health Act, according to a report in the Edmonton Journal.
The company was fined for failing to fix what Alberta Health Services deemed dangerous and unsanitary conditions at a three-storey, 23-suite building Mainstreet acquired in the Alberta city.
Mainstreet did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Wednesday by CBC on those situations.
Sale 'just the tip of the iceberg': advocate
Shauna MacKinnon, chair of the University of Winnipeg's department of Urban and Inner-City Studies, said those issues are a cause for concern but acknowledged it's not only a problem with Mainstreet.
"The amount that they were fined is a drop in the bucket for a company of this size, so they can just afford to pay it," said MacKinnon, who's also a member of the Right to Housing Coalition.
"The point of these firms is essentially, they're drawing in investors and demonstrating that they can maximize profits and they'll get a high return on their investment."
She worries the sale of Lions Place is only a sign of things to come.
"This is now housing that was offered to people, was paid for with public money, was provided to people based on their income — so rent-geared-to-income social housing — that is no longer available," MacKinnon said. "So it's gone. This is gone."
"It's really just the tip of the iceberg. It's not the only building and it's going to continue to happen unless governments start regulating."
Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP MLA for Union Station where Lions Place is located, said the governing Progressive Conservatives need to do more.
"We've advocated for legislation to come forward that would allow the provincial government to intervene and prevent affordable housing to fall in the hands of private corporations," Asagwara said.
Rochelle Squires, Manitoba's families minister, has previously said the government is looking at legislation to prevent similar situations in the future.
In response to the previous issues identified at Mainstreet properties in other provinces, a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said in an email there are numerous safeguards and protections in place for tenants to deal with any issues or concerns that may come up in a rental unit.