Manitoba needs 10K new rent-geared-to-income homes in 10 years, coalition tells political parties

The Right to Housing Coalition released a five-point plan, including a call to create thousands of new rent-geared-to-income units, and asked all parties running in the election to support it.

Right to Housing Coalition released 5-point housing plan for Manitoba election

A number of people are sitting at a table. The person closest to the camera is holding a microphone and talking.
The Right to Housing Coalition released a five-point plan to increase the supply of rent-geared-to-income housing. It's asking all Manitoba political parties running in the election to respond. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The private market has failed to meet the need for affordable housing and the provincial government needs to step in to increase the supply, according to a coalition of housing advocates. 

The Right to Housing Coalition released a five-point plan Wednesday, including a call to create thousands of new rent-geared-to-income units, and asked all parties running in the election to support it.

"You can't talk about health, education, safety … crime — none of this, you can't talk about if we don't have safe, accessible housing for all Manitobans," Shauna MacKinnon, a coalition member and University of Winnipeg urban and inner city studies professor, told reporters during a launch event at Crossways in Common.

The coalition's plan calls for the Manitoba government to create 10,000 units of rent-geared-to-income housing over 10 years. It also calls on the province maintaining existing social housing stock and prevent loss of units due to lack of maintenance or sale of properties.

For every 100 units of social housing, the coalition says the province should hire one support worker to help tenants struggling with mental health problems and other issues that could affect their housing. To protect renters in the private market, the coalition says the government should limit above-guideline rent increases. 

The final pillar of the plan calls for the province to work with social enterprises to reduce barriers to people entering the construction trades.

Private sector won't fill gap: MacKinnon

Since the 1990s, governments have largely left the housing market, but the private sector has not been able to meet the need for safe, affordable housing, MacKinnon said.

"Even the private sector itself says, 'We're not in the business of providing social housing, that's a government responsibility,'" she said.

"And so we know from failed experiments that the private sector … is not going to create the kind of housing that we need to address the issues for low-income renters."

The coalition plans to release a detailed cost estimate for its proposal later this month, MacKinnon said.

The coalition launched their plan with a panel discussion, which included Gerald Brown, chairperson of the Lions Place Seniors Action Committee.

Brown lives in the Residences at Portage Commons, formerly Lions Place, a non-profit seniors complex that was sold in February to Calgary-based Main Street Equity Corp.

Since the sale, Brown said quality of life in the building has deteriorated, and dozens of residents in the 287-unit high rise have moved out.

"There's really no sense of community now, because many of the things that we did before and had leadership from the [Lions] team are not there. We have to do them all ourselves and that isn't always possible with seniors crowd," Brown said during the panel discussion.

Parties asked to respond

Rochelle Squires, outgoing Progressive Conservative housing minister, said the coalition's plan fits in with the provincial government's efforts over the past year, including its homelessness strategy.

That strategy included $58 million to build 700 new units of social housing this year.

Squires also noted the province put up $1.4 million in June for non-profit housing providers whose operating agreements with the government were coming to an end, to help subsidize rents and discourage the sale of those properties.

"We know that we didn't want those housing units to go on the market and so we offered funding to … come into agreement with the Manitoba government so that we would continue to subsidize those housing [units] so that no more housing units were lost," Squires said during a news conference on Wednesday.

New Democratic Party Leader Wab Kinew pointed to the party's promise of a $700 tax credit to renters, as well as tighter rent control.

"And of course, we are going to protect not-for-profit housing so that we can avoid a situation like Lions Place from happening again," he said at a news conference.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said his party has already committed to the goal of 1,000 new units of social housing per year for 10 years.

He also criticized the PC plan to expand shelter spaces — as well as the NDP promise to end homelessness within eight years — as not going far enough.

"We've said that's completely unacceptable," Lamont said at a news conference. "We have to do more because we can and should be housing people the same day. That's our goal."

The coalition says it has asked all the parties to respond to its proposals by Sept. 15, after which it will release the results to help voters make their decision.

The provincial election is set for Oct. 3.