End of decades-old mortgage agreements could mean rent hikes for hundreds of seniors, low-income Manitobans

Hundreds of Manitoban seniors will have to dig a little deeper to pay for housing starting today — and hundreds more could face the same financial reality within the next five years as government subsidy agreements come to an end.

Rent goes up for Lions Place residents this month with end of 35-year-old mortgage agreement

Joanne Knudson, 78, is figuring out how she's going to pay for a $169 increase in rent this month at Lions Place. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

Hundreds of residents at a Winnipeg seniors complex will have to dig a little deeper to pay for housing starting this month — and hundreds more could face the same financial reality within the next five years, as a series of government subsidy agreements reach their end.

A 35-year-old Manitoba Housing agreement with the Lions Place seniors building, on Portage Avenue at Langside Street, expired as of Aug. 1.

Under the provincial-federal agreement, the province provided money to Lions Place that was used to subsidize some of the units while Lions Place paid off its mortgage.

Now that the mortgage is paid off, the subsidy from the province has ended and Lions Place is looking elsewhere to make up the difference — and that means some low-income seniors are on the hook for an extra $169 each month in rent.

Joanne Knudson, 78, has lived in the building for eight years. Starting this month, her rent increases to $786 a month. She said that's a big jump for someone who has a fixed income around $1,600 a month.

"That's almost half of your pension right there," she said. "And you still have medication. Mine's about $130 a month. And I have TV and phone and I have my own computer."

2-year subsidy agreement

Knudson has applied for Rent Assist, a provincial subsidy available for tenants who rent in the private market, but that money wouldn't cover all of her rent increase.

Back in May, the Lions Place board agreed to a new two-year agreement, which will see the Lions use their own money to subsidize tenants who need help covering the gap between Rent Assist and their monthly rent payment.

Executive director Claude Lachance says 65 tenants will receive this new temporary subsidy, which Lions Place can afford now that it's mortgage-free.

"It gives them time to get accustomed to the fact that rent will be going up, and they can look at options and see if they want to relocate somewhere else," he said.

But things are different for Rick Bryson. He's lived in the building for 10 years, and doesn't qualify for Rent Assist anymore due to recent changes to the provincial program.

Over the last two years, the Progressive Conservative government has made changes to Rent Assist, including changing the income cutoff. That used to be $25,584 a year. Now, anyone making more than $23,040 a year can't qualify.

Rick Bryson has lived at Lions Place in Winnipeg for a decade. He says he doesn't qualify for Rent Assist, and will have to pay for a $169 rent increase out of pocket. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

Bryson says he makes around $25,000, which means he can't get the subsidy and will have to make changes to his budget.

"I can't afford to go out and see my grandchildren now," he said. "They're in Edmonton. So I don't appreciate that very much. Quality of life is going to be reduced substantially."

More agreements set to expire

The agreement at Lions Place ends as of this month but according to the province, there are 19 other buildings with similar mortgage agreements set to expire within five years.

These buildings include not just seniors homes but other low-income housing in general, meaning these changes could  potentially affect hundreds of Manitobans of all ages in the coming years.

As well, Lions Place says it needs to cover the costs of repairs now that the Lions own the building. That means the residence plans to convert its 287 subsidized housing units to market-value housing once current tenants move out.

That combination of changes is worrisome to Rob Altemeyer, the NDP MLA for Wolseley. He says other buildings have already seen their mortgage agreements expire.

Wolseley MLA Rob Altemeyer is concerned many other seniors and low-income residents could soon be faced with rent increases as provincial mortgage agreements end in coming years. (CBC)

He says he met families at one St. Vital building who moved out because they couldn't afford to live there without the subsidy.

"They had to go find another place to live, which can be horribly disrupting to anyone," he said.

"But when you have children, they may be yanked out of their school community. You might have to spend more time driving around the city to make things work because you've been forced to live somewhere else, because the provincial government doesn't care about your housing situation."

A spokesperson for Manitoba Housing says the provincial government is only involved with these buildings because of the decades-old agreements.

The spokesperson said the building owners are actually in a better position to subsidize tenants if they choose to, since their mortgages are paid off.

The province also notes that Lions Place is the only building it is aware of that's changing subsidized housing units into market-rate housing units.

Regardless, Altemeyer says low-income housing is only getting worse in the province.

"We will lose even more affordable housing in a neighbourhood that desperately needs more affordable housing. We're going in the exact opposite direction."

About the Author

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.