Loss of 'essential' rooming houses a problem in Winnipeg: advocate
Rooming houses are difficult to live in and difficult to live next to, but Winnipeg needs to save them, says Greg MacPherson, executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization.
The group is organizing a public forum Thursday morning to discuss ways Winnipeg can preserve aging rooming houses to make them safer and better places to call home.
"A lot of them are over 100 years old," said MacPherson.
"Some of them are fire traps.… People aren't investing in their buildings for all kinds of reasons."
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The average rooming house in Winnipeg, according to the 2002 federal government study Voices From Winnipeg's Rooming Houses, contains six to 12 units, each with its own lock. Residents typically share a kitchen and bathrooms.
Rooming houses are essential housing for some of Winnipeg's poorest, most vulnerable citizens, said MacPherson. And the city is rapidly losing them, with buyers converting the houses into single-family homes and duplexes.
In the last 10-20 years, Winnipeg's West Broadway neighbourhood has lost more than 50 houses that used to provide single room units, said MacPherson. That translates to a loss of about 500 rooming house units, he estimates.
"We're really just focused, at this point, on trying to figure out ways of encouraging these buildings to stay put. We want to slow the bleed of this form of housing," he said.
It costs $150,000 to $300,000 to build a single unit of affordable housing, said MacPherson. In West Broadway alone, the cost of replacing lost rooming houses is in the millions. Construction of new housing simply isn't keeping pace.
Building more affordable housing, in the form of pocket suites or very small apartments and granny suites, is part of the solution, said MacPherson, but in the meantime, Winnipeg needs to hold onto the affordable housing it already has.
"[Rooming houses] can be run properly. They can be run and managed well and be profitable and also provide essential housing for people who really need it," he said.
The public forum on rooming houses runs from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Thursday at the University of Winnipeg's Convocation Hall.