Brandon’s Re-Fit Store closing after 28 years, but supportive housing set to take its place

After 28 years of selling affordable home building material and furniture, Brandon’s Building Re-Fit Store is closing its doors for good.

But the downtown building will still help meet housing needs in southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city — the non-profit that ran the Re-Fit plans to convert the two-storey building into supportive family housing.

The doors of the store closed Friday — a day ahead of schedule, after it cleared out its last remaining stock early.

The Re-Fit was run by the non-profit Community Health and Housing Association, with proceeds helping to fund the association’s temporary emergency units for unhoused people.

While the Re-Fit offered a service to the community, there is a growing demand for all types of housing in Brandon, said Stephanie Lockerby, the association’s executive director.

That’s what led to the decision to close the store and convert the space, she said.

As well, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Brandon also provides a similar service to what Re-Fit offered.

“I believe there’s always been a [housing] problem. I think it’s been hidden for many years,” but “it’s impossible to hide it now because we have so many issues,” Lockerby said.

“The need is growing.”

Meanwhile, there are other stores in Brandon — like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore — that offer a similar service and can fill the gap left by the Re-Fit’s closure, said Glen Kruck, the manager of special projects for the Community Health and Housing Association.

The housing association has operated emergency housing units in Brandon for 20 years, and manages 78 apartments in the city.

It wants to build 16 units in the former Re-Fit space, which are expected to be ready in about two years.

The association applied for a $150,000 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation seed grant to help cover the design, environmental assessment and architectural reports, said Lockerby.

If funding is secured, the big brick building in downtown Brandon will undergo renovations to convert the main floor to Community Health and Housing Association offices and the second floor into housing, she said.

“This program and this housing opportunity would complement Brandon,” Lockerby said. “We’re really excited.”

Housing needs

Shannon Saltarelli, the City of Brandon’s community housing and wellness co-ordinator, says all types of housing are needed, from supportive to market units.

A 2023 city housing report says since 2011, the number of households in Brandon has increased by almost 1,900, to 21,200 households. The city’s population was just over 51,000 in 2021, the report says, but is expected to grow by almost 10,000 in the next 20 years.

It projects 2,000 single-detached homes and 1,725 apartments will be built over that period, along with other types of housing such as duplexes and movable homes.

Brandon has a rental vacancy rate of 2.1 per cent, according to 2023 provincial figures — on par with the provincial average, but lower than some other cities such as Thompson (six per cent) and Portage la Prairie (5.5 per cent).

To help meet housing needs, the city has tapped into the federal Housing Accelerator Fund — a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation program that provides funding to municipalities for housing development, said Saltarelli.

The city’s goal is to use the funding to help create around 900 units of housing over four years, she said.

It already has received its first payment from the fund, but Saltarelli couldn’t disclose the amount until there is a formal announcement.

However, “that’s just a drop in the bucket of how much our community is growing,” she said. “If we’re on trend to keep growing, we have to understand that and to meet our housing needs.”

Housing needs money

The city plans to use Housing Accelerator funding for a mix of market-rate housing downtown, encouraging affordable housing builds, and acquiring shovel-ready land for the city, said Saltarelli.

But any type of housing project will need millions in investments from other sources, because the city can’t afford them on its own, she said.

“The city wants to help to build capacity in the sector,” said Salterelli. 

“Some of that is, you know, from private developers getting really involved in building affordable housing, along with our non-profits, and getting them connected to ways to get funded to do this work.”

A man smiles for the camera.
Glen Kruck, the manager of special projects for the Community Health and Housing Association, says the planned supportive housing project for families is intended to fill a gap in the city’s housing. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Kruck, the housing association’s special projects manager, said the non-profit plans to apply for more grants — including federal and provincial dollars — as it moves on to the next stage of the new housing project.

There are gaps in the availability of supportive units for families in the city, he said.

“We feel that that population will be served very well” by the new project, said Kruck.

“Frequently we have, you know, a single mother and five kids in a 200-square-foot homeless unit. That’s not good,” he said.

“So we want to provide more support for families.”