Seniors call on province to intervene before affordable housing complex sold

Seniors fighting to keep their housing complex affordable are calling on the province to intervene in the potential sale of Lions Place and introduce legislation around the sale of non-profit housing buildings that have gotten government money.

Gerald Brown, chair of the Lions Place residents council seniors action committee, said the group outlined its concerns and requests in a letter to Families Minister Rochelle Squires last week.

“We have lots of people who are very frustrated by the potential sale because they have no idea whether it’s going to go commercial and our housing is going to go up, who knows to what degree,” Brown said Monday.

“Where are people going to go? Where are my people — there’s 300, give or take, people in my building — where are they going to go if the rents go so high they can’t afford them?”

The update follows concerns raised in September, when Lions Place residents said they were scrambling to find a new non-profit to take over their Portage Avenue high-rise after learning its current owners were selling it. 

The letter sent to Squires includes two specific requests for the Manitoba government, Brown said.

One is for the province to write to the board chair of Lions Housing Centres asking for a 90-day pause on the sale of the building, which the letter says would allow all three levels of government and non-profit housing groups to find a way to keep the building’s 287 units affordable.

The other is for the province to pass legislation that would require approval from the minister responsible for housing for any non-profit housing buildings to be sold, if those buildings have gotten federal or provincial funding.

Brown said the second request would help people in similar situations in the future, no matter what happens to Lions Place.

“We might not be successful in our bid to get an extension of time, but if we could be successful in getting the legislation put through, then we would be helping many, many other institutions like ours who are coming to the end of their mortgage agreement,” he said. 

“And they are going to be in exactly the same boat.”

Members of the Opposition NDP and the provincial Liberals both raised the issue in question period at the Manitoba Legislature on Monday.

A woman in a floral shirt speaks into a microphone.
The Lions Place residents council seniors action committee outlined its concerns and requests in a letter to Families Minister Rochelle Squires last week. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Those comments came from NDP MLA and Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, who both push the Progressive Conservative government to take action.

In response, Squires suggested an update may soon be coming.

“We have looked at legislation across the country and we’ll be bringing forward significant measures to ensure that all Manitobans have a safe and affordable place to call home,” she said.

For Brown, the future is still uncertain — and for now, the minister’s words are just that.

“We have to see the action. Just saying the words won’t be enough. We’ve got to see something in print so that we can follow it up,” he said.

“After all, this is an election year coming up and this is a topic that needs to be addressed.”