Winnipeg development faces pushback over affordable units from advocates, neighbours

Advocates are pushing back on a proposed mixed-use development in West Broadway, saying it uses a metric to assess affordability inconsistent with municipal and provincial policy, resulting in rents most in the neighbourhood can’t afford.

Developer Paragon Design Build is proposing to demolish four houses on the site at 126-140 Sherbrook St. to construct a 102-suite apartment building with commercial spaces at street level. Thirty-eight studio and one-bedroom units would be designated as affordable, with rents up to $1,100 per month.

But the West Broadway Community Organization (WBCO) says that price puts those units out of reach for most people in the neighbourhood.

“At the rents predicted, or estimated, it is likely that about 80 per cent of current West Broadway residents would not be able to afford the rents,” WBCO executive director Kelly Frazer told Global News.

According to the 2021 census, the median income in West Broadway is $40,000 per year. The City of Winnipeg’s housing policy states affordable housing should cost no more than 30 per cent of household income. The province deems “affordable” studio apartments that rent for up to $704 per month, and $967 per month for a one-bedroom.

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“The affordable rate, as it would come through in this development, is actually more than the current market rate for a bachelor or one-bedroom in West Broadway,” Frazer said.

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At Thursday’s hearing, the WCBO told the committee the development does not meet the city’s definition of affordable housing, and therefore does not qualify for variances it is applying for. Developers can apply for additional units and fewer parking spaces than normally allowed in exchange for designating some units affordable.

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Paragon Design Build says the units are considered affordable under the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) MLI Select program. Brennan Johnson with Landmark Planning and Design says the affordable units still offer savings compared with new units of similar construction (Paragon has hired Landmark for the consultation phase of the project).

“It is more affordable than market rents for new construction, which would be closer to $1,500 a month,” he said.

“There’s definitely a need for deeply affordable housing throughout the city, as well as affordability under CMHC’s MLI Select program. And there’s a market for market-rate rents as well. I think the best thing is to provide all different types of housing and at different affordability levels.”

But Frazer says it could contribute to the gentrification of the neighbourhood, and that the number of units the area’s residents can afford is dwindling. She notes none of the two- or three-bedroom units better suited for families will be designated affordable, and worries how the development would affect the area’s already scarce street parking.

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The Westminster Housing Co-op also voiced concerns at the meeting, saying the building’s shadow would block sunlight that some residents rely on to grow food.

“We have a lot of concerns about how much sunlight those vegetables will actually have access to, particularly on the lower floors and in the north yard,” said Chandra Mayor, the co-op board’s president.

Paragon has submitted a shadow study, and says it meets city requirements.

“They show a snapshot in time, because the sun is always moving,” Johnson said. “Those shadows are constantly moving so the impact is less than it might seem (looking at the study’s illustrations).”

Paragon also noted several local businesses are supportive of the development, and that overall, more units in the area is a positive.

“I think it’ll have a ton of advantages in terms of providing additional amenities and services to neighbourhood residents that are already there, and to potential new ones that want to come and live in West Broadway as well,” Johnson said.

The community committee passed the proposal on to city council.

A Westminster Housing Co-op board member told Global News they are looking into the appeal process.

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