Finding housing strategies that have stood the test of time; Rent-Geared-To-Income is a life-saver says co-op

By Patrick Harney
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Leaf

Residents at Westminster Housing Co-op are experiencing the challenges of maintaining affordable housing first hand as their rent-geared-to-income (RGI) agreement is slated to come to an end early next year. This means that individuals looking for rental assistance will have to apply on their own and may not get the same rental subsidy as before.

“When we crunched the numbers and looked at how much more people would be paying, it was as much of an increase as $1000,” Westminster Housing Co-op Board member Richard Freeman says. “We concluded that people would still have to pull out their own money to top up the subsidy.”

Freeman says that the geared-to-income system allows individuals who are struggling to stay as long as they need, and then once they are on their feet, move out.

“It’s like a vehicle that lets people process what they have been through,” Freeman says. “I’ve had the good fortune to see the benefits of having a place where people come together.”

Finding solutions to housing affordability is a core challenge for many living in Winnipeg’s downtown.

While Winnipeg remains one of Canada’s more affordable cities, rents still aren’t cheap. According to, the average price for one bedroom is $1 416 a month or $16 992 a year. To put that into perspective, an individual making $48 000 a year or full-time $25.53 an hour, Downtown’s median income, would have to devote 35% of their income to rent.

With the increased cost of other basic items such as groceries, devoting over a third of one’s income, just to have a place to live, seems untenable.

In West Broadway, the issue of affordable housing is amplified as 70% of residents earn less than $40 000 a year.

A new housing development, between 126 and 140 Sherbrook, has set affordable rents at $1 100 a month for a bachelor suite – an impossible price for most local residents.

Freeman wrote to the previous government to get their agreement extended, but nothing was changed before the Stefanson government was voted out. His coop is now seeking help from the new Kinew government who has shown an interest in RGI.

On June 11th, West Broadway Community Organization hosted an event to showcase a new avenue for finding housing solutions – looking back into history.

“Housing crises have always been an issue … It’s really helpful to look at the broader context and look at these waves of housing crises in Winnipeg and what kinds of solutions exist,” West Broadway Community Organization Housing Coordinator Stefan Hodges says.

The event gathered participants into the basement of Cornish Library to discuss social housing in Winnipeg and show how tenants have organized in the past to create affordable housing.

“There’s all these examples from the 90s and 2000s where they were able to build new co-ops or rehabilitate buildings and a lot of it led to rent-geared-to-income housing,” Hodges says. “Almost all of it is subsidized to people’s incomes and a lot of it is maintained in quite good condition.”

Speakers included Doug Smith, the author of Property Wrongs: The Seventy-Year Fight for Public Housing in Winnipeg, Mike Maunder, a West Broadway resident and long-time community organizer, and Lynne Fernandez, who recently wrote Thinking Inside the Box: Rediscovering How to Build Social Housing in Manitoba.

The discussion highlighted the wins, losses, opportunities and pitfalls for affordable living since the construction of the city’s first social housing complex, Burrows-Keewatin, now known as Gilbert Park, in 1963.

While many gains have been made in the past, the financial and personal power that was used to make these gains has begun to wane with time.

“A lot of these buildings that were developed or rehabilitated in the 90s or 2000s are at the end of their first life cycle and a lot of these boards are tired and have been working for a long time,” Hodges says.

By showing this history, West Broadway Community Organization hopes to galvanize a new generation to participate in equitable housing, by pressuring the government for funds, organizing tenants and joining housing boards.

“There needs to be a lot more money for preserving the existing supply, but there also needs to be a lot of new life in these boards and support for the capacity building in these boards,” Hodges says.