By Jess Klassen
Since late 2014, twenty-six families in Winnipeg’s inner city have been living in a new, supportive social and affordable housing complex called WestEnd Commons. The innovative development was retrofitted in the 100-year-old St. Matthew’s Anglican Church building. Church and community leaders worked for years to build the affordable family housing complex in Winnipeg’s low-income West End neighbourhood. In addition to reduced rents, WestEnd Commons has a vision to create community and increase social inclusion in this inner city neighbourhood. Full Report
WestEnd Commons hosts three components: a Neighbourhood Resource Centre, a number of independent faith communities and the twenty-six housing units. The Neighbourhood Resource Centre is a social enterprise that rents space to various community-based organizations providing essential services to people in the West End. Community members have long relied on the services and support provided by this welcoming community space, such as a food bank, drop-in, free computer and phone, sewing programs, artists’ circles, meeting and event space and a commercial kitchen. Seven communities worship within the walls of WestEnd Commons, including St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Grain of Wheat Church-Community, Shiloh Apostolic, Emmanuel Mission and others. Finally, twenty-six units of social and affordable family housing have been erected within the walls of the church.
The idea for this ambitious project was conceived in a difficult time for the housing sector. Federal investments in housing have decreased by over 46 percent over the last twenty-five years, while the Canadian population has grown by almost 30 percent (Gaetz et al., 2014), meaning fewer affordable housing options remain for a growing number of Canadians. Locally, Manitoba Housing Renewal Corporation (MHRC) spent years acting as property manager of a deteriorating public housing stock with little capacity or intention to increase the supply of social and affordable housing, although that has changed in the past decade. Despite these odds, St. Matthews Non-Profit Housing Inc. was formed by a driven group of church and community leaders in 2009, with WestEnd Commons as its first build.
This report explores the interplay between low-cost housing with supports, and social and economic inclusion in society, through interviews with twenty-one residents. It is evident that living in WestEnd Commons has increased residents’ economic inclusion through the provision of subsidized rents, and has increased their social inclusion through supportive policies and programming.