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Winnipeg’s vacant Centre Village to be redeveloped for social housing

Peter Caulfield
Winnipeg’s vacant Centre Village to be redeveloped for social housing
@JAMES BRITTAIN/WINNIPEG ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION — Winnipeg’s Centre Village was built in 2010 on an abandoned L-shaped lot on Balmoral Street that had been zoned for six single-family houses. The project was made up of 25 residential units that were arranged in six three-storey blocks. It has been vacant for several years.

A Winnipeg housing complex that fell on hard times and has been lying vacant for several years is going to be redeveloped.

The site of Centre Village, a multi-structure residential complex on the western edge of downtown, is slated to be born again as 30 social housing units.

Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation, which owns Centre Village, is donating the site to the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (WHRC), a non-profit charity that develops affordable housing in the inner city.

Centre Village was built in 2010 on an abandoned L-shaped lot on Balmoral Street that had been zoned for six single-family houses.

The project was made up of 25 residential units that were arranged in six three-storey blocks.

The Winnipeg firms of 5468796 Architecture and Cohlemeyer Architecture were the prime consultant, architects and designers of the project.

Sasa Radulovic, principal and co-founder of 5468796, says the main client and the other stakeholders in the project were looking for housing of at least 25 walk-up units that could provide a rent-to-own opportunity for new immigrants.

“We worked closely with the client (CentreVenture Development Corporation, an arm’s length agency of the City of Winnipeg) as well as members of the target community in open houses and numerous consultation meetings,” said Radulovic. “(The goal was) to develop a village that would cater to the community, rely on security and safety by bringing many eyes on the street and by creating a complex that is organized around a muse and a courtyard that provide protection.”

At the time the inner-city neighbourhood, which has had its ups and downs, was on the upswing, and many people thought it was becoming safer.

The Winnipeg firms of 5468796 Architecture and Cohlemeyer Architecture were the prime consultant, architects and designers of the original project. Here is a drawing of its design.
5468796 ARCHITECTURE — The Winnipeg firms of 5468796 Architecture and Cohlemeyer Architecture were the prime consultant, architects and designers of the original project. Here is a drawing of its design.

“The client did not want to build any fences, so our goal was to create defensible space, a clear distinction between public, semi-public and private spaces, but also retain the possibility of adding fencing if it ever became necessary,” said Radulovic. “All of the design was approved through regular approval processes.

“A lot of thought went into planning a project that met a very tight budget, hit the density the original client was looking for and still provided an outdoor space and five or six parking stalls the client asked for.”

CentreVenture intended to transfer Centre Village to its residents in a custom-made financing program that was to be established by the stakeholders.

However, says Radulovic, unforeseen developments toward the end of construction meant plans for the innovative financing arrangements fell through.

The owners decided to abandon the co-operative model. Manitoba Housing took ownership of the development in 2015 and ran it as a low-income rental development instead.

Although the complex won three architectural awards for its innovative design, it was also criticized by some tenants and critics as impractical and unsafe for the rough neighbourhood it was located in. Residents began moving out, and Centre Village has been vacant since 2019.

Manitoba Housing opened a request for proposals to acquire the site in 2023 and WHRC was the successful bidder.

James Heinrichs, executive director of WHRC, says the organization will develop and own the project as well as provide property management services to it.

“The existing vacant buildings will be demolished and will be replaced by an apartment block – a single apartment block,” said Heinrichs.

With help from a First Nations advocacy office and a local neighbourhood association, WHRC’s successor to Centre Village will provide onsite support services for youth at risk of homelessness as well as expectant parents at risk of involvement with the child welfare system.

Because the provincial government will provide annual financial support for personal “wraparound” supports, the units will be rented out for an amount that is geared to income.

A non-profit charity that specializes in real estate development and property management, WHRC has a portfolio of 1,800 units in 48 buildings in the inner city and the north end.

Almost all of the units have rents that are geared to income.

Architect Radulovic said, “Manitoba Housing has over 2,000 vacant social housing units, and the 25 units in Centre Village are perhaps the most visible of those.

“We know our new provincial government intends to change this, and we look forward to seeing what Manitoba Housing can accomplish with more support. Winnipeg Housing is an excellent organization and we wish it success with its new project.”

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