West End groups building a community

by Fernando Velarde Trejo
The West End in Winnipeg’s inner city is composed of the neighbourhoods of Central Park, Daniel McIntyre, St. Matthews, Spence, Minto, and Sargent Park. These neighbourhoods represent one of the most culturally diverse areas in the city, possessing a significant newcomer and aboriginal population. 
The West End offers to its residents and visitors numerous amenities and housing options. However, similar to other inner-city communities, the area faces challenges to preserve its assets.
Fortunately, these challenges are tackled by the community organizations that call the West End home. Not-for-profit organizations such as the Daniel McIntyre St. Matthews Community Association and Spence Neighbourhood Association work to promote and lobby for improvements in the area. For example, the Spence Neighbourhood Association, working in collaboration with community stakeholders, provides a wide-range of services including youth programming, housing renewal and greening initiatives.
Community and neighbourhood associations address a wide-range of issues. However, there are also other groups that focus on specific issues. The Housing Opportunities Partnership (HOP) is committed to strengthening the community by promoting homeownership among low- to moderate-income people. HOP acquires houses in need of repair and refurbishes them to fulfill safety standards and the needs of future homeowners. The program has invested over $8 million, reclaiming a total of 83 properties in the West End, while making the dream of homeownership a reality for many families. The people who benefit from the program are now residents of the area with a long-term commitment within the community.
Meanwhile, the business-friendly environment of the area has continued to attract entrepreneurs. The West End Business Improvement Zone (West End BIZ) promotes the area at a city-wide scale to attract potential customers and new businesses. Business owners and residents enjoy the benefits of the programs offered by the West End BIZ which help improve the image and safety of the area. For example, the Graffiti Removal Program provides free graffiti removal to businesses and home owners helping the area look its best year-round.
The business base has steadily increased over the past decade. According to information from the city, the combined assessment value of all West End properties in 2001 was a total of $778,417,470. Ten years later, the efforts of all the different stakeholders to improve the West End has paid off in a big way. In 2011, the combined value of all West End properties was estimated at $1,662,769,570. The growth of property values represents an increase of 113 per cent. 
These changes are visible on the values of recently sold properties. Today, West End properties command prices nearly on par with properties with similar features in other areas of the city. Likewise, the Annual Rental Value (ARV) of commercial properties increased a total of 29 per cent to $6,977,200 from 2002 to 2010. These gains in ARV and property values ultimately translate into revenue for the city in the form of taxes.
Not surprisingly, the positive trends are encouraging further investment in the area. Nearly 20 new housing developments have been proposed in the West End area. Some examples include the award-winning condominiums BGBX and the newly-constructed University of Winnipeg student housing. These new developments represent millions of dollars of investment.
The investments made in the West End is, dollar per dollar, paying off in meaningful ways. Stakeholders such as residents, government authorities, the business community, not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions are seeing their efforts to improve the West End bring about measurable improvements. However, while much has been achieved, stakeholders must continue to pool their resources and work together. The past decade has proved that only through collaboration and collective efforts can needed changes be achieved and maintained.
(Fernando Velarde Trejo is the planning and project assistant for the West End BIZ.)