50th HOP home just completed in the West End: program stimulates neighbourhood revitalization

“You can only hope you’ll be successful,” said Cliff Palmer at the ceremony celebrating the completion of the 50th Housing Opportunity Partnership home at 530 Langside St. in the city’s West End.

It was Palmer, a former president of the Winnipeg Real Estate Board, who founded the local version of HOP after hearing about a similar highly-successful program in Cleveland, Ohio in 1994.

It took a few years for the program to get underway in Winnipeg, but by 1998 HOP was purchasing, renovating and then selling homes to modest-income Winnipeggers.

“I always felt Winnipeg was a good match for the program,” said Palmer. “We have an older housing stock and a large core area.

“I’m just delighted to see where it is has gone and where it is going.”

Tom Yauk, the president of HOP, said the program has grown from a modest $25,000 stake provided by the WREB to investing over $3 million in the West End.

Yauk said HOP provides an example of how government and the private sector can work together to revitalize Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

“I think we’ve had a remarkable response from government,” he said.

The first stage of getting the program underway involved getting the Manitoba Securities Commission to allow the use of interest from money deposited in real estate broker trust accounts collected by the commission. 

“We saw it as a way to make real estate money work for the community,” said Palmer, who was the first president of HOP.

Then the three levels of government kicked in $500,000 through the Winnipeg Development Agreement.

HOP also receives support from the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative for “market gap funding” for each newly-acquired home.

It took a while to convince governments to come on board, added Yauk, but once they did they have been enthusiastic, especially after witnessing the transformation of formerly deteriorating neighbourhoods.

“If you drove around here (the West End) in 1997 or 1998 and then looked at what is here today, you see quite a difference,” said Yauk.

HOP homes act as catalysts in the neighbourhood, prompting local homeowners to improve their properties.

“What happens when programs such as HOP move in is that people once again begin to feel safe and they invest in their homes,” earlier said Beth Hughes, the person charged with getting the Columbus, Ohio program on track. “You only need a few homes on a block (undergoing improvements) to really get the ball rolling.”

“We are a component of improvements in the neighbourhood,” added Yauk.

HOP has specifically targeted the West End and certain blocks and streets for its revitalization efforts.

And, the difference is reflected in the appreciation of home values in the neighbourhood. 

Peter Squire, the public relations director for the WREB, said the value of homes in the West End where HOP has invested has gone up nearly 100 per cent.

In 2004, HOP homes have sold between $72,500 to $84,900 which is nearly twice the average selling price for the Multiple Listing Service® in the area. The Langside house is listed on MLS® for $79,900.

Since 1998, 55 HOP homes have been acquired with 41 sold, one for sale and 13 under renovation. The proceeds from the sales are put back into acquiring and reclaiming more homes and the administration of the program.

Yauk said administration costs are kept down by using a small office staff — only two — and relying upon volunteers.

HOP has actually expanded beyond its former real estate industry roots to encompass volunteers from many different walks of life. The volunteers include bankers, real estate specialists, and other people familiar with the housing industry such as individuals with a knowledge of city planning.

“The issue is not just taking a home and renovating it, we actually are involved in a redesign of the homes we purchase,” said Yauk. “Significant attention is placed on the design. We want to make the homes open, fresh and fluid.”

The 1,543-square-foot, two-storey, four-bedroom home on Langside was redesigned to create areas that convey spaciousness. 

HOP is also involved in partnerships with other organizations involved in neighbourhood revitalization. For example, right next door to the HOP home on Langside is a home under renovation by Lazarus House, a community-based group. Another partner is the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

While HOP concentrates entirely on homeownership, other groups may also include rental property improvements in their mandates.

HOP is the only non-profit group in the area involved solely in homeownership. “We will rise and fall on the basis of that objective,” said Yauk. “The program has a simplicity about it.”