60th HOP home nearing completion

 by Connie Adair 

The Housing Opportunity Partnership (HOP), a not-for-profit inner-city housing revitalization initiative started by WREB in 1995, buys rundown houses, renovates them and sells them to new owners. 

“To date, we have completed nearly 60 homes, sold over 50 and invested well over $3 million in the West End neighbourhood of Winnipeg,” said Peter Squire, HOP vice-president and WREB’s director of public affairs. “The average selling price in this MLS® area has gone from the low $20,000s when we started to just under $60,000.” 

Last year, HOP houses sold for between $82,900 and $89,900. 

The project was modeled after the Columbus Housing Partnership in the United States, after 1995 WREB president Cliff Palmer heard about the program and was determined to make a housing initiative work in Winnipeg, said Squire. 

HOP received its first funding of $129,000 in 1997. It was interest earned from money deposited in real estate broker trust accounts that the Manitoba Securities Commission (MSC) collects. The WREB-sponsored HOP program has received close to $2 million in funding from private and public sources, as well as all three levels of government, providing support through the Affordable Housing Initiative. 

Last year, HOP received $25,000 of funding from the MSC as part of a celebration when it completed 50 homes. 

Squire said HOP hopes to acquire its 60th home this spring. 

Proceeds from house sales go to acquiring and renovating more homes, and supporting the program’s two contract people, an administrative/bookkeeper and project manager John Hunsberger, a former REALTOR®. 

Squire said HOP purposely kept administration to a minimum so money could be spent on acquiring and renovating homes. 

HOP chose the West End neighbourhood, an area that has faced challenges with older housing that was allowed to become rundown and where there are lots of rooming houses, he said. It was also chosen for its 50-50 mix of rental and ownership. 

HOP was founded in the belief that homeownership brings stability to a neighbourhood and that homeowners want their investment to appreciate over time. 

“The more homeowners in an area, the greater likelihood of neighbourhood rejuvenation, as all homeowners have a monetary incentive in protecting the equity in their home,” according to the HOP website, www.hopwinnipeg.com. “HOP intentionally chooses streets that already have a homeownership base so that new homeowners have existing homeowners with similar aspirations to emulate.”  

The West End is close to the University of Winnipeg, the Health Sciences Centre and a research centre. However, the area has a stigma. In the 1960s and ’70s, housing became so affordable that people began to move to the suburbs, leaving downtown areas with more rental properties than home ownership. Gangs and prostitution became a problem, and are still ongoing concerns. 

However, said Squire, thanks to the HOP program, that is changing.

The area has a rich heritage — a mix of ethnic groups, and a variety of shops and restaurants. 

“It’s rallying back. There’s an active neighbourhood association taking back streets,” he said. “There is a growing amount of infill projects, as well as rehab homes like those built by HOP.” 

HOP has been instrumental in turning the area around, bringing housing stock back to the community, he added. “It’s a local success story.” 

It has also been a catalyst for other housing groups in other parts of the city. 

In addition to providing affordable housing, available to buyers with a maximum $46,000 income, there is also down-payment assistance from the government. If the house is priced at $60,000 or less, there is a 15 per cent down payment grant. For houses priced from $60,000 to $90,000, the grant is 10 per cent. 

“It’s a huge incentive to buyers,” Squire said. 

HOP home buyers range from couples to single males and females, to families, the preferred program buyer. 

In addition to qualifying for the income requirement, buyers also have to agree to live in the home, rather than rent it out. HOP is geared to homeownership, Squire said. 

Buyers get a home that’s like new on the inside, with an open-concept contemporary layout. A typical HOP home may have a kitchen open to the dining room with a bulkhead that includes pot lights over a peninsula and bar top. There are often refinished hardwood floors. 

Other improvements include new drywall, floor tiles, fixtures and ceramic tub surrounds. 

Exterior improvements are also made as needed. 

If the homeowner sells the house at a profit, he is required to pay back grants, on a sliding scale, but most buyers are motivated to keep their homes, Squires added. 

“We’re building a club, where if someone buys a home, we pledge to people that we will bring in new owners and improve the street and homeowner pride.” 

Squire said REALTORS® have been invaluable in the success of the program because they are the neighbourhood experts. 

HOP has been rewarding for the WREB and the REALTORS® involved, and has elevated the board’s status in the community, he added. 

However, the HOP program is now a victim of its own success. As prices go up, it costs more to buy houses (at one time available for $10,000 to $15,000 and now for $35,000 to $40,000), and the finished product becomes more expensive. 

Once HOP has done its part in the West End, it plans to move on, hoping to offer its expertise to revitalize another neighbourhood. 

It also hopes to continue as a catalyst for housing initiatives across the country.  

(Reprinted with permission from REM magazine.)