“Pocket suites” — comfort, safety for low-income Winnipeggers

A year ago, Paul McNeil told REALTORS® that pocket suites offered the best alternative to rooming houses in Winnipeg’s inner city.

McNeil, the regional vice-president of ND LEA Inc. and a land-use planner, said the promotion of pocket suites as infill housing was a personal crusade, one he firmly believed would benefit the inner city and its lower-income residents.

The 325-square-foot pocket suites are designed to accommodate one individual and are smaller than an apartment, but offer more privacy and other features not available in a typical rooming house, such as an individual bathroom and a kitchen unit. Each suite also includes furnishings. 

 In 2005, the three levels of government provided over $1 million to help fund pocket suite buildings on four vacant lots donated by the city of Winnipeg. The pilot project was developed by S.A.M. (Properties) Inc. in collaboration with several community organizations. 

The project has just been completed and officially opened to receive tenants.

The new pocket suites, with a total of 32 units, are located at 592 Ross Ave. and 156 Kate St. in the Centennial neighbourhood and at 372 and 409 Maryland St. in the Spence neighbourhood.

“Having a safe, comfortable home is one of the basics of human security,” said Mayor Same Katz.  “This housing project will provide individuals with a more affordable and dignified place to live, and is ideally suited to serve the needs of low-income residents.”

To keep the rents affordable for low-income households, the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation is providing rent supplement assistance for 16 of the units. The supplement subsidizes the difference between the approved market-rental rate charged by the landlord and the rent-geared-to-income paid by the tenant.

While discussing the pilot project, McNeil said the plan was for rents to be in the range of $355 per month for tenants earning the minimum wage which at the time was $12,000 a year.

“This exciting and innovative project will create a type of rental accommodation that offers individuals an alternative to substandard rooming houses, a better quality option,” said Christine Melnick, Manitoba Minister of Family Services and Housing. “Not only will these community-designed pocket suites provide dignified accommodation, all main floor units are barrier free for easy access and four of the new suites will be fully accessible for people with mobility limitations.”

The Spence Neighbourhood Association and the Centennial Residents group have also helped develop the plans.  

Total cost of the project is estimated at $1.6 million. Support includes $980,000 from the governments of Canada and Manitoba under the cost-shared Canada-Manitoba Affordable Housing Initiative; $51,000 from the city based on the assessed value of the property and associated demolition costs; and $16,000 from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in proposal development funding.  

The balance of the funds are coming from private financing.

The Ross Avenue and Kate Street projects represent the WHHI’s first move into a new target neighbourhood — the Centennial neighbourhood — which is bounded on the North by Logan Avenue, and on the south by William Avenue. 

Although Centennial was identified as a priority for new housing as far back as 2000, previous WHHI efforts were concentrated in the Spence, West Broadway, William Whyte and North Point Douglas neighbourhoods. 

Since 2000, the WHHI partnership, 

established by the city, provincial and federal governments, has committed over $78 million to repair, rehabilitate or construct over 3,000 units of housing, as well as assist the homeless or those at risk of being homeless.