Defining Transformation: Manitoba’s Social Housing Sector is Abuzz with Ideas

Jul 7, 2020 | Sector Growth News

The National Housing Strategy has been the catalyst for many new conversations, with promised, much-needed funding and lofty goals to cut chronic homelessness by 50 % and remove 530,000 families from housing need, it purports to transform the face of housing in Canada—albeit for the better. But what does change look like, and more importantly, how do we begin to shape a sustainable, inclusive social housing sector while navigating our own provincial realities?

These are the questions the MNPHA sought to address in its virtual panel discussion Social Housing Transformation in Manitoba on June 26. Representing over 100 non-profit housing providers who collectively own and manage more than 24,000 affordable homes, the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association (MNPHA) led the conversation by focusing on core issues impacting non-profit housing providers in the province: evolving relationships with government, new financial and funding models, and partnerships and collaboration.

  • Sarah Cooper, Associate Professor of City Planning at the University of Manitoba, moderated a lively discussion with leaders in the social housing sector.
  • Rod Porter, A/Director of Portfolio Management, Manitoba Housing (TBC) 
  • Stéphan Corriveau, ED of the Community Housing Transformation Centre 
  • Laurie Socha, General Manager of SAM Management and President of MNPHA 
  • Menno Peters, MLP Housing Solutions Inc. 
The Future of Social Housing

The Centre’s Executive Director, Stéphan Corriveau, presented a well-balanced introduction by reiterating the need for a collective approach to the housing market. The perfect example? CMHC’s insurance program, and a flurry of municipal, provincial and federal programs partnered to support home ownership through subsidies and tax breaks⁠—a collaboration that ultimately bolstered and made home ownership accessible to hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

“Sadly, the one segment of the housing market that saw a decrease of collective support from the late ’90s until now is the social and community housing sector. My hope and ambition are that, thanks to the right combination of good public policies and a proactive, efficient, and audacious community housing sector, we can reverse the trend and make sure everyone living on this piece of land has access to proper dwelling at a reasonable price.”

A sentiment echoed by Laurie Socha, General Manager of SAM Management and President of MNPHA, who expressed the need for more sector collaboration, and less government dependence, stating, “It’s hard to do non-profit housing based solely on budget provided. I think our sector needs to collaborate—to break down the silos and start working as a sector and be heard as a sector. We want to make sure not to wait for the government to tell us what to do—we need to be more proactive.”

If Covid-19 showed us anything is that previously denied resources were readily available: during the height of the pandemic, hotels, motels and empty commercial buildings were converted into temporary housing for the homeless. While several municipalities are planning to acquire these buildings, and turn them into permanent housing, others are gearing up to throw thousands of vulnerable individuals onto the streets.

“If there’s anything positive about the pandemic, we have now seen that we are very underfunded in our seniors’ housing, for example. Most of us already knew that, but now it has become front-page news,” commented Menno Peters, MLP Housing Solutions Inc. and past president of MNPHA.

Which raises further questions on planning the unplannable: how does the sector pave the way for a sustainable, nuanced transformation while remaining adaptable?

“If we view the transformation for the social housing sector in Manitoba as an opportunity, to take the responsibility and run with it, and create more opportunities for tenants, the support for that will be there through government even if we can’t define it yet. It might look different, since there are different ways to deliver social housing. So my expectation and vision for the sector is to start thinking proactively; try to be flexible, and anticipate what’s going to happen, and be ready to respond to opportunities that the provincial and federal government have,” opined Rod Porter, A/Director of Portfolio Management, Manitoba Housing.

Favouring aggressive community and social housing policies, the panel participants encouraged all sector partners to think beyond the next 5 years and envision how we can collectively transform the social housing sector, in the next 20 or 30 years. To advance this collaborative vision, the MNPHA will be hosting related discussions over the next year.

To hear the entire discussion, we invite you to watch the discussion panel on the MNPHA’s website.

A prosperous, thriving housing sector in four points

As part of MNHPA’s panel, the Centre’s Executive Director highlighted key elements for a sector growth strategy in Manitoba

  1. Update the Organizational and Administrative Levels

Change comes with an honest assessment of our shortfalls: most of our organisations are stuck in the 20th century when it comes to procedures, tools and technology. We must modernize and adopt appropriate tools, while increasing training and computerizing resources.

  1. Be More Aggressive and Growth–Oriented

We’ve built 600,000 social housing units in 30 years until 1995. We’ve been at a standstill ever since. We must use our assets collectively: we own a considerable number of units and patches of land—we must learn to leverage our collective power.

  1. Get Loud

The housing crisis is real: the number of households having to commit 30 %, 50 %, 80 % of their income just to have a roof over their head is increasing. We must push stronger for serious policy adjustments and reverse this dangerous trend. This starts with positioning ourselves as a solution to the crisis, not charities ran by good doers.

  1. Change the Business Model

By definition, no business can thrive if it only caters to the very poor and high-level support sectors of society. We must include medium-income households in our initiatives and advocacy. There are many ways to do this: using tools such as Land Trusts, Service Centres, Financial Pools, while articulating and developing partnerships—including financial and organisational ones between us—at a larger scale.

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