Lions Place residents speak out about potential privatization of home

For the roughly 300 residents at Lions Place, 610 Portage Ave. isn’t just their address — it’s a way of life.

That way of life, they say, is threatened by the Lions Club of Winnipeg’s decision to put the home, which has stood on the south side of Portage Ave. for 39 years, up for sale.

“Watching the people in the auditorium that day reminded me of deer in the headlights,” says 85-year-old resident and Seniors Action Committee Chairperson, Gerald Brown.

That day was July 27.

Brown says that’s when management informed residents they could no longer afford to maintain the home and would be looking for a private-sector buyer.

“What’s going to happen to us? Where are we going to go?,” He said the residents exclaimed to one another after the presentation.

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The committee is concerned the relatively affordable rent at Lions Place — $844 per month for a one-bedroom and $1,064 per month for a two-bedroom — would be increased out of their budget by new ownership.

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“We have people on fixed incomes, people on rent assist… seniors who are on pensions only.”

The committee was formed as an offshoot of the larger Lions Place Residents Council after the announcement.

Council President Rene Jamieson says the building has become a vibrant community for seniors over the years.

“Each floor of Lions Place is a street,” she explains. “People keep an eye out for one another.”

She told the stories of several former residents — her friends — who’ve recently moved out and struggled to recapture that element of support in their lives.

“One of these days, you’re going to need one of these damn things,” she told assembled reporters as she slapped her walker. “You’re going to be near doctors — supports coming in to help you do things that are easy (for you right now).”

“We have people volunteering in the gym, the gardens, the conservatory,” Brown says. “It’s been there for almost 40 years, it’s priceless.”

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The 287-unit home saw its federal and provincial funding dry up in 2018 after a 35-year operating agreement expired.

Brown says management has been forthcoming ever since the initial announcement to residents earlier this year.

“This must be tugging at their heartstrings to realize they can’t continue to manage this building,” he says, noting there have been at least a half-dozen tours by prospective buyers in recent weeks.

But before any of those potential buyers put pen to paper on a sale, the committee, the Right to Housing Coalition and other non-profit housing organizations are hoping to come together on an agreement that would see another non-profit group take over from the Lions Club of Winnipeg.

But Shauna MacKinnon of the Right to Housing Coalition says it’ll require the help of all three levels of government.

“This means expanding the supply of non-profit housing, with subsidies for ongoing operations to ensure they’re maintained and affordable, with rents geared to income.”

The group sent a letter to Manitoba Minister of Families Rochelle Squires last week asking to meet.

“This is a time-sensitive issue as (Lions Place) is presently listed with a commercial real estate agent and could be sold at any time,” the letter reads.

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Our government is aware of the concerns raised by Lions Place,” a spokesperson tells Global News. “Manitoba Housing does not own the building and will be meeting with the seniors action committee to address their concerns.

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