Tentative sale worries Lions Place residents

The tentative sale of Lions Place, a large non-profit housing complex near downtown Winnipeg has left some seniors who live there shocked and frustrated.

Lions Housing Centres accepted an offer made by an unnamed Alberta-based firm which put in a bid to buy the 287-unit building.

While the sale hasn’t been finalized, residents are concerned the potential deal could result in rent increases.

Gerald Brown, 85, has called Lions Place home for the past eight years.

On Friday he and other residents received a notice of entry letter indicating management would be entering people’s units for a quick inspection but that’s not all.

At the bottom of the letter, tenants were told Lions Housing Centres has accepted an offer from a firm with its head offices in Alberta to purchase the complex.

“It’s frustrating,” Brown said. “The people in the building have been bombarding me all weekend about what are we going to do, where are we going to go.”

Lions Housing Centres isn’t naming the firm nor has it indicated residents will have to find another location to live.

Gilles Verrier, executive director of Lions Housing Centres, confirmed to CTV News Winnipeg it’s accepted an offer and if the buyer is satisfied after a review, the sale could be completed by the end of January.

Residents were informed back in July the building was being put up for sale and have been calling on the Manitoba government to intervene.

“We are working to ensure that the seniors at Lions Place continue to pay the same rent that they’re doing right now,” Rochelle Squires, Families Minister, told reporters following question period in the Manitoba Legislature.

Squires didn’t say exactly how she plans to do that.

Verrier questioned what power the government has to freeze rents at the building, suggesting it would set a precedent for other rental buildings.

Some Lions Place residents are calling for a five-year moratorium on any increases.

“We certainly understand that there is a lot of uncertainty and with that uncertainty comes a lot of anxiety for the seniors,” Squires said. “And for that, I am greatly troubled and very concerned about.”

Verrier said Lions Housing Centres has spent $3.6 million upgrading the building over the past three years and can no longer afford to own it.

He said at $844 per month rents have remained too low for too long to achieve the long-term viability of the building.

Denis Corneau moved in two months ago. While he doesn’t want to pay more he understands rents may have to be increased eventually.

“I think it’s good,” Corneau said. “I think it’s overdue.”

Brown said people aren’t opposed to a smaller rent hike but with many low to moderate-income renters and very little information on the potential buyer and their plans for the complex, he said residents are fearing the worst.

“There’s 250 people here,” Brown said. “If they’re turned out by a new owner who comes in and says we’re going to clear the place and renovate it and then you can come back at whatever the rent will be these people aren’t going to have any place to go.”

Lions Housing Centres said Lions Place requires millions of dollars over the next three years to replace windows, renovate suites from their 37-year-old condition and replace heat pumps.

The current owners also say there are plumbing, mechanical and roofing issues.

Squires said it’s unfortunate Lions Housing Centres didn’t approach the province before making decisions about the future of Lions Place which previously had an operating agreement with the federal and provincial governments.

Lions Housing Centres said it hasn’t been included in any discussions.

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