Note: This story originally appeared in the May 5, 2021 edition of The Metro.
By Dylon Martin
New homes in mature communities like West Broadway are a big topic and have been for some time.
All the way back in December 2016, Winnipeg Council’s Property and Development Committee directed the City’s civil service to start work on a strategy for infill – that is new homes in old neighbourhoods. After a long consultation process, that happened sporadically in starts and pauses, Council may finally end up voting on infill guidelines this year.
West Broadway is one of the neighbourhoods to be covered under the new guidelines. According to building permit data from the City, 412 housing units were created since 2010 in the neighbourhood while 34 were lost. This amounts to a net of 378 new homes created since 2010 at a rate of about 34 per year. Walking in West Broadway, particularly along the Sherbrook and Maryland streets, one notices a few new mixed-use and multifamily residential buildings.
Having abundant, multi-family rental homes is an important part of West Broadway’s history. The neighbourhood is one of several in central Winnipeg known for its shoebox apartments, low to mid-rise old brick buildings built in the early 20th century. Over the years, these buildings have aged into affordable housing stock for moderate income renters and are under rent regulation. Sadly, fires and natural deterioration are reducing the number of these buildings. These shoebox apartments cannot be rebuilt under current land-use and zoning rules, such as minimum parking requirements, without major variances.
There are many challenges when rental homes are scarce. In 2010, Winnipeg’s rental vacancy rate fell to a mere 0.8 per cent. That was then the rate lowest in Canada according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. In the early 2010s, this tight rental market made it very hard for tenants seeking to move or those with limited rental history. Since then, Winnipeg’s vacancy rate has improved alongside multifamily construction, reaching 3.1 per cent in 2019.
Much of the proposed draft guidelines deal with issues, like lot splits on gravel backlanes, not relevant to West Broadway. The guidelines provide some incentives to keep on-site trees in exchange for fewer required parking spaces and discuss conditions for relaxing parking requirements for low-rise apartments. They do not broadly cut parking requirements, though.
Keeping a steady supply of market rental, alongside taking advantage of federal funding for social and affordable housing, is crucial. To learn more about the Winnipeg Infill Strategy, visit www.winnipeg.ca/InfillStrategy or email the Infill Project Team at Infill@Winnipeg.ca.