Old Grace Housing Co-op a great fit for this Winnipeg neighbourhood

Old Grace Housing Co-operative has brought affordable, accessible housing to the heart of the Wolseley neighbourhood.

Phase 1 of the project, on the site of the former Grace Hospital at Arlington Street and Preston Avenue, is made up of 60 one to four-bedroom suites, including 30 affordable units — seven of which are fully accessible. The nearby Phase 2, at the corner of Evanson Street and Preston, features four three-bedroom townhouses — and this entire complex is designed to fit in with the neighbourhood aesthetics. All townhouses are designated as “affordable” — which means the household income must be below provincially-established levels.

It feels great,” says Sandra Hardy, Old Grace’s Chair of the Building Committee and Past President. “It’s been a long haul, so there’s an immense amount of pride on the part of the members that we were able to get this done.”

The Old Grace Housing Co-op model: Unique for Winnipeg

Residents in the common kitchen and dining room at Old Grace Housing Co-operative.

We’re a variable-share, multi-generational co-op, which is a first in Manitoba,” Sandra explained, who previously worked as a provincial deputy minister for Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism. “Thirty of our households pay shares ranging between $80,000 and $112,000, depending on the size of the suite relating to the unsubsidized capital cost.” Share prices for the 34 suites, which were subsidized by a forgivable loan from the Province, range between $16,000 and $28,000.”

“We had to pre-sell 54 suites in order to secure financing. We’re the first co-op in Winnipeg that required this scale of member shares,” Sandra continued. “Typically, previous co-ops had a lot more government funding, so their share prices were much lower. Plus, they would have already had the bulk of their financing in place without needing substantial member shares.”

Bill Dinsdale is the Senior Community Account Manager at Assiniboine Credit Union’s Community Financial Centre, and works with non-profit organizations and non-profit housing. “It’s a real asset for Wolseley and the city. ACU understands the importance of affordable housing and is committed to investing in groups like Old Grace to increase housing options in our community,” Bill said. “That’s why we were eager to be involved.”

ACU was the project’s mortgage financing lender and provided a grant to sponsor development of the common courtyard. Naturally, Bill was thrilled to see all of the Old Grace team’s hard work pay off. “I think Sandra and the board deserve a tremendous round of applause. This was a very challenging project and they did it.”

Old Grace Housing Co-operative bookkeeper Linda Fergus, president and board chair Sandra Hardy and maintenance committee chair Jack Crum in the courtyard at Old Grace Housing Cooperative.

“ACU has been extremely helpful and very creative in terms of helping us with financing,” Sandra said. “It’s part of their principles, but I think on our part we demonstrated a lot of initiative, hard work, creativity and responsibility, so I think it was a good fit.”

In addition, the project achieved LEED Silver designation, as explained by Dennis Cunningham, ACU’s Manager of Environmental Sustainability.

“It is exciting to have financed an innovative housing project like Old Grace. The LEED Silver designation is confirms that the building meets exceptional energy efficiency and environmental targets. The co-op members should be very proud of this achievement, just as ACU is proud to have been a partner in the effort.”

“We hope to assist more of our members in designing and constructing high performance buildings in the future,” Dennis elaborated. “Being able to use the success of Old Grace as an example for others is critical in advancing the green building industry in Manitoba.”

Support from government

As for the land, the province leased that to Old Grace on a 60-year agreement and is also subsidizing the capital costs for 34 suites in the complex.

They contributed $2.8 million to subsidize construction of the affordable suites, so we have a 23-year reporting relationship with the government to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain,” Sandra said.

“If your income level qualifies your household as “affordable,” your shares are, on average, about $70,000 lower than if you’re not.”

Housing in high demand

“Our waiting list is over 300, so I’d say there’s a market gap,” Sandra says. “Interest has continued to grow as houses in Wolseley are now unaffordable for many families. That’s the case for the whole city, and we’re actually a comparatively affordable city. Co-op housing is one way the problem can be addressed, but it requires a lot of effort from a group of volunteers.”

Blair Hamilton, Manitoba Program Manager for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, praised Old Grace for its achievement.

“They’ve created an affordable housing supply which is very important,” Blair said, who consulted the Old Grace board on the project.

They’ve also really innovated in how they’ve structured their co-op to mix people from different income levels and have that reflected in share pricing.

“People who are able to invest in the project at a higher level are doing so, so other people can come along who would otherwise be locked out financially. That’s an innovative approach and it’s of interest to people across the country.”

What makes the co-op model special

As a co-op, Old Grace residents have a real say in their housing.

The co-op model is a great way for people to live independently but also to foster a sense of community,” Blair further explained. “I think that’s what attracted people to Old Grace. This is democracy on an everyday basis, and a more involved way to live.”

Old Grace’s diversity extends beyond financial means.

“We have a range of ages, from young couples with pre-school kids to seniors,” says Sandra. “And we have a number of newcomer households.”

Blair echoes these sentiments and also sees strength in Old Grace’s diversity. “It gives you more resilience in terms of governance structure. You draw people from diverse backgrounds, with different skill sets — that’s an exciting thing.”

Old Grace also worked hard to make sure the housing complex fit Wolseley’s style, as Sandra described. “We planned that from the start and consulted with neighbours. Aside from the inconvenience people put up with during construction, we feel we’ve had a pretty positive response.”

They really wanted to blend into the community,” Bill seconded the sentiment. “I think it turned out beautifully.”

Looking forward, there’s a bright road ahead for Old Grace according to Sandra — and the group will keep their sleeves rolled up with extra projects on the go. “We have additional work planned — signage, engraved paving stones for all the initial residents and major donors.”

About Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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