By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A northern Manitoba First Nation has partnered with the federal government and the province and is embarking on a project that will bring more affordable housing to downtown Winnipeg, and offer affordable housing options to First Nations people living in the city.
A ceremony in Winnipeg on Wednesday Jan.,11, 2023, saw Opaskwayak Cree Nation
(OCN) Chief Sidney Ballantyne join Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and other officials to break ground on a $17.4 million apartment complex project at 380 Young St., just steps from the University of Winnipeg’s (UW) downtown campus.
Once completed, the seven-storey complex, which will be owned and operated by OCN, will be home to 69 “new and affordable” housing units, and OCN said they will lease the units with a “strong focus on serving Indigenous students, young families and elders.”
The complex will feature heated indoor parking, free water and Wi-Fi for all units, and according to OCN, 40% of the rental units will be offered at “highly discounted rates.”
Funding for the project includes $15.6 million from the federal government, through the National Housing Strategy’s National Housing Co-Investment Fund, $1.8 million from OCN, and $105,000 from the province through their Efficiency Manitoba program.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Chief Ballantyne spoke about what the new complex will mean for downtown Winnipeg, but also for OCN, a northern Manitoba First Nations community located about 620 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg near The Pas.
“This building not only allows our Cree Nation to start capitalizing within the real estate market, it will allow us a place in the city to house some of our own citizens who are leaving the north to begin their higher education journeys in the south,” Ballantyne said.
“The lower rent would ease the financial stresses so that our sponsored students can focus on their school work and their career paths, which in turn will allow them to continue to make successful contributions to not only Opaskwayak, but to the entire country.”
Ballantyne said OCN now plans to lease several of the units to First Nations people, because of the affordability of the units, and because of the building’s central location, and proximity to UW, and to major bus routes in the city.
Hussen said on Wednesday that affordable housing for Indigenous people continues to be a “top priority” for the federal government.
“This is our government’s National Housing Strategy in action,”
Hussen said. “Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. By investing in affordable housing here in Winnipeg and across Canada, our government is providing more Canadians with access to affordable and quality homes in vibrant and welcoming communities.
“Thanks to today’s announcement, members of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation will have access to affordable housing while pursuing their educational goals.”
The federal government also said that the complex will “help to address the significant shortage of affordable rental units in the city of Winnipeg.”
Vandal said on Wednesday that he knows the importance of affordable housing in Manitoba and for First Nations citizens, because he said it is a topic that often comes up when he speaks to people across the province.
“For many students, leaving home and getting acquainted to their new environment is half the challenge of beginning the next chapter of their lives,” Vandal said.
“Having a home that is affordable is fundamental in our collective ability to achieve success in other areas of our life.”
Construction on the project is now expected to take approximately
18 months, and should be completed by the summer of 2024.
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.