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Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires, pictured in 2017, when she was environment minister. The Manitoba government is promising new money to keep rents low at private non-profit housing complexes.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is promising new money to keep rents low at private non-profit housing complexes, following a controversy at one facility recently in Winnipeg.

The province is going to offer some private operators either rent supplements or grants for capital work. The money is to be available to non-profits that are close to the end of operating/management agreements with the province.

“We didn’t want to have any more agreements that were expiring or close to expiring, and then having not a clear plan or a path forward,” Families Minister Rochelle Squires said Wednesday.

The move follows the sale in February of Lions Place, a 287-unit complex, to a private, for-profit Calgary-based company.

Lions Place had previously been in an agreement with the province under a program that helps operators with mortgages and other costs. In exchange, the operators are required to keep rents low, often by gearing rent to a tenant’s income.

That agreement expired a few years ago, and the non-profit owners later put the facility up for sale, citing the need for expensive renovations.

The sale raised concerns among residents that rents would rise sharply. The provincial government stepped in January and provided the new owner with $1.2-million in subsidies to freeze rents for two years.

The government’s new proposal is aimed at the estimated 162 non-profit housing operators — controlling roughly 8,000 units — whose operating/management agreements are set to expire within the next five years.

The Progressive Conservative government is putting up $1.4-million this fiscal year as a first move, to deal with operators whose agreements are expiring in very near future, Squires said.

“The first step is going to be putting out a call to them, to let us know when you’re coming off of (an) agreement, what some of your deferred capital requirements are, and what you would be looking at to ensure that the affordable rents are maintained,” Squires said.

The Opposition New Democrats said the money is welcome, but fails to address cuts in social housing since the Tories took office in 2016. The government sold a 300-unit, 21-storey public-housing highrise in 2017, two years after a water main rupture forced tenants to leave. The government said at the time privatizing was a better option than repairing.

“The problem is that there’s such little social housing stock,” NDP families critic Nahanni Fontaine said.

The government’s new initiative seems to be only short-term and announced with an election looming in October, Fontaine added.

“What happens after these dollars run out? There’s no clear indication on whether or not they’re going to continue to invest and provide those dollars.”

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