One house at a time

In­fill hous­ing group re­claims prop­er­ties, builds com­mu­nites

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Todd Lewys

AS a real­tor who spe­cial­izes in Win­nipeg’s West End, Frank Zap­pia knows the area in­tim- ately.

So when a land­lord (one of the good ones in the area) told him he was tired of looking at a derelict, an­cient two­s­torey home next to his well-kept rental prop­erty on Toronto Street, Zap­pia sim­ply shrugged his shoul­ders.

The re­al­ity was there was lit­tle any­one could do. The house had been that way for years, and likely would be for some time. That is, un­til 652 Toronto went up in flames in Fe­bru­ary 2009.

With the home of­fi­cially classified as a burnt-out prop­erty, Zap­pia and his col­leagues at Win­nipeg’s Hous­ing Op­por­tu­nity Part­ner­ship (HOP) sprang into action.

To­gether with the Win­nipeg Hous­ing and Home­less Ini­tia­tive (WHHI) and the Man­i­toba Se­cu­ri­ties Com­mis­sion, the prop­erty was pur­chased and the home lev­elled. Now, a new 1,200-square­foot, two-storey in­fill home sits on a lot that was once an eye­sore.

The project rep­re­sents HOP’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to re­vi­tal­ize not only Toronto Street — where a to­tal of 13 homes have been ei­ther ren­o­vated or built a to­tal of 13 homes in re­cent years, with two more to come — but other streets in the area.

The think­ing be­hind the ren­o­va­tions and in­fill projects is to re­store pride of home own­er­ship among lo­cal res­i­dents, says HOP’s pres­i­dent, Lori Thorstein­son.

“It’s had a huge im­pact,” she says. “Ren­o­vat­ing homes en­cour­ages peo­ple to im­prove their neigh­bour­hood and in­creases pride of own­er­ship among not only home­own­ers, but rental-prop­erty own­ers.

“Most im­por­tantly, we’re still an af­ford­able-hous­ing ini­tia­tive. Our goal is to pro­vide area res­i­dents with good, solid homes they can be proud to own.”

Zap­pia says the un­der­stated pro­gram — HOP tries to do things with as lit­tle fan­fare as pos­si­ble — is qui­etly work­ing won­ders.

“It’s be­come a pil­lar to the area. “It’s sparked ren­o­va­tions among home­own­ers who’ve taken note of HOP’s ren­o­vated and in­fill houses. It’s es­sen­tial that it con­tin­ues on to main­tain loy­alty in the neigh­bour­hood. Restor­ing pride of own­er­ship to an area can re­ally spark the trans­for­ma­tion of a neigh­bour­hood.”

Hav­ing ac­cess to af­ford­able, qual­ity hous­ing can also trans­form lives.

Take the new res­i­dents of 652 Toronto, Tse­hay Tesse­faye and her daugh­ter, Se­meret Araya. Res­i­dents of the area, they had been rent­ing since im­mi­grat­ing to Canada. Af­ter miss­ing out on one HOP home, they were elated when Zap­pia told them that they’d qual­i­fied for this one.

“They were so happy to have a home,” he says. “Now that they’re in the home, they’re thrilled to have be­come home­own­ers. They love the home, and take a lot of pride in own­ing it.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, their new ac­qui­si­tion has sparked a chain re­ac­tion of in­ter­est among friends.

“Our friends are now in­ter­ested in how they can get a home like this,” says Tesse­faye. “We just love that it comes with ap­pli­ances and is so low-main­te­nance. We’re very happy in ev­ery way with the home.”

Zap­pia adds that an­other HOP prop­erty at 720 Toronto is now also oc­cu­pied by some very grate­ful home­own­ers.

“They’ve been there just over a month — they’re orig­i­nally from Burma, where they spent time in a refugee camp in Thai­land,” he says.

“This is a very big deal for them; they just love it. It’s been an un­be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m so ex­cited about it, and I’m just the agent. This is what re­ally makes my job worth­while.”

HOP’s for­mer pres­i­dent, Peter Squire, says the street has un­der­gone a real trans­for­ma­tion for the bet­ter over the last decade. How­ever, with ris­ing ac­qui­si­tion prices and construction costs, HOP is go­ing to be in­creas­ingly chal­lenged to keep the projects com­ing.

“We’re kind of a vic­tim of our own suc­cess,” he says. “We started sell­ing homes at $59,000 back then. This home sold for $129,000.

“In the fu­ture, we’re go­ing to have to pay more to ac­quire prop­er­ties, and to build the homes. That just means we’re go­ing to have to bide out time and be more strate­gic about what projects we un­der­take.”

That com­mit­ment is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to con­tin­u­ing the res­ur­rec­tion of streets like Toronto and oth­ers in the area, says Zap­pia, adding that more infills are com­ing to Toronto, and two more to McGee Street.

“Again, it’s such an es­sen­tial thing for the neigh­bour­hood. If we don’t keep on do­ing it, there’s the dan­ger of other in­vestors out­bid­ding us and turn­ing homes into slums. We can’t al­low that to hap­pen.”

Thorstein­son says more in­fill homes — which come with a 10-year own­er­ship com­mit­ment — will be go­ing up in the com­ing years, as op­posed to ren­o­va­tions.

“In the past, we looked at a lot of smaller two-bed­room bun­ga­lows and tried all kinds of de­signs to save the homes, but that just didn’t work for fam­i­lies. That’s why we got into do­ing in­fill homes. It just makes more sense to build a new two-storey home that fits the area, to cre­ate a home for buy­ers who are good, hard-work­ing peo­ple with the de­sire to own a home.”

For the time be­ing, HOP and other like-minded or­ga­ni­za­tions will con­tinue to do what they can to breath new life into the city’s west end.

“We’re now tar­get­ing the Daniel Mac- in­trye and St. Matthews ar­eas, which in­cor­po­rate streets from Home Street to Agnes Street,” Zap­pia says. “So far, Home and Sim­coe have done well, now we’re tar­get­ing Toronto and Vic­tor. Our goal is to make progress one house at a time.”

JOE BRYKSA / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

From left: HOP pres­i­dent Lori Thorstein­son, home­owner Tse­hay Tesse­faye, and past pres­i­dent Peter Squire at HOP home at 652 Toronto St.

MIKE DEAL / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Fire­fight­ers bat­tle the blaze that de­stroyed the pre­vi­ous home at 652 Toronto St.

Be­low: the new kitchen.

Real­tor Frank Zap­pia has seen HOP breathe new life into a num­ber of West

End homes.

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