These women made sure Windsor Hotel residents weren’t left on the streets after closure

When Delia Bighetty, 44, was forced to pack up and move out of the Windsor Hotel, where she’d lived for more than four years, a team of advocates from the North End Community Renewal Corporation sprang into action and helped her find a new place to live.

“It happened suddenly and then boom there they were,” she said.

Bighetty, who is now in a rooming house in North Point Douglas, was among at least 20 long-term residents who had just two weeks to find housing after the deteriorating 120-year-old downtown Winnipeg hotel was shuttered last month under a provincial health hazard order.

Advocates with the renewal corporation’s tenant-landlord co-operation program, which has three staff members and aims to help renters better understand their rights, scrambled to support people who were displaced.

While they were able to help people like Bighetty, they say the situation highlights just how few affordable, low-barrier housing options are available to people in the community who need support.

“You’re dealing with a vulnerable population that is already continually being traumatized, and now we’re just scattering them into the streets,” said Mandolyn Jonasson, an advocate with the tenant-landlord program.

A 3-storey grey brick building is pictured called the Windsor Hotel featuring signs advertising blues music and cold beer.
The Windsor Hotel was shut down earlier this year under a provincial health hazard order, displacing long-term residents. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

“Yes, some people were housed. Yes, some people are not housed. Some people had options for housing that they didn’t think was suitable, and that’s where we’re at.” 

Tenants were paying $400 to $450 a month for a room at the Windsor, Jonasson said. Bighetty told CBC she now pays $600 a month at the rooming house.

Rising rents limit options

Lindsay Schaitel, lead co-ordinator of the tenant-landlord co-operation program, said a single person renting in the private market who receives employment and income assistance may get $600 to $691 for rent, depending on their personal situation.

In 2022, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg was $1,350 per month — a 1.5 per cent increase from the year before, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s latest annual report. During the same period, Winnipeg’s vacancy rate declined from 5.1 to to 2.7 per cent, the report says.

“The rents are going up so much in the private market … those that are on low income can’t afford it,” Schaitel said.

A woman wearing a red a black shirt stands in a room with cleaning supplies in the background.
Lindsay Schaitel is lead co-ordinator of the tenant-landlord program. In addition to helping renters understand their rights, it supports tenants who lose their homes through fires. The program provides basic necessities including cleaning supplies to deal with bedbugs, basic kitchen starter kits and beds. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

Tenants at the Windsor were initially told they had three months to move out, after the property was sold earlier this year, she said. But when the province deemed the building unsafe following an inspection, they were given a week to move out.

When they realized there was no way they would be able to get people housed so quickly, Schaitel’s team pushed for a one-week extension from the province, she said.

“That gave us time to work with our other partners to actually rehouse the majority of the people,” said Schaitel. 

“We were able to, with our funders’ support, put them in a hotel, the Marlborough, for 14 days. That gave them a place to stay that was safe with meals until we could get them permanently rehoused.”

Schaitel said her program was able to help eight of the residents find permanent housing.

A chair, table and mattress and box spring are shown in a room.
A room in the Windsor Hotel is shown. (Submitted by Mandolyn Jonasson)

That’s thanks in large part to Jonasson and her colleague Ashley Buxton, who were given a heads up about the Windsor before the sale went through. They started going there to spend time getting to know residents, in order to help them find new living arrangements.

But it was still a challenge when the time came, Jonasson said.

“When we found out that it was officially sold and that they would be moving … we thought we’d have three months” to help rehouse the tenants, many of whom “were completely not touched into the system — so no ID, no medical card, no birth certificate, no EIA,” she said.

Buxton said the urgency of the situation helped them find places for people fast, but the lack of personal information made it difficult.

“Ultimately I think that was the biggest barrier … was the lack of income everyone had, the lack of IDs,” Buxton said. “Even with the Marlborough, Mandolyn and I had to use our IDs to get these women to stay there.”

Windsor was a community: resident

Their work isn’t finished. Buxton said they’re offering support to the former Windsor residents on an ongoing basis.

Bighetty said Buxton and Jonasson helped her more than anyone else.

A woman wearing a pink Under Armour sweater is pictured in a residential neighourhood.
Delia Bighetty lived at the Windsor Hotel and is now staying in a rooming house in North Point Douglas. (Darin Morash/CBC)

She misses the Windsor because of the community formed by the people living at the hotel.

“It was beautiful,” Bighetty said. “It’s kind of like this rooming house here. I know my neighbours, we all get along. We do have our scuffs but it’s still home, right? Except the Windsor was like a bigger rooming house.”

Still, she now hopes to find a different place to live because she has safety concerns in her new neighbourhood and often finds herself staying elsewhere.

“I still do not want to be here, even though I’m supposed to be,” she said. “I’m couch-surfing.”

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