Winnipeg’s Rooming Houses

by Andrew Kaufman and Jino Distasio
Institute of Urban Studies, The University of Winnipeg & 
The Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership
with support from the 
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
In 2002, the Institute of Urban Studies released Out of the Long Dark Hallway: Voices from Winnipeg’s Rooming Houses, an extensive exploration of rooming houses within Winnipeg’s West Broadway, Spence, and Osborne Village neighbourhoods. This 2014 report revisits that work by documenting the course of rooming houses over the past twelve years in two neighbourhoods.

Rooming houses are an important part Winnipeg’s affordable housing market but they are vanishing from the inner-city neighbourhoods they once dominated.

Through the 1990s, rooming houses disappeared from the McMillan and Osborne Village neighbourhoods. Now Spence and West Broadway are experiencing similar declines in the number of rooming houses.

From 2002 to 2014 there was a 40% decrease in confirmed rooming houses in the Spence Neighbourhood, and from 1995 to 2014, a 63% decrease was observed in West Broadway.

For the purpose of this study, the Institute of Urban Studies defines rooming houses as houses with several rented rooms where tenants share a common bathroom and/or other amenities (e.g. kitchen or common rooms).

Rooming houses are far from perfect. Stories of absentee landlords, slum conditions, violent crimes, drug dependency, prostitution, and bed bugs dominate the conventional conversation about this housing type. In the past, neighbourhood renewal plans have placed an emphasis on reducing or eliminating rooming houses while increasing single-family home ownership.

Rooming houses have historically filled an important void in the rental market by offering basic accommodation to young people seeking affordable housing, those retiring, and individuals needing a place to reside in their final years.

Rooming houses need to be included in broader Canadian policy discussions on precarious housing, homelessness, neighbourhood revitalization, and neighbourhood change.