The opening of McFeetor’s Hall in 2009 signified a new era in student housing for the University of Winnipeg. No longer an anomaly, the idea of students living downtown or on campus now has a strong core cemented in the $18 million project.
Its effects are being felt throughout Winnipeg’s downtown community, most notably by a new barrage of developers looking to provide affordable housing for students.
One of these developers is Sal Infantino, owner of X-Cues Billiards and Café at 551 Sargent Ave. Initially investing in parking spaces for his patrons, Infantino turned his attention to the student housing market after acquiring a few homes beside his café.
The businessman believes he can help revitalize the neighbourhood by turning his three properties into affordable housing.
“Because of the university nearby, I’m starting to go after more student housing,” Infantino said. “A (positive) two-way thing happened because I tore down a decrepit home and am fixing up the block to help the whole corner.”
Receiving support from the U of W’s housing department doesn’t hurt either.
Infantino and other developers have been in contact with the university, which has been providing advice and spreading word to students about new accommodations.
“If people ask us questions about how to develop housing, part of our mandate is to help community outreach so we’d be willing to talk to people,” said Sherri Pchajek, manager of campus living at the university.
Although private developments are not officially affiliated with the U of W, Infantino will enforce rules similar to those for students living in campus housing. That includes curfews and only allowing students to live in the building.
Infantino says his current occupants don’t mind the rules, favouring an external arbitrator to settle down some of the more rowdy tenants.
Sam Hanson, co-director of student living for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, agrees these developments are beneficial to the student experience.
“More affordable housing in the area will positively affect the university,” said Hanson. “There are large wait-lists for the current housing situation.”
Meanwhile, land developers from British Columbia are looking to build residences across the street from Infantino, which he believes will be beneficial to the university’s attempt at revitalizing the downtown core.
He hopes others will follow suit, but has faced difficulty in receiving funding for his projects.
“The big problem I’ve fallen up against is that I’m out of every catchment area for funding and any I did find was exempt from student housing,” he explained. “I want to make the area vibrant; if I can throw 25 students on the corner here it would be a great addition to the street.”
Falling under the jurisdiction of the West End BIZ, he fails to receive major grants awarded to developers in the downtown or West Broadway neighbourhoods. The downtown has more funding for housing, whereas the West End BIZ provides more grants for small things like storefront development.
Despite the lack of funding, Infantino hopes to contribute to the university’s safety and appeal.
“When I’m done this project it’ll be a completely lit up corner,” he said. “You’ll come around the corner and it’ll be like daylight at night. Crooks don’t like two things - traffic and light.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2011)