Finding a good home when you’re a newcomer can be hard. Aside from the cost and availability, the process of renting or buying a house can be vastly different from the way it’s done in your home country. This can also make you vulnerable to dishonest individuals who may take advantage of your lack of awareness of the laws and regulations in the province. This CBC news story last year is a case in point. To summarize, a newcomer to Winnipeg was told that the only way she could get an apartment was to pay for a whole year of rent upfront. She shelled out the money, not knowing that the practice of accelerated rent is illegal in Manitoba.
Incidents like these is the reason why New Journey Housing was established. Its founder, Winnipeg businessman Paul Ash experienced first-hand how hard the process can be. He and his wife Susan came from another city to settle in Winnipeg and found the experience to be complicated, even though they were just moving to a different city. “Although we grew up in Canada and can speak English fluently, we still found the details involved in finding a home to be very demanding. For someone arriving without these advantages, finding a place to live must be quite frightening,” Ash said.
With this in mind, the couple got together with Sally Nelson, who they learned had a well-defined vision for newcomer housing. Sally then involved Codi Guenther, who now manages the organization as its Executive Director. With funding from private donors, New Journey Housing was established on May 4, 2009. Today, almost 10 years after it was established, it has helped, and continues to help, countless newcomers in Manitoba not only learn about housing, but to actually move into decent homes. We spoke with New Journey’s youthful Executive Director Codi Guenther to learn more about their pioneering work and new services:
EO: Let’s talk about New Journey Housing’s services . . .
CG: Our services are divided mainly between our Workshop Services and Advising Services. We have the rental workshop, home purchasing workshop and budgeting workshop. Our Money Management Workshop is one of our relatively new workshops. It provides more in-depth information and goes beyond budgeting. We developed it based on our clients’ feedback. After every workshop, we ask the participants what other types of programs they may need and sometimes we partner with other agencies like SEED, CRA and other settlement service providers in Manitoba to provide them. Just recently, we partnered with SEED on the Inner City Homebuyer Program. It’s an asset-building program where participants save money towards a down payment for a house. Their savings are matched so they can own a home within two years.
Around this time, we also offer Income Tax preparation assistance for low-income individuals and for simple income tax preparations. We help them do their taxes for free and it’s run by our volunteers. Our volunteers are clients we invite (around November) and ask if they have a background in accounting and if they want to be trained by CRA to assist newcomers with tax preparation. We have been doing this for about four years now. We offer the service every March-April. We saw early on in our work that income security is directly tied to housing. This is why we want to help our clients get the benefits that they are qualified for (income tax, GST, Child Benefit, etc.).
Our Advising Services offer counsel to our clients. They can have a one-on-one with our housing advisors and talk about their housing goals. Our advisors lay out their options and help them plan their next steps. Those interested in this service can email or call for an appointment. We also accommodate walk-ins as long as there is an advisor available. Our advisors can also do Move-in visits and Home reviews. They basically help newcomers moving into their new homes get acquainted with the features of their house as they may not know how some of the appliances work or there may be a house feature that’s new to them.
“It is very important to get the right information upfront so that they do not fall into scams or become vulnerable to landlords or corporations out there who may not be honest in their dealings. Just contact us, we’d be happy to help!”
EO: Who can come to New Journey Housing for services?
CG: We serve any newcomer to Canada. They can be newcomers, temporary foreign workers, students, refugee claimants, even visitors who come to Winnipeg to see what they can rent, or immigrants who come for a short while to get accommodations ready before they settle here for good. For us, a newcomer is anyone who was not born in Canada and who needs help with finding decent housing and navigating the process of looking for a home.
EO: Do you concentrate only on Winnipeg?
CG: We have also done several workshops in rural Manitoba. Settlement agencies or groups can request for a workshop and our housing advisor goes to them and delivers it. Just recently, we delivered a series of workshops on Renting and home purchasing in various areas of rural Manitoba.
EO: What are the most common questions newcomers ask when they contact you? What do they need the most help with?
CG: We have a lot of cases where clients ask for help about getting references or guarantors to be able to rent a place. We have landlords who we work with that help us with this concern. We also get clients who ask for help about handling expensive rent, how they can get out of a lease contract, or with dealing with things like no heat, bedbugs and cockroaches. And then we also assist a lot of clients with their Rent Assist applications.
What we’re looking at is eviction prevention. We give them information and assistance to prevent them from being wrongfully evicted from their homes. We see that our clients need varying degrees of assistance. For some, they are ok with just attending our workshops or accessing our resources on the website. Some need counselling and ongoing supports.
EO: Have you been asked for help regarding renter-landlord disputes?
CG: Yes, many times. Often times, we can be that step before they bring their case to the Residential Tenancies Branch. In most of these cases, we see that the problem is usually miscommunication. It helps that here at New Journey, 11 languages are spoken among our staff of seven. We help them at that point where things can get sorted out before they bring it to the government. But even those who have already lodged their cases with the Residential Tenancies Branch can approach us. We help advocate for their case and assist them in preparing their papers.
EO: You must have helped thousands of newcomers find decent housing since you opened in 2009, are there specific cases that stand out in your memory?
CG: We have been helping a family who came to New Journey, I think, on my second year here. The family asked us for help moving out of a rental house that did not have very good heat; there were bedbugs and broken windows. We helped the family move to government housing and they lived there for seven years. And then just recently, we helped them move to their own home. It was a Habitat for Humanity home and we could see how excited they were to have a home that was theirs. I saw how happy the kids were when they saw that they had two bathrooms.
EO: Housing is a priority for immigrants before landing in Manitoba, especially those who don’t know anybody here. Do you also assist pre-arrivals?
CG: Pre-arrivals can contact us, send us an email or call us, if they need help or information about housing. We had a case where somebody asked us for help about a rental place they booked. They were still in another country when they agreed to rent a house here in Winnipeg and when they arrived, they discovered that the house did not exist. We want to help prevent that from happening to other newcomers. They can reach out to us and we will assist them. We have recently partnered with Entry Program to offer housing webinars through their Pre-Arrival services.
EO: Do you have a message for newcomers who may be reading this right now?
CG: They are welcome to come or email New Journey anytime. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us if you have questions or concerns about housing needs. It is very important to get the right information upfront so that they do not fall into scams or become vulnerable to landlords or corporations out there who may not be honest in their dealings. Just contact us, we’d be happy to help!
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
New Journey Housing
200-305 Broadway, Winnipeg MB R3C 3J7
(Corner of Broadway and Donald, 2nd Floor above Starbucks)
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