Established in 1903, the Winnipeg Real Estate Board is the longest continuously running real estate board in the country. It is a professional and industry association representing over 1,400 real estate brokers, salespeople, appraisers and financial members active in the local real estate market. The Board exists to serve its members and to promote the benefits of organized real estate. In 1998, there were 10,300 Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sales and $885 million in dollar volume transacted through the Winnipeg Real Estate Board. Members, including many in the Commercial Division, are involved in numerous exclusive listing sales and leases that are in addition to the MLS sales activity.
As REALTORS, we are at the front-line of property owners’ concerns be they residential, business or investment ones. This is no more apparent than when an out-of-towner comes to Winnipeg with a fresh pair of eyes and starts asking questions on not only housing availability and prices but also on desirable neighbourhoods and the attributes associated with them including schooling, public safety, proximity to work and property taxes. These out-of-towners in many instances have no predisposition to any one area of the city or outlying capital region properties. Thus, it becomes a real litmus test as to what they end up choosing and if the trend lines are any indication, more relocation transferees and Winnipeggers are opting to live outside Winnipeg.
From 1990 to the end of 1998, the percentage increase of MLS residential-detached sales in the Board’s capital region territory was 90% versus 15% in the City of Winnipeg. In terms of dollar volume over the same period of time, the capital region percentage increase was 100% while the City of Winnipeg was 23%. In 1998, the capital region residential-detached sales represented 17 % of the City of Winnipeg’s while its dollar volume was slightly higher at 19%. It should be pointed out that the Board’s rural areas go beyond the capital region review panel boundaries. For example, Steinbach is in the Board’s market area as well as the lake country (e.g. Interlake area as well as Beausejour). Without having reliable numbers on commercial activity, it can be said with some degree of certainty that the vast majority of commercial real estate activity still occurs in the City of Winnipeg due primarily to the fact a high percentage of capital region residents’ work in the City of Winnipeg. However, this is not to say commercial activity in the capital region may not make gains on the City of Winnipeg in the future as has been the case with residential.
This brings us to make a few key points regarding our interest with respect to the capital region. They are:
Be it the City of Winnipeg or the Board’s outlying rural municipalities and areas, our real estate industry’s interests are inextricably linked to the success or failure of the capital region. We see the impacts of personal and business investments first hand by virtue of our pivotal role in real estate and land development. We are very cognizant of the need for the municipalities in the capital region to work together so we can grow the region so to speak. Pitting one area against another is counterproductive and will only serve to create more disharmony and discord. Knowing that our capital region’s population growth lags behind all other western cities including Regina should be enough of a wake up call. The status quo is not an option. The future prosperity of the capital region and the province ultimately rests with a healthy capital city that represents 60% of the province’s population and 86% of the capital region. Studies have shown outlying suburbs or municipalities in the case of Winnipeg stand a much better chance of succeeding if they surround healthy cities.
An overall plan must be developed taking into account the needs of the City of Winnipeg as well as the outlying municipalities. In this regard, the Province must take a leading role in developing this strategy and must take ownership of the process. The process must be an open and accessible one to enable all the participants to buy into the process and the results. A governance body may be required or at minimum clear accountability and responsibility to a provincial department or body to implement a plan once approved. There must be improved cooperation between the municipalities and the City of Winnipeg and Province. The political will must exist at both levels to get on with the job at hand.
An economic development strategy that encompasses the entire capital region should be undertaken that builds on our region’s strengths and recognizes our limitations by not squandering limited resources. Where is the most optimal use of our limited resources and how can they be best managed?
A sustainable capital region will also need to address the equitable distribution of the costs of servicing the region. City of Winnipeg property taxpayers should not be subsidizing capital region residents on education as well as infrastructure. Moreover, there must be a better way of financing municipal government and education than loading everything on property taxes.
In terms of capital region image-building and pursuing economic development, proactive steps must be taken to revitalize the downtown as well as the inner city.
The Leland Hotel fire is a current reminder of what neglect will engender. This comes back to what do we want our capital region to be known for and how are we going to get there?