As we look to the future, it’s clear that the type of development that has worked in the past will no longer serve the needs of Winnipeg’s residents. Designing for the future requires bold action, innovative approaches, and a commitment to principles of green building, sustainable living, inclusivity and design excellence. Rooted in a proud history as part of the fabric of the city, Freedhome Developments are helping reimagine what is possible and lay the foundations for Winnipeg’s exciting future.
Coming off the successful completion of the 65 suite luxury rental apartment Le Market, the company has earned a strong reputation across Winnipeg for building walkable communities that promote healthy living and sustainability. President Jonathon Freed joins us to discuss their responsive approach to intensification, their sustainable building initiatives, and how they add vibrancy to mature neighbourhoods in which they build.
Q: Amid an exciting renewal, Winnipeg’s smart growth vision encourages densifying established communities. What was it about the St. Boniface neighbourhood that caught your attention when developing Le Market?
A: The historic St. Boniface neighbourhood has a certain cache to it and was a great opportunity to bring a vibrant project to a trendy area with Le Market. With Winnipeg’s goal to increase housing capacity it was important for us to find a location that could support intensification and add vibrancy to these mature neighbourhoods.
The neighbourhood is a walkable community that supports restaurants, cafes, and shops. Many major public transit routes run through the area, so it’s within close proximity to the downtown core. There’s a tremendous need for new rental products in the area, and it’s important for us to identify areas of potential growth to provide more density, and the St. Boniface neighbourhood is on the cusp of major change.
Q: As an infill builder, is the need to add density to the area by re-adapting un-used/undeveloped land top of mind when approaching a new project?
Yes absolutely. As a true infill builder, we have a shared vision that addresses the demand for new housing. With Freedhome Developments, we want to make an impact in our communities that help create a more efficient and sustainable future for everyone. We want to be a part of affordable housing developments and the transformation of not just Winnipeg, but Manitoba.
Having said that, we’re not interested in cookie cutter projects that lack the impact of bringing intensification to the market. We want to make sure we understand new trends in the marketplace, what tenants want in a rental property, and how we can create visually appealing mixed-use projects that add bring an architectural edge to our neighbourhoods.
Toronto and Vancouver are cities that are making good use of adding mixed-use communities that create a vibrancy to their neighbourhoods. There’s residential combined with mixed-used retail and commercial, and everyone is out walking, cycling, or taking rapid transit. There’s a pulse to their neighbourhoods, and we want to bring that same vibrancy to Winnipeg and building developments that resonate with people.
Q: With changing demographics and housing preferences, what options are tenants looking for in today’s market?
A: Tenants are looking for urban neighbourhoods, that are walkable with a mix of different uses and open space. A great thing about our developments is that they provide a lot of flexibility for different tenants in the market, from young professionals to empty nesters that are downsizing. We want a comprehensive community and want to offer something for everyone.
We asked our what tenants want in a one two bedroom and since the pandemic we’re finding that adding an additional flex space for a home office that can converted for multiple purposes is something tenants are looking for. They can customize their living space to better fit their different interests and lifestyles.
Our buildings look as though they’re targeting a luxury market, but we keep our rents reasonable and are below market right now. We don’t want to push market rents high and limited supply hinders the ability for people to find affordable housing. It’s important for us to supply a great project that is attainable for the market.
Lavergne Draward & Associates
Number TEN Architectural Group
In our commitment to adding to smart density we wanted Le Market’s exterior to include design enhancements that add to being in a walkable community.”
– Jonathon Freed
Q: You mentioned adding an architectural edge to your projects. What was the architecture approach with Le Market?
A: Le Market was a great opportunity to add something architecturally unique to the area that pays homage to the historical elements of the area and its industrial past. Working with Number TEN Architectural Group, we wanted to make a grand statement with brick and steel exterior, large columns, an art-deco street facing façade, and a spacious second-floor terrace.
I like sites that are pedestrian-focused or implement streetscape focused architecture. In our commitment to adding to smart density we wanted Le Market’s exterior to include design enhancements that add to being in a walkable community. We widened the sidewalks that can accommodate more patios, benches, and landscaping, and provides a safety buffer between moving traffic and people walking or cycling. When you can create visually appealing architecture and streetscapes you can start attracting people and businesses back to the area, making downtown an attractive destination with a creative mix of residential and commercial.
Q: Are you happy with the progress the city has made in developing areas of high density over the past few years?
A: The processing times for project builds do take longer, however the city is trying to improve the permitting process timelines and consistency. It’s an ongoing process that requires a lot of collaboration, but it does come with its frustrations. On one hand the city wants to increase density because it is significantly cheaper to build homes in existing neighbourhoods. On the other hand, the neighbours and communities don’t want things to change.
There are too many departments, too many opinions and technical challenges that take too long and it’s making the viability of projects more difficult. As a result, the time spent waiting costs money, and adds to the short supply of housing. For any building process to succeed, it requires developers and city councillors’ local officials to work together to provide a broader diversity of housing options and a flexible approach to infill development.
Q: While most support the need for new housing and increased urban density in general, some will routinely oppose specific local projects or building types. How do you meet the varied needs and interests of all parties involved?
A: It’s challenging for sure. Most people don’t like change, but change is inevitable. There will always be the NIMBYism (Not in my Backyard) mentality when you begin a new project. I think most people often become more open to development after learning how it benefits the community.
As a developer, we are proactive when collaborating with city officials and when we need to communicate plans to the public. There are neighbourhoods north of Le Market showing signs of intensification, so it shows that there are areas where local councillors fully support and encourage smart growth as opposed to a neighbourhood that is a more vocal opposition against it. We are fortunate to work with a city councillor who has a YIMBY (Yes in my backyard) approach to intensification and is very supportive of building walkable Live, Work, Play neighbourhoods.
Q: What are some of the building features or sustainable building initiatives’ that Freedhome is implementing? Are there any sustainable designs and eco-friendly amenities?
A: One feature we are excited about is the acoustic design standard of sound proofing, and we used very robust assemblies to help impede sound transmission between units. Le Market is a Manitoba Hydro certified energy efficient building, and we are committed to developing projects that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient, and that meet the city’s compliance requirements and energy performance.
We installed an enhanced mechanical system with premium air filtration that enhances air circulation and quality, LED lighting throughout the building, and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide natural light that enhances energy efficiency. The building also has amenities such as EV charging stations, smart parcel locker systems, and smart security systems.
Q: How role does collaboration play in your building process?
A: We’re a very hands-on developer and are very involved in all aspects of the project life cycle. We’re not the type to hand off the project to a general contractor or consulting team. We collaborate through our design process with our architects, interior designers, consultants, and engineers, and work with our trades to ensure our buildings are being built to the highest possible standard. We don’t look to work with national contractors, we want to work with local companies that focus on the betterment of Winnipeg and Manitoba.
Q: How is establishing trust important to the tenant-first mentality approach?
A: It’s very important. The first thing we do is listen to our tenants. Communication is key to building strong relationships. It is tremendously important that residents feel safe and proud of where they live when they choose to live in a Freedhome Developments building. The tenants come first. If you keep your tenants happy you’re going to retain them for a long time, so we are respectful and have an onsite manager to address any maintenance requests. When you can create an environment where there’s mutual respect the tenants begin to care about where they live, they become apart of the community, and the whole environment becomes a positive place to be.
Q: The relationships between the developer, the residents and the community are vital to the sustainable philosophy. Is the team at Freedhome Developments ready to continue to lead the charge in Winnipeg?
A: Yes. We are excited to be able to contribute to neighbourhood revitalization and bring life and energy back into these mature communities. We have certainly built our capability, and our ability to take on larger projects. Earlier I said that the St. Boniface neighbourhood is on the cusp of major change, and we are looking forward to bringing two upcoming developments to the neighbourhood that will mirror Le Markets architectural style and add more vibrancy to the St. Boniface neighbourhood. We will always have that shared vision that addresses the demand for new housing and make an impact in our communities that help create a more efficient and sustainable future for everyone.