The venerable women's program moves into the renovated commercial space in the Dodson
It has long been a gathering place – for many years a pub and then a conference centre. Now, the 3,000-sq.-ft. commercial space in the Dodson is moving forward as a drop-in space for women. Following an extensive renovation, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre will now offer its clients storage, use of computers, a TV lounge, showers, washrooms, laundry, and meals in a community kitchen. The space also includes offices and a clothing and shoe centre.
The Dodson space will be open from noon to 10 pm, extending the hours of the DEWC drop-in at 302 Columbia Street. Among the services provided by the women’s centre are counselling, advocacy, cultural programming, housing outreach, emergency shelter, skills development, meals, and Indigenous women’s projects. The women’s centre serves more than 500 women every day.
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically increased the need for the DEWC services as safe spaces were closed down and more women were forced outside. Many women who access the centre’s services have experienced trauma, abuse, poverty and/or homelessness. In the Downtown Eastside, half of women surveyed named the DEWC as the place where they feel safest.
Anhart is proud to welcome the DEWC to the Dodson!
‘The only word that I have or that I could translate in our language, is that it’s going to become a medicine house.‘
Just before site preparation began for construction of a six-storey affordable housing building at 162 Main St., Wisdom Elder Shane Pointe of the Musqueam People hosted a Blessing Ceremony. Here he explains the context and purpose:
In the chant I’m asking our collective ancestors to be here, and I’m letting this area, this land know that it’s going to change into something else. The only word that I have or that I could translate in our language, is that it’s going to become a medicine house. A place for our relatives who are poor. So this is going to be a place for them.
Also I’m asking the historical, way-back ancestors — there were five villages around this Inlet — so I’m letting them know that this is going to change and become like I said earlier, a medicine house.
I know that more than likely, the people who are going to live here are from around the world, but also our relatives from back east, that’s why I used the tobacco, and that’s not cigarette smoke, that’s tobacco.
When I put the medicine down—red ochre, salish and tobacco—I’m asking this land to protect and watch over what’s going to happen. It’s going to change, so I’m asking ancestors here to watch and protect, not only the ground, but the gentlemen, the ladies who are actually going to live here, to keep them safe, to keep their minds in a good place.
Site works begin for Main Village, 69 units of affordable rental housing
Anhart Community Housing Society is happy to announce that site preparation has begun at 162 Main Street in Vancouver. The project has been in the works since the spring of 2018, when Anhart purchased the property and began applying for financing and a development permit from the City of Vancouver.
Main Village is scheduled for completion in fall 2022. It is a six-storey building with 69 microsuites and ground-floor commercial space. Sixty per cent of the units will be social housing and rented at affordable rates, including 33% having the deepest affordability for people at risk to homelessness. The rent levels are based on the tenants’ household income, and the highest level is 10% below market rates.
The tenants will include people with disabilities, people working entry to mid-level jobs, new Canadians, and seniors. All of the tenants will meet income guidelines, have positive housing history references, and express a desire to contribute to the community.
The building is designed to promote a communal environment, with a large amenity space and a roof-top garden open to all tenants. Rather than employ a resident caretaker, Anhart’s housing model includes a tenant leadership team that fosters a sense of ownership, peer support and community watch.
Main Village was designed by architect Sandra Moore, partner at award-winning firm Birmingham & Wood Architects and Planners. Vancouver-based Etro Construction is the general contractor.
Anhart develops affordable housing through private/public collaboratives with involvement of impact investors, municipalities and senior levels of government. Anhart is grateful for the support of financing partners including Vancity Community Foundation and Vancity Savings and Credit Union.
Anhart Community Housing Society is a Vancouver-based charity that builds communities through developing, owning and operating affordable housing. Throughout its history, Anhart’s work has been generously supported by a small group of philanthropists. With their support, Anhart has invested $2.5 million in the $19.2 million project. Anhart has incorporated a Limited Partnership Agreement that will give a modest return to investors who are committed to social impact.
Affordable housing development
Anhart Community Housing Society began an ambitious plan in the fall of 2017 to buy properties for new affordable housing, including a vacant lot at 162 Main St. The charity created subsidiaries, including Anhart Homes, Anhart Construction and Anhart Tenant Services to develop, build and operate new housing while it continued to focus on operating The Dodson at 25 E Hastings St. and supporting people and communities of greatest need.
The first project completed was The Ryder, 40 units of affordable housing in Hope BC, in March 2020. This project was the first modular build to receive financing from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Construction Financing Initiative. Anhart owns additional properties in Hope and Merritt that are currently under development.
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An open letter to tenants from Representative Executive Director Gordon “Keith” Wiebe
December 12, 2021
On behalf of the entire staff and executive of the Anhart Community Housing Society, I want to apologize for problems we have been having with the elevator, heat, hot water, electricity, and safety issues in the building. These issues have reduced the quality of your life and for that we are truly sorry.
Here is what we are doing to try to improve each of these issues.
The elevator should now be fixed. We recently spent $40,000 to further modernize the elevator. We had it modernized for a cost of $130,000 when we purchased the Dodson in 2004, but technology has improved since then and an upgrade was needed. Plus, there is extreme wear and tear on the elevator. Please don’t hold the door open and please keep the floor tracks clear of dirt on every floor.
The boiler was replaced for $35,000 when we purchased the Dodson in 2004. It is a steam boiler, but it is not on the City of Vancouver steam system. Our boiler makes its own steam. The pipes and radiators are in bad condition and also this year the boiler has been giving us major problems. We have DMS Plumbing and Heating, one of the best (and most expensive) companies in Vancouver trying to fix the problem as soon as possible.
The City of Vancouver Standards of Maintenance By-Law requires that your room be at least 72 degrees F or 22 degrees C, measured 5 feet (1.52 meters) from the floor. Please ask in the office for a thermometer so you can measure and report your room temperature. Also, please call 311 and report cold temperatures to the City of Vancouver if Anhart can’t resolve the problem of your cold room. The City of Vancouver will send an inspector to your room. Colder temperatures are coming soon, and you need to be warm. Hopefully the boiler will be fixed in the next few days.
Please also know I lived in the Dodson myself for three full years when we bought the building and many times off and on since then. I am 100% convinced that the best way to keep you comfortable is to have the heat come on from 6:30 am to 9:00 am and then again from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm. There is only one thermostat for the whole building and boilers in SROs are either on or off. The rooms can be unbearably hot if the boiler is on constantly and it causes the pipes and radiators to be further compromised.
The hot water boiler was recently not functioning for a few days. This is a small boiler that sits next to the large heating boiler. Anhart has replaced this small boiler twice in the last 20 years. It does not need replacing now as it is still new, it just needs more servicing. You may have no hot water for a few hours this week as this small boiler is serviced.
The power was out in half of the building this weekend. The reason was because we have had no heat and many tenants are using electric heaters. The extra power requirements caused one of the two 200-amp fuses to blow. The very large 200-amp fuse, about the size of your hand, has now been replaced. Yes, you heard me correctly. The whole building is being serviced by a 200-amp panel. The Dodson needs more power. So far in the past two years we have spent $250,000 to try to get 600-amp service into the building and more power into your rooms. We have electrical service now coming into the Dodson underground and we built a new electrical room in the basement. We put large 600-amp service transformers in the basement and took that extra power up to all the floors and installed new subpanels. Then we ran conduit just outside each of your rooms. When this is finished you will have lots more power in your room and electric baseboard heat. You will control your own heat and manage your own small electrical panel which will be located in your room. Anhart has to find another $100,000 to finish this work. We are trying. We want you to have a small kitchen in your room and if we get baseboard heat in your room, we won’t need the boiler.
What concerns the Anhart team even more than the issues noted above is safety. Because Anhart receives no support from BC Housing or the City of Vancouver, it is not possible to have 24-hour staff. In the evenings and overnight people are getting into the building and are causing harm. Anhart is working with the Vancouver Police Department and the Residential Tenancy Branch to reduce these issues, but it is very difficult to remove the few tenants who are allowing visitors to cause harm. Please report safety issues to the Dodson staff and Vancouver Police Department. Also, please know you can call or email the Dodson executive by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 604.529.6259. Our staff will hear your message within one business day.
Since 2004 at the Dodson Anhart has used a bottom-up, community-based model for staffing. The good of this model is that it gives tenants and DTES community members an opportunity to find employment and it means staff have a much better understanding of the needs of the other tenants. On the downside, this is tiring work and it puts community staff in harm’s way to organized crime and to the stress of all the medical and social needs of the community.
Instead of canceling Anhart’s community-based staffing model, we would like to invite more tenants to sign up to be staff members. We can’t guarantee you will get work hours, but if you are asked to work you will be paid according to BC Employment Standards protocols, and you will be paid automatically every two weeks through our Payworks service.
All tenants are invited to apply for work assignments. I believe that together we can keep our building, clean, well repaired, and safe. We will still be using some outside staff for building and tenants needs that cannot be provided for by community staffing.
Long Term Plan
The Dodson currently has been given a shelf life of 30 years by engineers. We have a new roof, new windows and we are starting to replace all the plumbing pipes. We have a total of 10 drain stacks in the building running from the basement to the roof, and we are replacing each one and the associated water feeds at a cost of $15,000 each. We have replaced two stacks so far without displacing tenants.
I believe we can increase the shelf life of the Dodson so that can reach its 200th anniversary on 2115. The Dodson turned 100 in 2015. It was built in 1915. To make it to 2115 we need to finish the plumbing and electrical work and do some work in the basement under the sidewalk and do some small upgrades to brickwork. Compared to many other SROs in Vancouver, the Dodson is in very good condition.
There are forces that want to gentrification the Dodson or tear it down and build micro suites. Many people don’t know that congregate housing promotes family-like living if it is operated properly. Our goal is to keep rents low and quality of life high at the Dodson. Right now, we are not getting any help from government or private donors or investors. However, the $3,000,000 that was spent on the Dodson so far all came from private donors, primarily Lise and David Ash, Anita and Hart Molthagen, and Helga and Ralf Schmidtke (actually we did get $150,000 from CMHC for the new windows, and $100,000 for the electrical room, they matched us dollar for dollar). We are very grateful to these generous families for what they did for you and many people in Africa through Anhart. Anhart is named after Hart and Anita Molthagen (ANita + HART). For those that are confused, we used to be called Community Builders Group (CBG), but my oldest daughter, Julie Roberts, is now leading that organization. CBG has many shelters, supportive housing centres and affordable housing buildings in Vancouver sponsored by the City of Vancouver and BC Housing.
Vancity Credit Union is now reluctant to provide further funding and we had to sell our new building at 162 Main to the City of Vancouver because CMHC stopped our financing. The reason finances are responding to Anhart in this restrictive manner is because we have had too many financial losses at the Dodson. The Dodson has low rents and high expenses. So, the Dodson is a battleground of sorts and so far, Anhart is refusing to give in. It is a matter of principle to Anhart. Canadians should be able to look after themselves.
Please know the Vancity Community Foundation is doing everything they can to help us and to explain our position to the Vancity Credit Union. Orson Welles said, “The absence of restrictions is the enemy of art.” Maybe all these restrictions will awaken collective creativity in us all and we will be united in our pathway to peaceful living and wellness.
Despite Anhart’s bravado, if the City of Vancouver, or BC Housing, or another nonprofit housing provider, had more resources and could help you in a better way, we would have a vote at the Dodson and ask what you wanted us to do. The Anhart board is made up of normal working people without any excess money, so we need help to keep going. We now have the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in the newly renovated commercial space on the main floor and we need to do a better job of looking after them as well, and we will surely need help for that huge responsibility.
If we could get everyone’s cell number and email address, we would use Survey Monkey to get everyone’s opinion on what to do. If nothing else, we can be democratic. That power can’t be taken from us.
A 40-unit building in Hope BC is the beginning of a larger plan for affordable housing across Canada
Landscaping, paving and a picnic table were among the last touches to be completed at The Ryder, Anhart’s 40-unit affordable rental building at 1270 Ryder Street in Hope.
Tenants started moving into the building in March 2020, and it is currently full. Anhart thanks our partners, which included Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Vancity Community Foundation, Ralf and Helga Schmidtke, and Hart and Anita Molthagen.
Throughout the tenanting process, which began in December 2019, Anhart heard from people about their difficulty finding affordable housing in Hope, where CMHC had recently measured a zero per cent vacancy rate. Anhart is talking to several municipalities about building affordable housing in small urban centres across Canada. Many towns are struggling with the same factors facing Hope: a shortage of purpose-built rental housing and recent sales of homes with former rental units.
Anhart is currently working on a plan to develop projects for affordable home ownership in Hope BC.
Elizabeth Klassen needed an affordable apartment in Hope. The Ryder gave her more than she expected
I was commuting back and forth from South Surrey to Hope to take care of my dad. His health had started to decline and I was getting phone calls from the grocery store or from the bank. Like he went into the store and ate a chicken. I work with kids, and I’m getting these phone calls at work.
At first it was just day trips, and then it was weekends. I was just becoming completely unhappy because all I had was just work and my dad. And then you lose a little patience and ‘Oh Dad you can do this yourself.’ But no he can’t. Dementia is really a sad thing. So it really came to, ‘yeah I’ve got to move to Hope.’
For two years I looked for a place to rent and the cheapest I could find was about $900 and that was above and beyond what I could do. Anything else just wasn’t livable. I was staying with my dad while this building was being completed and that wasn’t going to go well for very much longer.
Finally having my own cute little apartment which I love has actually improved the quality of my relationship with my dad. The trickle effect is that now he can spend the rest of his days in his own home where he wants to be with his dog.
I love having the sense of community. There’s internet in the amenities room, and the ability to go in there and socialize with people in the building, it gives you a sense of belonging. Just meeting people and hearing their stories. Everybody was in the same boat — people were actually living in their cars in Hope.
What I have now is a big sense of relief. It doesn’t feel temporary. This place has a heartbeat. There is opportunity here. I’d love to start a forest school in Hope, I think it’s the perfect place for it. I originally thought I’m only going to be here for two years. I have changed my thinking into, ‘I’m home now.’
Elizabeth Klassen spoke to writer-in-residence Marcie Good in May 2020. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Anhart started as a partnership between community-minded property developers and a business-minded charity.