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.
Gordon “Keith” Wiebe
Representative Executive Director
Anhart Community Housing Society