Anhart started as a partnership between community-minded property developers and a business-minded charity

In 2000, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was gaining an international reputation as Canada’s poorest postal code, but that label did not capture the complexity of the neighbourhood. The closing of a large mental health hospital nearby had driven psychiatric patients to its streets. Highly addictive drugs including crack cocaine had gripped a vulnerable population, and a public health emergency was declared in response to shocking rates of overdose deaths, Hepatitis and HIV infections. There was a void of government action in rising homelessness, the real estate boom was ramping up and activists were sounding the alarm about low-income housing disappearing.

The Jubilee

It was at this time that property developers Hart and Anita Molthagen purchased and renovated the Jubilee Rooms at 235 Main St. in Vancouver through their company Anhart Holdings. It was a century-old 80-unit SRO (single-room occupancy) building, a typical form in the area, and many of the tenants had complex mental and physical health conditions. “We need more business people coming in here and preserving the social housing that’s here,” Hart told Vancouver magazine in 2004. “There’s people that would like the whole area redeveloped. But this is the neighbourhood that’s here and we need this community.”

Randomly, Keith Wiebe moved into the Jubilee. He had worked in community development in Canadian inner cities and in African villages for 30 years, and he wanted to understand more about the Downtown Eastside. He and Hart connected and found they had similar views on how the building should be run. Keith agreed to take over operations with his charity, then called Community Builders Benevolence Group. The privately operated model they put in place continues to guide Anhart today: housing is safe, clean, affordable, and tenants have roles of leadership and employment.

The Dodson

In 2004 the Molthagens bought The Dodson Hotel, a 72-unit SRO at 25 E. Hastings St., with social entrepreneurs David and Lise Ash. Over the next few years they completed renovations, including new windows and an extensive redesign of the pub into a community hall with pro bono work of heritage architect Gare Williamson.

Social entrepreneurship

In 2009, CBG partnered with Simpson Society to develop social enterprises. These included CleanStart, a junk removal, cleaning and pest control services company, which operated with the mandate of offering employment to tenants of CBG’s building. CleanStart’s founder Dylan Goggs continues to run the company as a social enterprise with operations across the Lower Mainland and Victoria.

Expanding operations

CBG took on operating contracts for other private building owners and for the City of Vancouver. Crystal Wiebe, now Anhart’s CFO, developed a tenant support database which permitted this expansion to as many as 10 buildings. One of the most complex efforts was The Q, a two-year transitional housing model for formerly homeless people. Through this project CBG connected with Mukhtar Latif, then Vancouver’s chief housing officer, and now Anhart Homes’ development team lead.

Social impact donations

In 2013, Anhart Holdings donated the Jubilee Rooms to the newly created Anhart Foundation (AF) for half of fair market value. David and Lise Ash similarly donated the Dodson Rooms to Community Builders Foundation (CBF). CBG set out as a separate entity, focusing on operational contracts, while CBF focused on partnerships with developers to create new low-income rental units.

Global Villages

In 2017 the board of AF decided to sell the Jubilee, an aging building with high maintenance costs. Tenants were rehoused, and the proceeds of the sale were designated towards the rebranded Anhart Community Housing Society and Anhart Global Villages, a program that invests in social enterprise and community infrastructure in areas of low GDP.

Affordable housing development

Anhart Community Housing Society (ACH) began an ambitious initiative in the fall of 2017 to buy properties for new affordable rental housing, the first of which were in Hope, Merritt and Vancouver. ACH created business arms, including Anhart Homes and Anhart Construction, to develop and build housing, while it continues to focus on operating the Dodson and supporting people and communities of greatest need

Community Contribution Companies (C3)

As it formed a housing development team, Anhart began encouraging its consultants to form C3s that provide necessary services but grow and create new networks themselves. A C3 is a hybrid corporate model in British Columbia designed to bridge the gap between for-profit businesses and non-profit enterprises. C3 status allows entrepreneurs to pursue social goals through their businesses while still generating a profit. Anhart Homes, Anhart Construction and Rebuild are all C3s.