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Federal government money salvages affordable housing project in Downtown Eastside

City of Vancouver spends more than $7 million in federal money to buy out project at 162 Main St.
Anhart Community Housing Society sold its six-storey affordable housing project at 162 Main St. to the City of Vancouver for more than $7 million. The city received the money from the federal government.
A non-profit developer that went public this summer over fears a six-storey affordable housing project it began building in the Downtown Eastside would never be completed has sold the development to the City of Vancouver for more than $7 million.

Anhart Community Housing Society’s co-founder Keith Wiebe sent emails in August to several media organizations, including Glacier Media, to reveal the project at 162 Main St. was in financial trouble.

“If Anhart fails on this project, our charity may well collapse,” Wiebe said at the time. “We took a big risk.”

That risk, as Wiebe explained, was counting on $14 million of the $21 million project coming via the federal government’s Rental Construction Financing Initiative, which is administered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Anhart had conditional commitments on the loan but started work on the project before it secured the funds. Wiebe said CMHC later deemed Anhart a “financing risk” because of “large sums of money” it poured into The Dodson, a single-room-occupancy hotel the society operates on East Hastings Street.

Fast forward to November and the project at 162 Main St. is now in the hands of the City of Vancouver, which bought out Anhart with some of the $23 million it received from the federal government via another funding stream.

Anhart received at least $7 million from the city to cover what it had already spent on the project, but Wiebe wouldn’t reveal total sale price when reached Thursday. Glacier Media contacted the city for more information about the sale but had not received details before this story was posted.

The balance of the $23 million the city acquired from the federal government is expected to be used to complete the 68-unit building near Powell Street, which is supposed to be finished within 12 months.

Canada’s housing minister, Ahmed Hussen, announced the funding for the project during a news conference at city hall Monday. A 20-unit modular housing project slated for 545 East Cordova St. was included in the announcement; the property is owned by Lookout Housing and Health Society, which received $8 million from the city via the federal government.

The Lookout Housing and Health Society received $8 million from the city via a federal grant program to build 20 units of modular housing on a vacant lot at 545 East Cordova St. Photo Mike Howell

Prioritize Indigenous peoples

Hussen said the projects will prioritize Indigenous peoples and women and children and also serve the LGBTQ2+ community and those at risk of homelessness.

Anhart’s development plan called for 60 per cent of the units to be social housing and rented at “affordable rates,” including 33 per cent having the deepest affordability for people at risk to homelessness, according to the society’s website. 

The rent levels will be based on the tenants’ household income, and the highest level will be 10 per cent below market rates. 

Wiebe said he was happy the project was going ahead but was critical of the federal government not putting enough low-cost loans via the Rental Housing Financing Initiative into the hands of non-profits.

“There are many nonprofits in Canada that want to develop, and some of them are developing,” Wiebe said. “So, if we have got an affordable housing crisis in Canada, we need all hands on deck, especially in the parts of Canada who have a vested interest like Vancouver.”

Asked to comment on Anhart’s concerns regarding its financing concerns with government, Hussen said he was glad the Main Street project was going ahead with federal dollars, albeit from a separate funding stream from the government’s low-cost loan program.

“CMHC and my team is very much committed to work with proponents to try to get projects across the finish line, but sometimes the criteria and the particular capacities don't fit,” the minister said. “But I'm glad in this case, we finally were able to get there.”

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