The federal government has stepped in with new money to help complete a small Downtown Eastside Vancouver social-housing project that had stalled after it was denied low-cost government financing earlier this year.
A cluster of federal and provincial politicians, along with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, made the announcement Monday that Ottawa will provide $31.8-million for two buildings, one of them with 68 “micro-units” that had originally been pitched and developed by Anhart Community Housing Society.
A news release from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said provincial agency BC Housing will work with the city to find an “experienced non-profit operator” to now run the project.
The Anhart project, a planned rental building near Main and Alexander streets in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, had been counting on a $14-million loan from a CMHC program called the Rental Construction Financing Initiative. But the CMHC did not give final approval to Anhart because the agency said the non-profit hadn’t provided collateral for the full amount of the loan.
The project had to be put on pause in June when the CMHC financing did not come through at the last minute. Anhart co-founder Keith Wiebe and MP Jenny Kwan said the pause was the result of the CMHC treating non-profits like commercial builders when they are granting low-cost financing.
The site has been sitting with a hole in the ground and some early signs of construction since.
According Mr. Wiebe, his organization has sold the site to the city, which means the group won’t follow through with its original plan to move some tenants from an existing residential hotel to the new building. The idea was that Anhart would then renovate the older residential hotel to improve it and add more capacity.
Instead, because the project will now be funded under the federal government’s special program dedicated to housing people who are homeless, it won’t be open to people already housed, such as Anhart’s current tenants.
But, he said, he’s grateful that everything worked out in the end.
The non-profit will recover $3-million that it invested, people will be housed, and Anhart hopes to press ahead with its hotel renovation plans and work on developing a new site next door, he said.
“We had invested emotionally into that project but I am glad that, in Canada, we are co-operative,” Mr. Wiebe said.
Councillor Michael Wiebe, no relation, said he, too, was relieved that the city managed to help salvage the project. He praised city manager Paul Mochrie for jumping in to help figure out a city deal, after hearing the news of the project’s troubles.
The remainder of the federal money that was announced will go to a long-planned project, unrelated to Anhart, by Lookout Housing and Health Society, with 20 units on Cordova Street nearby.
There was no reference to the Anhart project’s previous problems by the four federal MPs, provincial MLA or Mr. Stewart in the official announcement on Monday, which came at the beginning of a week where housing is in the news because of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association’s annual convention.
The project will be funded through a special program the federal Liberals created during the pandemic, called the Rapid Housing Initiative.
“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. This investment into improving affordable housing in our city is facilitating real change for those that need it most,” said Vancouver-Granville Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed. “These projects are a result of great partnerships, coming together to respond to a grave housing need in Vancouver. This is the Rapid Housing Initiative at work.”
The initiative, unlike every other federal housing program, provides money directly to cities to acquire housing that can be occupied within a year.
It was brought in during the pandemic and is disbursing $2.5-billion that will result in 4,700 hotel rooms, apartments and temporary modular housing units being used to house homeless people in cities across Canada.
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