Impoverished residents living in one of the worst hotels in Vancouver will soon see conditions there improve.
On February 13, Atira Development Society, a division of the nonprofit Atira Women's Resource Society, signed an agreement with the owners of the Regent Hotel, the Sahota family, to assume operating responsibilities of the single-room occupancy hotel (SRO).
In a telephone interview, Atira’s founder and chief executive officer, Janice Abbott, cautioned that the situation at the Regent will not change overnight.
“It will take time to sort out what’s going on there,” she told the Straight. “We have a couple of immediate priorities. Pest control, definitely. Safety and security of individual rooms, which likely means changing all the locks.
“We will be trying to sort out who lives there and who doesn’t and get people who do live there on tenancy agreements. That’s a bigger job than one might think, because there are no records.”
The Regent Hotel is located on the south side of East Hastings Street just west of Main Street.
In August 2016, tenants filed a class-action lawsuit that described deplorable conditions at the Regent.
A long list of grievances is detailed in the applicants' notice of claim. They include a lack of heat, lack of hot water, leaking roof, crumbling façade, rat infestation, broken elevator, and impassable fire escape, among other problems.
“There are serious health and safety issues resulting from the Sahotas' failure to maintain the Regent,” the notice of claim reads. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
In December 2017, the City of Vancouver revealed that the Regent and the Balmoral, another Sahota hotel located directly across the street from the Regent, had together received 426 orders against them.
"This year the City ordered a full structural review of the Regent Hotel by a professional engineer, due to concerns with the safety and condition of the building,” the city’s media release noted.
"Based on the structural assessment, the City required repairs to damage caused by long-term leaking from the plumbing and building envelope. Temporary bracing and supports have been put in place to ensure the safety and stability of the building.
"The City has also been monitoring the Regent to ensure compliance with Standards of Maintenance by-law requirements. Several outstanding violations are unresolved. As a result, in April 2017 the City filed 47 charges against Triville Enterprises Ltd. (controlled by members of the Sahota family) in the B.C. Provincial Court, alleging violations of the City's Standards of Maintenance By-law. The defendants are due in Court on January 16, 2018 for a first appearance on these charges.”
Abbott emphasized that Atira has not received funding nor has it become Atira’s responsibility to address structural deficiencies or conduct major repairs on the Regent.
“It’s like if you asked me to look after your house while you moved to Prince George for a year. I’ll collect the rent and make sure the faucet is fixed if it leaks,” she explained. “But if the roof collapses, I’m not paying to fix your roof. It’s your house.
“The city will continue to hold them accountable,” she continued. “My assumption is the class-action lawsuit will continue and the courts will continue to hold them accountable.”
What Atira will be doing, Abbott said, is replacing existing staff at the hotel with the nonprofit’s employees. “And we will chip away at the minor, day-to-day orders and violations that are in place.”
Atira will also create a “shared-using room” in the Regent, Abbott added, where tenants can bring drugs like heroin and cocaine to inject them in a location where there is someone present to monitor and respond in the event of an overdose.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 88 percent of fatal overdoses in 2017 were indoors, and 60 percent of those deaths occurred in a private residence. The small rooms that characterize hotels like the Regent are the sort of places where many of those fatal overdoses are happening.
For that reason, in December 2016, Atira began incorporating shared-using rooms into buildings it operates throughout the Downtown Eastside. Other social-housing operators—including the Portland Hotel Society, RainCity Housing, and Lookout Housing and Health Society—did the same shortly after.
Abbott said that Atira already has outreach workers visiting the Regent Hotel on a daily basis and expects to have a full staff in place within a few weeks.