One year ago this month, the city declared the Balmoral Hotel at Main and East Hastings streets "unsafe to be inhabited". More than 100 tenants of the dilapidated building were giving just one week to move out. It's remained vacant ever since.
Now city staff are assessing if the Regent Hotel, another Downtown Eastside slum owned by the same family, the Sahotas, should also be found unsafe for another 100 residents living there.
"We have real worries about this building and its viability over the medium-to-long term," Paul Mochrie, deputy city manager for the City of Vancouver, told the Straight.
"There is temporary shoring currently installed in the Regent to address some structural concerns," he continued in a telephone interview. "Like the Balmoral, there is very significant water damage in this building, which has structural implications.
"At this stage, I don't know what the outcome of that is going to be," Mochrie added.
While the city has not made a decision on the Regent's structural safety, he said that the building is currently going through a review similar to what the Balmoral went through last summer.
"Our building staff have been talking to the engineer, the building consultant, who has been working with the owner," Mochrie explained. "So we'll continue to review and assess the structural stability of that building."
Last February, the nonprofit Atira Development Society signed a contract with the Sahotas to assume operating responsibilities of the Regent, which is located directly across the street from the Balmoral. In a telephone interview, Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of Atira Development Society's parent organization, Atira Women’s Resource Society, said she wasn't surprised to hear of the city's concerns for the Regent.
"There are things that look like giant car jacks that are literally holding it up," she told the Straight. "They look like giant tire jacks and they are holding up the floors in the back of the building. One of our jobs since we've been there is to make sure that those jacks don't get damaged or pushed out. I'm not sure what would happen."
Abbott said that since Atira took over day-to-day management, her staff have found many rooms unsafe for residents and have worked to find select tenants alternative housing on a voluntary basis. But Abbott said there are still more than 100 people living in the building at 160 East Hastings Street.
"A number of ceilings have collapsed throughout the building under the weight of water," she continued. "There is water everywhere in there."
Abbott said that while she had no additional information on any decision the city might make to force tenants to move out for safety reasons, that is an outcome for which Atira staff are already prepared.
"Once we got in there and realized the sheer amount of work that is required in that hotel to make it livable in a way that would allow me to sleep at night, knowing that people live there, it was overwhelming," Abbott explained. "So I'm not surprised this is happening. If that is the decision that is ultimately made, I understand. What bad shape the building is in, it's just mind-boggling."
While in terrible condition, single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels like the Balmoral and the Regent have traditionally played an important role in Vancouver's housing stock, serving as a last resort for low-income people before they are forced to sleep in a shelter or on the street.
On May 29, B.C. housing minister Selina Robinson told the Globe and Mail that the provincial government was considering a variety of options for such hotels, including their outright purchase.
“The conditions [at the Regent] are absolutely deplorable and we need to take action and certainly our government is committed to making sure there is housing for people,” she said.
Mochrie noted that the city has taken the Sahotas to court over outstanding issues at the hotel.
"We currently have about 1,000 outstanding bylaw violations on the Regent," he said.
"This building is a huge problem, it has been for decades, and we are spending a significant amount of time and resources right now to manage it and make sure that the people who are living there are safe."