There were signs it was going to happen. The Regent Hotel, long one of the very worst slums in the Downtown Eastside, has been found unsafe and tenants are forced to move out.
Authorities confirmed the news yesterday (June 20), after the Straight reported on June 12 that engineers working for the city of Vancouver were assessing the building's structural safety and preparing for a possible closure.
"The City of Vancouver's chief building official has determined that, due to decades of under-investment and mismanagement by the building owners, the structural and life-safety deficiencies at the Regent Hotel, 160 E Hastings St., constitute an unsafe condition," reads a joint media release issued by the city and the B.C. government. "An order was issued on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, directing that occupancy of the Regent cease, as of June 28, 2018."
In the same release, the province announced it will purchase two single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels on Main Street near East Cordova Street that together operate under the name Jubilee House. The price is $12.5 million, slightly less than the $13.25 million that the province says is the buildings' appraised value.
According to the province, approximately 50 Regent tenants have already relocated to alternative housing sites. Jubilee House will accommodate an additional 80 of the roughly 100 tenants who are still living in the Regent.
"Everyone deserves a healthy place to call home," said B.C. minister of municipal affairs and housing Selina Robinson quoted in the release. "Getting those most in need into safe, supported homes is just one of the ways we're tackling the housing crisis, and making life better for all British Columbians."
“It’s a shame that the situation with the Regent hotel has come to this," added Melanie Mark, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. "My constituents have been fighting an uphill battle for safe and affordable housing for too long. We know that without stable housing, people’s quality of life suffers. I’m glad to see that our government is working with the City to take action, and provide the safe and supportive housing the Regent tenants deserve.”
The Regent Hotel is owned by the Sahota family. One year ago this month, the city declared another of their properties, the Balmoral Hotel at Main and East Hastings streets "unsafe to be inhabited". More than 100 tenants of that dilapidated building were giving just one week to move out. It's remained vacant ever since.
Last February, the nonprofit Atira Development Society, a division of the nonprofit Atira Women's Resource Society, signed a contract with the Sahotas to assume operating responsibilities of the Regent, which is located directly across the street from the Balmoral. The city's June 20 release notes that Atira had improved conditions at the Regent, but adds that neglect on behalf of the Sahotas has left the hotel in a condition where its closure is now unavoidable.
Earlier this month, Atira Women’s Resource Society chief executive officer, Janice Abbott, told the Straight 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," Abbott explained. "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."
Jubilee House will be managed by the nonprofit RainCity Housing. After a renovation of the building, tenants will have private bathrooms, access to a meal program, and 24-hour support services. Rooms will rent at B.C.'s welfare-shelter rate of $375 a month.