Closures of Balmoral and Regent hotels shift the balance of economic power in the Downtown Eastside

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      Two of the largest and most notorious slums in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are now sitting empty.

      Yesterday (June 28), the city of Vancouver said that it has relocated 92 tenants who were previously living in the Regent Hotel at 160 East Hastings Street. (Additional tenants left before the city's official relocation process began.)

      Directly across the way from the Regent, the Balmoral Hotel at 159 East Hastings Street has remained vacant since June 2017. Together, it means the Downtown Eastside has lost more than 200 units of low-income housing over the last year.

      Both buildings were declared unsafe by the city.

      "On June 20th, the city’s chief building official posted an order to cease occupation of the Regent and set a deadline to vacate of today, June 28," explains a city media release. "Prior to closing, the building had over 1,000 open by-law safety and maintenance issues violations and the city had referred more than 400 bylaw violations for prosecution.

      "The Regent will now be closed and secured and is considered an active construction zone," it continues. "The city's chief building official has ordered the owners to install temporary shoring inside the building to mitigate the serious structural deficiencies that necessitated the move out. That order establishes a deadline of July 14 for that work and city inspectors will be monitoring compliance."

      The closures of both the Regent and the Balmoral significantly shift the economic character of what has long been one of the poorest blocks in all of Canada.

      In January 2016, the Sequel began moving higher-income tenants into 97-units at 138 East Hastings Street that today rent for more than $1,300 per month for a studio apartment. Now, the closures of the Balmoral and the Regent mean that more than 200 lower-income tenants—most of whom were paying less than $500 a month for their rooms in the two hotels—have left the East Hastings 100 block. The block still hosts the supervised-injection facility Insite, the Carnegie Community Centre, another SRO hotel called Brandiz, and the Street Church. But the loss of the Regent and Balmoral hotels will no doubt affect tensions between the neighbourhood's many long-time residents who live in poverty and the growing numbers of middle and upper-class tenants moving into the Downtown Eastside.

      In November 2015, protestors targeted a mixed-use housing development at 138 East Hastings because they said it was emblematic of gentrification issues that are pushing low-income people from the Downtown Eastside.
      Travis Lupick

      Both the Regent and the Balmoral are owned by the Sahota family. Its trio of elderly siblings have operated a number of shabby buildings in the Downtown Eastside and around Vancouver for longer than three decades now. For years, the city has repeatedly taken a public position against the Sahotas, maintaining the civic government is pursuing every legal avenue available to force the siblings to improve conditions and properly maintain their buildings. To no avail.

      Most previous tenants of the Regent were relocated to two single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels on Main Street near East Cordova that together operate under the name Jubilee House. On June 20, B.C.'s provincial government announced it was purchasing the two buildings for a price of $12.5 million, slightly less than the $13.25 million that the government said is the buildings' appraised value.

      The Balmoral Hotel is located in the Downtown Eastside at 159 East Hastings Street. Directly across the way is the Regent Hotel, located at 160 East Hastings Street.
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      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. The city later said that Atira had improved conditions at the Regent, but added that neglect on behalf of the Sahotas had left the hotel in a condition where its closure was unavoidable.

      The June 28 release states that the city will now approach the Sahotas in an attempt to make an outright purchase of the Balmoral and the Regent.

      "If that is unsuccessful the city will consider expropriating the buildings," it adds.