The City of Vancouver has officially initiated a process to take over two of the very worst housing projects in the Downtown Eastside.
On July 25, the city filed a legal notice to "expropriate" the Balmoral Hotel and Regent Hotel, both located on the 100 block of East Hastings Street just west of Main Street.
The two hotels are owned by the Sahota family, an elderly trio of siblings who for decades now have been a thorn in the side of Vancouver. As the city notes in its July 30 announcement of the expropriation process, the Sahotas have stubbornly refused to keep the low-income buildings in acceptable or even sanitary conditions.
"Despite years of enforcement efforts by the city and hundreds of bylaw violation charges presently before the courts, the owners have not made the basic investments necessary to maintain safety and an acceptable standard of living for tenants in these two buildings," it reads. "Given this ongoing mismanagement and the critical shortage of housing for low-income residents in Vancouver, the city is now taking action to acquire direct ownership of the two properties for the purpose of providing housing in the Downtown Eastside.
"Filing the expropriation notice is the first step in the expropriation process that is intended to result in the transfer of these two properties to public ownership."
The city confirmed long-held suspicions on June 20 that the Regent Hotel—located at 160 East Hastings Street—would have to close. One year earlier, the city declared the Balmoral Hotel—located at 159 East Hastings Street—"unsafe to be inhabited". Between the two buildings, more than 200 tenants were forced to move out.
The city's release states that the Sahotas now have 30 days to request a review of the government's application to expropriate the Balmoral and Regent hotels, which sit directly across the street from one another. Next, the expropriation will got to city council for debate. "If approved by council," the release continues, "the city will pay a value based on independent appraisals for the two buildings and ownership will be transferred."
The Sahotas will then have one year to file an application regarding costs the city intends to pay for the buildings. If the family does challenge the amounts the city offers, the matter would then go to the courts.
"Bringing the Balmoral and Regent hotels into public ownership will protect important low-income housing stock in the Downtown Eastside and may provide an opportunity to meet long-standing goals for the replacement of single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels with self-contained social housing," the city's release reads. "The Housing Vancouver Strategy identified SRO revitalization as a key priority area to improve the living conditions of low-income Vancouverites. Expanding and improving housing for low-income residents have also been identified as priorities by both the provincial and federal governments."
The release adds that the city will be working with higher levels of government to identify additional opportunities to revitalize other private SROs similar to the Balmoral and Regent.
"Over the next 10 years, the city is aiming to replace 50 percent of the remaining private SROs (approximately 2,000 rooms) with new self-contained social and/or supportive housing; housing that is urgently needed for low-income tenants and those most at-risk of homelessness," it reads.
While a win for housing advocates who have long argued for any level of government to take over the Balmoral and Regent hotels, the legal and bureaucratic requirements of an expropriation process will very likely mean the two buildings will remain empty on the East Hastings 100 block for at least the next couple of years.