Vancouver city council votes to expropriate two rundown Downtown Eastside hotels for $1 each

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      Vancouver city councillors voted unanimously to expropriate two vacant rental hotels that were notorious for their unsafe living conditions.

      With this measure, the city will move forward to acquire the Balmoral and Regent hotels for $1 each.

      Councillors supported staff recommendation to expropriate the hotels owned by the Sahota family despite indications from the owners’ lawyer, Evan Cooke, that this will be challenged in court.

      Cooke told councillors during a public meeting Wednesday (November 6) that his clients want “market value” for the two hotels located on East Hastings Street.

      Cooke also said that the owners are asking to be “treated fairly” by the city.

      In a presentation to council, Andrew Newman, associate director of the city’s real estate operations, said that the properties have a “negative” value.

      According to Newman, the land value of the Balmoral site at 159 East Hastings is $3,080,000. Demolition costs would amount to $3,320,000, for shortfall of $240,000.

      For the Regent, which is located at 160 East Hastings, the land value is $3,050,000. The cost of demolition is higher at $3,150,000, resulting to a difference of $100,000.

      According to Newman’s presentation, if the Balmoral were renovated, it would have a value $23.3 million. However, the cost of renovation would be $46,260,000, producing a deficit of $22,960,000.

      A renovated Regent will be worth $21,800,000. However, renovations would cost $39,640,000, for a difference of $17,840,000.

      Councillor Jean Swanson had long advocated for the expropriation of the two single-room occupancy hotels.

      With her voice cracking, Swanson moved a motion for the city to acquire the properties.

      “We desperately need housing,” Swanson told her colleagues in council.

      Councillor Colleen Hardwick said that she would normally prefer government staying out of the way of private business.

      However, in this case, Hardwick said that “intervention is necessary”.

      The Balmoral and Regent were evacuated in 2017 and 2018 because of the terrible conditions that tenants were living in.

      Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung asked staff how the Sahota family responded to the city’s earlier offers to purchase the property, and was told that the owners made no counter offers.

      In supporting the expropriation, Kirby-Yung said: “It is a moral and it is an ethical decision.”

      In a report to council, Newman wrote that if the expropriate was approved, the city will work with B.C. Housing on the renovation of the Balmoral and Regent.

      During the meeting, Newman told councillors that a judicial review that could be initiated by the Sahota family may "prolong transfer of title" to the city.

      Councillor Melissa De Genova recused herself from council deliberations upon advice of legal staff.