The City of Vancouver announced in a release today that it has reached a settlement with the owners of the Regent and Balmoral hotels to expropriate the Downtown Eastside properties.
The notorious hotels, which have been the subject of hundreds of city standards-of-maintenance bylaw violations and fire-bylaw infractions over the years, are located opposite each other on the first block of Hastings Street west of the intersection of Main and Hastings streets.
Both buildings were expropriated by the city in November 2019 for $1 each after a unanimous vote by city council. It was the first such expropriation for housing purposes by the city, and it came after fruitless negotiations with the owners, who claimed they had received offers of up to $25 million for the buildings.
The city valued the properties at approximately $3.2 million each at the time of the expropriation vote. City staff also told council then that either renovations or demolition would cost more than the assessed value.
The hotels, which have a combined total of 332 rooms, had been shut down by the city, for health and safety reasons, in 2017 (Balmoral) and 2018 (Regent).
After the expropriation decision, the hotels' owners, members of Vancouver's Sahota family, applied for a judicial review of the order. The review was upcoming, and the city cited the legal action in its reason to negotiate with the Sahotas.
"The decision to settle with the property owners was made by the City to mitigate the financial risk posed by the upcoming judicial review and potential claims for greater compensation, and to enable staff to begin planning for community engagement on the future of the properties," the city said in the release.
No financial details of the deal were included in the news bulletin, which was sent at 4:49 p.m. today (Friday, December 4). The release stated that the deal has already been approved by city council, which will work with B.C. Housing to turn the ramshackle, century-old structures into low-income housing.
In the release, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said DTES residents will have a voice in the future of the two SRO buildings, which have been physically deteriorating during decades of ownership by the Sahotas.
“Bringing the Regent and Balmoral into public ownership marks a hopeful new beginning for residents of the Downtown Eastside and something all residents should be proud of,” Stewart said. “Downtown Eastside residents will be at the centre of creating a new vision for these two sites, and indeed the entire community."
Stewart also praised council and the province: "I want to thank City Council, the Government of BC, and BC Housing for continuing to work together with the community to provide housing that is healthy, safe, and supportive—housing that heals lives and changes futures.”
B.C.'s attorney general and housing minister, David Eby, said the agreement was "welcome news".
“For too long, people had to live in sub-standard living conditions in these buildings. The acquisition of these properties is welcome news and I would like to commend the City of Vancouver for their efforts,” Eby said. “We look forward to working with the City to turn these buildings into the kind of homes people will be proud to live in for years to come.”
The release also noted: "Given the significance of the two properties to the Downtown Eastside community, and their location at the heart of the neighbourhood, community engagement regarding the future of the buildings is a priority.
"In 2021, the City and BC Housing will conduct a robust engagement process that ensures low-income residents can and do participate in the visioning of these sites."