Residents of Gastown building moving out as they fear for their safety
A Vancouver landlord is sounding the alarm over the escalating situation at a market rental housing building located on the periphery of Gastown, right on the border with the Downtown Eastside.
In recent months, residents of Burns Block at 18 West Hastings Street have had to enter and exit their building through the laneway, as individuals who are homeless have blocked the main entrance and are harassing residents attempting to pass through.
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According to Jon Stovell, the president and CEO of Reliance Properties, the intensely dire conditions typically confined to the area in and around the intersection of Hastings Street and Main Street have spilled over onto the building’s city block and onto the vacant property immediately to the west.
In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, he says the situation had become much worse over the past two years, but over the six months with the onset of COVID-19 it has become impossible for his residents to cope with the situation.
There is open drug dealing at the main entrance, with people camping and even setting up their mattresses in the foyer inside. People have also been spitting on the speakerphone and defecating, and residents face swearing and threats of violence with needles.
“The tenants for the last several months have had to come and go through the alley as they can’t get in and out the front door, either physically or safely, because it’s congested with people standing in circles shooting up or dealing drugs. If you come out through there, they swear and threaten you,” said Stovell.
With the work of Bruce Carscadden Architects, Reliance Properties renovated the 1908-built, six-storey building in 2011. The award-winning property, at the time of development and completion, received significant attention of being Canada’s first micro-suite development. Altogether there are 30 homes that rent at approximately $2,000 per month.
But after months of being bombarded by seemingly insurmountable issues, vacancies are quickly growing.
The conditions have also forced Darby’s Pub, the building’s sole business next to the main entrance, to permanently close. The retail unit has since been boarded up as a security measure.
“Vancouver has been a very compassionate city for this unfortunate group of people, and we get that this was never a pristine neighbourhood. It always had some grit, but now it has become completely ridiculous,” said Stovell, adding that these conditions are now growing elsewhere in Gastown and in areas such as Yaletown, the West End, and Strathcona.
Stovell also expressed his frustration with the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Police’s responses.
They were initially told to call the 3-1-1 municipal hotline for a service request, and not 9-1-1. But most recently they were also told not to call 3-1-1.
“They’re kind of saying there is nothing we can do, it’s a big problem, we don’t know what to do, and we can’t solve your problem,” he said. “There is no enforcement. The city always says call 3-1-1, but that is a platitude.”
“The police feel they don’t have the resources and probably don’t have the resources to supervise people who have this level of non-emergency crime, and then there’s the current political realities with advocacy groups like Pivot Legal Society who think police shouldn’t even come to the area. Then we have the courts not taking any meaningful action against people committing these various crimes and misdemeanours. The courts could not care less about these infractions.”
On Wednesday, the city sent sanitation workers accompanied by police to clean up the garbage, needles, and human waste, which Stovell says “tells you how bad the situation is, when city sanitation workers can only go into the area with police escort.”
Contracted private security is not an option for the landlord, as they do not have the appropriate training and cannot enforce public property.
Stovell went on to call the situation amounting to a “broken social contract” between the municipal government and the taxpaying residents and businesses of the city.
“We pay property tax so that people can walk over from the city’s public realm and into our private building. When the city allows social order on their property, outside of our property, to break down, they are breaching their contract with us as a property owner and a payer of property taxes,” he said.
“On the one hand, the city has disposition of being compassionate and a facilitator to this group of people, but they cannot do this at the expense of everything and anyone else, and still expect to collect property taxes and have people working and participating in the economy when they can’t even go safely in and out of their home.”