BC Premier David Eby is talking tough when it comes to the future of the Downtown Eastside’s notorious single-room occupancy hotels, which have made headlines for poor living conditions and continuous safety complaints from first responders.
“These old residential hotels in the Downtown Eastside are not fit housing. We need to have a plan for phasing out the SROs, replacing them with dignified housing for people and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Eby said Monday.
He added that in all his years, “the Downtown Eastside, I haven’t seen it worse.”
“The SROs are one symptom of the larger problem we face in the Downtown Eastside, and we’re not going to let it slide; we’re going to work on it.”
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He says the first step will be dealing with the encampments, something that has led to complaints from neighbours in Oppenheimer, Crab Park, and along Hastings Street in recent years.
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Eby says the living conditions in the SROs can be among the reasons for a surge in these camps.
“SROs are actually feeding into our homelessness problem because during the summer when they’re unlivable for people, they move out and they sleep in the park instead, even though they have a place that is technically fit for them to live. It is not acceptable to me,” he said.
Eby says the first meetings are underway with key stakeholders to address the future of the area and how to replace these rooms with decent housing.
However, photos and videos of the living conditions in some buildings show the solutions are long overdue and that the time for action is now.
A video posted online alleged that rats are present inside the Brandiz SRO on Hastings Street as one tenant provides a tour of their $950 per month room.
The City of Vancouver says all SROs are inspected regularly for safety concerns, and if operators are found to be in violation, enforcement action can be taken to bring the property into compliance
“The City proactively inspects Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing at least once a year through an annual inspection process to ensure compliance with City bylaws,” the City of Vancouver’s Chief Building Official Saul Schwebs said.
“The City also investigates all complaints received through either 311 or the Van311 app. We encourage residents to report all building and cleanliness concerns in SROs so that we can respond,” he added.
First responders called to SROs
Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry previously told Daily Hive Urbanized that 11% of VFRS’ total responses are to SRO buildings in Vancouver.
More than 40% of these calls to such buildings are related to medical emergencies, including overdoses.
3 SRO #fires in the #dtes last night. 2 of them were intentionally set and another deemed suspicious. Getting our crews there quickly made a significant difference in isolating these fires and preventing further damage. pic.twitter.com/Doy2GTsGCa
— Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (@VanFireRescue) December 16, 2022
She was asked about the high number of calls following a tweet that was sent out from Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Twitter that claimed a single SRO had been visited by first responders more than 500 times in a single year.
The tweet was since deleted as Fry said it had some inaccuracies in the number and “it did not take into consideration anything that we are doing in collaboration with other stakeholders to work together to make these buildings safer.”
2022 was a tragic year for fires in the area, as two people were found among the rubble left after a fire ravaged the Winters Hotel, an SRO operated by Atira Property Management Inc., in nearby Gastown last April.
Another fire destroyed the beloved Vancouver Street Church over the summer, leaving the charity without a space to call its own.
With files from Kenneth Chan and Megan Devlin