City of Vancouver reaches settlement to expropriate Balmoral and Regent hotels

Dec 4 2020, 5:45 pm

The City of Vancouver will be able to expropriate the Balmoral and Regent single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels after it reached a settlement with the property owner.

Both controversial properties are located on Hastings Street west of Main Street in the Downtown Eastside, with the Balmoral at 159 East Hastings, and the Regent just across the street at 160 East Hastings.

The settlement, announced today, has been approved by city council, and allows the municipal government to now proceed with a partnership with BC Housing to improve the buildings for secure low-income housing.

City council set forth on the direction to expropriate both properties in a November 2019 decision, initially with the plan to pay the Sahota family — the owners of the building — $1.00 for each hotel due to their extremely poor physical state, and $1,000 to the owner of the Regent Pub for the lease.

Shortly after, the Sahota family filed for a judicial review against the city’s expropriation.

And now, nearly after a year after the judicial review was filed, the municipal government has decided to settle with the property owner instead of proceeding with the court process. The city asserts there is a financial risk posed by the upcoming judicial review and potential claims for greater compensation from the municipality.

As well, the ability to reach a conclusion on the expropriation earlier allows city staff to begin planning and public consultation for the future of the properties.

The city took the measure of expropriation after many years of enforcement and legal action against the owners failed to result in improved living conditions for the residents of the buildings.

In April 2019, the city stated the outstanding bylaw infractions committed by the Sahota family had been addressed through the legal process. The breaches included failure to maintain walls, ceilings, and floors to an adequate standard as well as lack of maintenance to plumbed facilities such as baths and toilets.

At the time, the family agreed to a total fine of $150,000 along with making a charitable donation in the amount of $20,000 to Union Gospel Mission and $5,000 to EMBERS Eastside Works.

The settlement amounts for expropriating the properties was not disclosed due to the terms of the agreement.

BC Assessment provides the 1908-built Balmoral with an assessed value of $3.39 million, with $3.23 million from the land and $159,000 from the structure, while the 1913-built Regent has an assessed value of $3.32 million, with $3.2 million from the land and $119,000 from the structure.

“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,” said David Eby, the Attorney General and BC Minister Responsible for Housing, in a statement.

“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.”

City staff are aiming to report back to city council in early 2021 on the next steps and timeline for the revitalization of the properties.

Earlier this fall, city council also approved a strategy to acquire thousands of SROs for an estimated $1 billion to house the homeless and other low-income individuals. The strategy was pushed forward as there is a great dependence on SROs to house low-income individuals due to the lack of investment from the federal and provincial governments for shelter rate social housing. Many of the 7,000 residents in the Downtown Eastside live in SROs.

The strategy is intended to be a partnership with both senior governments to acquire and secure up to 105 privately-owned SRO buildings to protect and improve their use as secured social housing.

Additionally, about 2,500 SROs will be renovated or redeveloped into self-contained social housing, and assistance will be provided to private SRO owners to improve about 1,300 rooms and secure affordability.

City staff state privately-owned SROs vary widely with rents, level of tenant needs, management practices, and physical conditions. SROs are tiny rooms usually with shared bathrooms and cooking facilities and are difficult to optimally maintain and manage with rents affordable to very low-income people without a government subsidy.

Many SROs are in 100-year-old heritage buildings, which may be cost prohibitive for private owners to upgrade. There has also been an increase in private investors who buy SROs in strategic locations on a speculative basis or to maximize revenue from the commercial or retail space.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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