Shelly Ingram will be glad to leave the mouldy bachelor suite at the Regent Hotel that she and her partner, John, have shared with mice for the past year.
Next week, the City of Vancouver is shutting down the run-down rental building in the Downtown Eastside and the mayor says it will be bought or expropriated from the Sahota family after years of mismanagement have left it unsafe to live in.
But, Ms. Ingram, who is 55 and suffers from severe arthritis, is angry that the city didn’t force her landlords to keep the building in better condition and is scared that whichever social housing unit she gets moved to will be too far away from a neighbourhood she has called home for two decades.
"All my doctors are here, my friends are here, my job’s here, where I get food from is here – the [Union Gospel Mission],” she said on Thursday, the day after the city announced the June 28 closing of the building. “It’s the government’s fault for letting it go out of hand like this.”
Ms. Ingram is one of about 100 tenants at the Regent that the city, the provincial housing authority, the local health authority and several non-profits are moving into new homes before the eight-storey hotel’s closing, which the city ordered because of “structural and life-safety deficiencies” it chalked up to “decades of under-investment and mismanagement by the building owners.”
It is the second time in a year that the city has stepped in to shutter a Sahota-owned single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel − the Balmoral across the street was closed in June, 2017 − after years of bylaw enforcement failed to bring the buildings up to code. Tenants and housing advocates had long called on the city to act earlier to prevent the Regent and Balmoral from getting so rundown, saying it should have hired qualified contractors to do required repairs and then billing the owners, as is allowed under city bylaws.
The move also comes after a Globe and Mail investigation last month highlighting the miserable living conditions in the Regent and Balmoral, two of five SRO buildings owned by the family, which is estimated to have more than $200-million in real estate holdings in and around Vancouver.
Gudy Sahota, one of the three elderly siblings that run the family’s real estate empire, hung up on a reporter on Thursday when asked about the situation at the Regent.
Under provincial tenancy laws, a landlord is legally obligated to provide compensation and additional supports to their tenants if they are forced to relocate. But, in the case of both the Balmoral and now the Regent, the province, the city and their non-profit housing partners are spearheading the effort to move tenants such as Ms. Ingram into other units and make sure they receive extra funds for the inconvenience.
Because she needs a wheelchair, Ms. Ingram cannot be moved around the corner into the Jubilee Rooms, a 78-unit SRO hotel with no elevator that the province bought on May 31 for a total cost of $14.8-million. RainCity Housing, which will operate this new social housing, said the Regent’s disabled tenants will be moved into more accessible buildings.
Meanwhile, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city is now preparing to buy the Regent and Balmoral and, if the Sahotas refuse to sell, it will take the unprecedented step of expropriating the buildings.
After the Balmoral lost its tenants, its assessed value plummeted by more than 70 per cent from $10-million to $2.7-million. The Regent was last assessed at $12.2-million.
The city has expropriation powers under the Vancouver Charter, a provincial statute that sets out how the city operates, while the process of carrying it out would fall under B.C.’s Expropriation Act. The act provides for compensation to affected owners.
Nathalie Baker, a lawyer specializing in municipal law, questioned why the city is considering expropriation.
“If the real issue is getting the property cleaned up, they could spend a fraction of that, do the work and get reimbursed for it,” she said. “There’s a process for that – you do the work, you bill them. If they [owners] don’t pay it, it gets added to their tax bill. And if the taxes don’t get paid, you can force a sale.”
With research from Stephanie Chambers