The Sahota family ignored the City of Vancouver’s offer to purchase their two run-down rental apartment buildings and the woman who recently managed one of these properties says she expects the family will fight the city’s unprecedented move to expropriate the buildings.
Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of Atira, the non-profit housing group hired in February by the Sahotas to manage the Regent, said she met with the family early last week before the city announced it would move to expropriate.
Ms. Abbott said she does not know for certain whether the Sahotas, who did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s requests for comment, will dispute the expropriation, but they told her they “don’t intend to roll over" and lose the Regent and nearby Balmoral, both shuttered in the past year because of health and safety concerns. They also told her the city’s offer to buy those buildings - which are two of the larger pieces of their local property empire – was considerably lower than the $8-million for each property recently submitted by a private investor.
That worries Ms. Abbott, who says Vancouver’s risky plan to expropriate the dilapidated rental buildings could drag on for years, keeping these much-needed units of welfare-rate housing off the market.
“I certainly absolutely understand that sentiment and if anyone deserves to have their properties expropriated it’s likely this family,” Ms. Abbott said in a sit-down interview at Atira’s Gastown offices, which sit across from a small park that regularly has people sleeping overnight in tents.
“That said, with the way forward, you have to balance the idea of revenge with the idea of when people can be housed again."
“My belief is that it will take forever for the expropriation to complete.”
The notice of expropriation filed by the city last Friday follows a Globe investigation that found hundreds of bylaw infractions and repair orders at these two buildings had been inadequately fulfilled or ignored outright over the years, leading to unsafe and unsanitary conditions for about 300 people. The family owns three other single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels – century-old buildings with tiny apartments and shared bathrooms – that are part real estate holdings estimated to be worth more than $200-million.
Gudy Sahota – one of three reclusive siblings who control the family’s rental business – did not answer calls requesting comment on Thursday and the family’s lawyer Michael Katzalay did not return a request for comment.
A city spokesperson on Thursday said it was too premature for Vancouver to comment because it has not yet received a response from the Sahotas to its notice of expropriation. If the family does file an appeal within the next five weeks, the spokesperson said Vancouver’s legal department does not know how long it would take the B.C. Attorney-General’s office to appoint an officer to resolve the dispute.
Ms. Abbott said the Sahotas seem amenable to an alternative scenario where they would retain ownership of the two buildings for the next thirty years but step away from management, allowing her agency to take on that role and keep the rents.
She said she has already reached out to potential sources of funding that could help with the renovation of the shuttered buildings. She estimates that process could cost as much as $36-million in total and take up to two years before tenants could move back in, but would be cheaper and faster than bulldozing the hotels and building new structures.
“My objective in talking to them is to get the buildings occupied as soon as possible and obviously in significantly better [state of] repair,” she said.