The assessed value of the shuttered Regent Hotel on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has plummeted by more than 70 per cent, mirroring a similar drop experienced a year ago by the Balmoral Hotel, the other building owned by the Sahota family that the city is targeting for sale or expropriation following hundreds of bylaw violations over the past 20 years.
The overall value of the eight-storey Regent, which was ordered evacuated by the city last summer due to health and safety concerns, dropped from $12.1-million last year to $3.1-million this month, according to provincial assessments released at the beginning of January. The Balmoral, which was closed for the same reasons a year earlier, saw its assessment rise 20 per cent this year to $3.2-million, owing to a lift in the value of its land.
A spokesperson for Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Friday there is no update on the status of negotiations on the city’s undisclosed offer to buy the two century-old properties, which together once housed about 300 of Vancouver’s poorest residents. In November, both parties had agreed to pause Vancouver’s unprecedented attempt to expropriate the two derelict hotels in favour of trying to reach a settlement by May 1. A spokesperson for British Columbia’s Attorney-General, the ministry that appointed an independent expert – at the request of the family – to review the city’s attempt at expropriation, did not provide an update on that process Monday and said any details would have to be provided by the involved parties.
Reached by telephone Friday, Gudy Sahota, a sibling involved in the family’s real estate holdings, declined to comment. Evan Cooke, who was named as legal counsel for the owners on their official appeal of the expropriation attempt filed in August, did not respond to requests for comment that same day.
The Sahotas have fought the attempt at public ownership of their property, saying the city failed to negotiate in good faith and noting that they are prepared to post a bond to ensure the necessary repairs are done and to prevent the “draconian” expropriation. The family has also maintained the city had not done all it could to enforce its own bylaws to bring the buildings up to code.
In the midst of a prolonged housing and homelessness crisis, the city wants the two buildings repaired so they can again provide shelter to low-income tenants. The city has expropriated properties in the past to make way for the construction of parks or roads, but it had never gone after real estate to punish a problem landlord. Prior to being closed, the provincial government sent tens of thousands of dollars each month in welfare payments to the Sahotas on behalf of tenants at the two decrepit hotels, many of whom were fighting mental-health or substance-use issues.
Pete Fry, a Green Party councillor, said these units need to be back on the rental market and he will be requesting city staff get back to him about continuing negotiations.
“As I’m walking home through the Downtown Eastside, I can tell you they are crucial,” he said Friday afternoon. “As I look around our city and see the amount of people living in doorways and in parks in tents – clearly we cant afford to lose any low-income housing.”
The Sahota family controls nearly 500 – or about 16 per cent – of the roughly 3,000 privately owned rental apartments in Vancouver’s stock of single-room occupancy (SRO) units. A large portion of Vancouver’s poorest residents live cheek-by-jowl in these rooming houses, many of which were built a century ago for single loggers and fishermen – blue-collar workers who adorn either side of the city’s official coat of arms.
The $9-million drop in assessed value of the Regent was offset by the modest gains of the Balmoral as well as a $4.8-million jump in the collective assessed value of the family’s three other SRO hotels the Astoria, the Regal and the Cobalt. On the nearby Sunshine Coast, the family property that is the proposed site for a federally licensed cannabis farm saw its assessed value rise this year by more than a million dollars to $2-million.