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The City of Vancouver is shutting down a decrepit hotel that houses dozens of the city’s most vulnerable renters, and is planning to take the unusual step of buying the building and another owned by the Sahota family.

If the family does not agree to sell the century-old properties, the city will expropriate them, the mayor said Wednesday.

Workers prepare to board up the Regent Hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Residents will be placed in other housing after the city ordered the building’s owners to cease occupancy of the property as of June 28, 2018.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Related: Vancouver tenants hang in the balance as Sahota family properties face foreclosure

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The moves come after a Globe and Mail investigation highlighted the miserable living conditions in the Regent and Balmoral, two of five single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels owned by the family.

On Wednesday, the city ordered the Regent closed by June 28, citing unsafe conditions. The Balmoral was ordered closed in June, 2017, displacing about 150 people.

“We believe that working together – the province and the city – that we can tackle the worst buildings in the city and get quality, affordable low-income housing built instead of people getting stuck in crumbling buildings managed by negligent landlords,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said at a news conference on Wednesday, where he was flanked by the provincial ministers responsible for housing and welfare.

The Regent Hotel is one of several in Vancouver owned by the three reclusive Sahota siblings. The residents of the Regent have to deal with the stench of sewage, black mold and other deficiencies that are the result of decades of neglect by the Sahotas. While a new organization is now managing the building, the fate of the Regent and those who call it home is uncertain.

The Sahota family controls nearly 500, or about 16 per cent, of the roughly 3,000 privately held SRO units in the city’s stock. A large portion of Vancouver’s poorest residents live cheek-to-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 approximately 100 remaining residents of the Regent will be transferred to other social-housing units or the Jubilee Rooms, a 78-unit SRO hotel bought by the province last month.

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Housing advocates say the city should have acted earlier to prevent the Regent and Balmoral from getting so rundown by hiring qualified contractors to do required repairs and then billing the owners, as is allowed under city bylaws.

Before he became mayor a decade ago, Mr. Robertson was a vocal proponent of that strategy. On Wednesday, he told reporters that approach is too risky for the city.

“So the city can go in and force the repairs, but the ownership is still held by the owners and we’re in a long protracted court process to try to recoup costs for the repairs,” he said.

Atira Women’s Resource Society − the non-profit agency that took over day-to-day management of the Regent in February − has already been moving some tenants out of the aging building to other low-cost housing and will help relocate remaining tenants in coming days, the organization’s chief executive Janice Abbott said.

Any future role for Atira at the Regent would hinge on significant repairs being done to the building, she said.

We believe that working together – the province and the city – that we can tackle the worst buildings in the city and get quality, affordable low-income housing built instead of people getting stuck in crumbling buildings managed by negligent landlords.

— Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson

Mould is visible throughout the Regent, especially in bathrooms, where black streaks can be seen on walls and ceilings. Water damage is also evident, with some walls and floors feeling damp and spongy to the touch.

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Neither Gudy Sahota nor Pal Sahota − two of three elderly siblings who control the family’s real estate holdings worth an estimated $218-million − replied to an e-mailed request for comment. Gudy Sahota was reached briefly on the phone, but hung up when the caller identified herself as a reporter.

Outside a news conference at the Jubilee Rooms, a handful of current Regent tenants and housing activists banged on the windows and held up signs urging the city to “FIX THE REGENT, BILL SAHOTAS!” and “EXPROPRIATE FROM SAHOTAS NOW.”

On the sidewalk after the politicians spoke, Jack Gates, a longtime tenant of the Sahotas, told reporters he is worried where he will end up after he is forced to leave the Regent. He uses a cane because of arthritis and is worried about stairs in the Jubilee Rooms, which doesn’t have an elevator.

The non-profit agency that will run the Jubilee Rooms said units elsewhere would be available for Regent tenants with disabilities.

Wendy Pedersen, a housing activist who has been organizing tenants at the Regent and Balmoral for the past three years, said the only successful outcome is expropriation.

“I’m glad they’re saying that − that’s the first time I’ve heard it − but they need to act on [expropriation], not just say it,” she said.

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The Jubilee Rooms purchase is not the first time the provincial government has stepped in to save rundown SROs.

Under the former Liberal government, the province bought 13 aging SROs that were subsequently renovated through the SRO Renewal Initiative, a $147-million program that included upgrades to the buildings and 15-year maintenance agreements with non-profit housing agencies.

SAHOTA FAMILY’S RENTAL

PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

Assessed value in millions of dollars, 2018

$5M to $10M

$5M or less

$10M to $15M

$15M and over

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

Astoria Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

MAIN ST

TERMINAL AVE

0

550

m

5

2

3

E 1ST AVE

W 12TH AVE

4

1

MAIN ST

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

Top five properties by assessed value

$33.1M

525 5th Ave. E.

1

2131 Pandora St.

$16M

2

$14.3M

450 Nanaimo St.

3

$13.4M

447 6th Ave. E.

4

$12.2M

160 E Hastings St.

5

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH:

STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

SAHOTA FAMILY’S RENTAL

PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

Assessed value in millions of dollars, 2018

$5M to $10M

$5M or less

$10M to $15M

$15M and over

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

Astoria Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

MAIN ST

TERMINAL AVE

0

550

m

5

2

3

E 1ST AVE

W 12TH AVE

4

1

MAIN ST

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

Top five properties by assessed value

$33.1M

525 5th Ave. E.

1

2131 Pandora St.

$16M

2

$14.3M

450 Nanaimo St.

3

$13.4M

447 6th Ave. E.

4

$12.2M

160 E Hastings St.

5

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH:

STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

SAHOTA FAMILY’S RENTAL PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

Assessed value in millions of dollars, 2018

$5M to $10M

$10M to $15M

$15M and over

$5M or less

Regal Hotel:

$8.9M

Balmoral Hotel:

$2.7M

Regent Hotel:

$12.2M

Cobalt Hotel:

$10.4M

Astoria Hotel:

$7M

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

Astoria Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

TERMINAL AVE

MAIN ST

0

550

m

5

Top five properties by assessed value

2

3

$33.1M

525 5th Ave. E.

1

E 1ST AVE

2131 Pandora St.

$16M

2

W 12TH AVE

4

1

MAIN ST

$14.3M

450 Nanaimo St.

3

$13.4M

447 6th Ave. E.

4

$12.2M

160 E Hastings St.

5

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH: STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

With a file from Stephanie Chambers

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