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Vancouver non-profit to take over management of derelict Regent Hotel

The Regent Hotel in Vancouver on July 9, 2017.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

A non-profit group has reached an agreement to manage Vancouver's Regent Hotel, a single-room occupancy building on the city's Downtown Eastside that has a history of health and safety violations and has become a pressing concern for city officials.

Atira Development Society, a division of Vancouver-based Atira Women's Resource Society, has signed a six-month interim lease and is scheduled to begin running the property on Thursday, Atira chief executive officer Janice Abbott said Wednesday in an interview.

The building is owned by Vancouver's Sahota family, who own several run-down SROs in the neighbourhood and in recent months have faced pressure from the city and housing advocates to improve conditions at their buildings.

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The management change was to have taken effect earlier this month but was delayed so further negotiations could take place. Although a lease has now been reached, Ms. Abbott cautioned against expecting instant results, noting the city's database of rental properties with health or safety issues lists more than 500 at the Regent.

"Even if we had unlimited money, it would take time to get through all of those," she said. "Part of our job over the next six months is to work with the city, work with the Sahotas, work with other stakeholders … and just put a plan in place for how this all moves forward," Ms. Abbott said.

"Our plan is to improve as much as we can the safety and security and well-being of the tenants who are there … but it will be a lot of work going forward to sort this out," she added.

The Sahotas still own the building, and major building systems – such as the exterior walls and plumbing and electricity – remain their responsibility, she said.

Atira's priorities will include pest control, confirming rental agreements with tenants and improving security by, for example, replacing or repairing broken or missing locks.

Ms. Abbott would not say how many staff members might be involved, saying such details have yet to be determined. Atira will likely impose a 30-day ban on guests to help determine who lives in the building and to cut down on illicit activity in the building, with exceptions made for family members and support workers, she said.

Under the agreement, Atira has agreed to pay the owners $10 a month to lease the building. Rents will be used to offset the costs of running the building.

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The Regent, an eight-storey structure built in 1913, is one of dozens of SROs – some publicly-owned – that provide what the city calls "housing of last resort" to low-income tenants, many of whom are living with mental illness or have problems with substance abuse.

The city's rental database says the building has 158 units. Atira is still assessing the number of tenants in the building. Tenants currently pay between $350 and $525 per month in rent, with most paying around $425. Atira will likely set rents around that level, Ms. Abbott said.

Pal Sahota, a family member, did not respond to requests for comment. An associate, who was involved in lease negotiations with Atira, also did not reply to a request for comment.

According to property records, the Sahotas acquired the building in 1989, for $1.5-million. Its assessed value in 2018 is $12.2-million. There are two $1-million mortgages registered on the building, but those charges date to 1991, and several people familiar with mortgages said those have likely been paid off.

The family is facing foreclosure proceedings on three other buildings. Those proceedings are ongoing.

There have been long-standing complaints about pests, fire hazards, broken toilets and other problems at the Regent.

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Last year, following an engineer's structural review of the Regent, the city ordered repairs to "damage caused to long-term leaking from the plumbing and building envelope," adding in a December statement that "temporary bracing and supports have been put in place to ensure the safety and stability of the building."

A few months previous, in June, 2017, the city ordered another Sahota-owned SRO, the Balmoral, closed for fire and structural concerns.

This week, businesses running two bars on the main floor of the Cobalt, another Sahota-owned SRO a few blocks from the Regent, announced that they are leaving the premises so the owners can do much-needed repairs to the basement, which, under a city permit, must begin by the start of May.

Entrepreneurs, developers and more affluent residents have been moving into Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside at an accelerating rate. Activist Fraser Stuart says the changes are displacing longer-term residents. The Canadian Press
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