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B.C. government back in SRO business, buys 78-room Downtown Eastside hotel

Anti-poverty advocate worried sale will trigger closure of notorious Regent Hotel
The provincial government recently purchased the Jubilee Rooms hotel in the 200-block of Main Street. The previous B.C. Liberal-led government bought more than 23 single-room-occupancy hotels when it was in power. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The provincial government is getting back in the business of buying Downtown Eastside single-room-occupancy hotels with the recent purchase of the 78-unit Jubilee Rooms in the 200-block of Main Street.

The deal was confirmed by the previous owner of a company called 235 and 237 Main Street Holdings and a communications representative in the ministry of Housing Minister Selina Robinson. Both the government and the previous owner did not disclose details of the sale.

The combined assessed value of the property as of July 1, 2017 was $7.5 million.

The hotel, which has 78 rooms spread over two side-by-side buildings, has been vacant for more than a year while undergoing renovations. The Carnegie Community Action Project’s 2017 hotel survey and housing report suggested the Jubilee Rooms, once renovated, would “probably be rented out at high rents.”

The Carnegie report noted the average rent at privately owned and operated hotels surveyed in the Downtown Eastside was $687 per month. The previous year, the average rent was $548 per month, according to the report, which recommended the federal government provide funds to build low-income social housing in the Downtown Eastside “to replace 1,000 SRO units per year for the next five years.”

Jean Swanson, who co-wrote the report and is now running for city council with COPE, said she was glad the province bought the Jubilee Rooms but is worried it will lead to the closure of the nearby Regent Hotel at 160 East Hastings St., which is in poor shape.

“We’re afraid that they bought it to put people from the Regent in there, and that there’s not going to be any fixing up of the Regent, and that we’ll lose another 150 rooms,” said Swanson, noting about 500 rooms were lost in the Downtown Eastside last year. “Last I heard, about a third of the rooms [in the Regent] were boarded up. So we’re really afraid that the city is going to close it.”

Over the years, the city has filed dozens of charges against the Sahota family—the owners of the Regent—related to the poor condition of the hotel. Last spring, the city filed more than 60 charges under the standards of maintenance bylaw.

An inspection of the hotel in September 2017 found 426 standards of maintenance violations. Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services also referred 67 fire bylaw violations for prosecution.

The Regent has been at the top of the city’s list of problem hotels for almost 20 years and generated more than 800 police calls in a recent 14-month period. Vancouver police statistics show officers responded to 845 calls in and outside the Regent between Jan. 1, 2007 and Feb. 22 ,2018.

The previous B.C. Liberal government purchased more than 23 single-room-occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside to renovate and offer accommodation for low-income residents. The NDP government’s purchase of the Jubilee Rooms is believed to be the first purchase of a single-room-occupancy hotel since elected in 2017.