The city has ordered the closure of a 150-plus room Downtown Eastside hotel with a notorious history for crime and more than 1,000 bylaw violations related to fire hazards, plumbing, electrical, structural damage and rodent and pest infestation.
The city issued the order Wednesday against the owners of the Regent Hotel at 160 East Hastings saying the chief building official determined that decades of “underinvestment and mismanagement” has led to “structural and life-safety” deficiencies, which constitute an unsafe condition.
The city said the decision was based on an independent engineering assessment of the building, which is across the street from the Balmoral Hotel, which the city closed last June for similar reasons. Both hotels belong to the Sahota family.
The city and provincial government issued separate news releases Wednesday, saying nearly 80 of the tenants at the Regent will move into the Jubilee Rooms, a recently renovated single-room-occupancy hotel in the 200-block of Main Street.
The Courier reported Tuesday on the government’s recent $12.5-million purchase of the Jubilee Rooms, which comprise two side-by-side buildings. The Jubilee was vacant for more than a year while the previous owner renovated the building.
Rooms will rent at a maximum of $375 per month.
Jean Swanson, a long-time anti-poverty candidate, told the Courier Tuesday that she was concerned the purchase of the Jubilee would trigger the closure of the Regent and mean a loss of 150 rooms in a community that lost 500 single-room-occupancy rooms last year.
Reached Wednesday, Swanson said her fears have come true.
“I wish I never had to say I told you so,” said Swanson, who is running for city council with COPE.
Swanson said for years she and others in the community have pressured the city to take action against the Sahotas to clean up their hotels to avoid closures. She was floored by the $12.5 million price of the Jubilee, considering B.C. Assessment assessed the value as of July 1, 2017 at $7.5 million. The province said a recent market appraisal valued the property at $13.25 million.
In February, the non-profit Atira Property Management signed a six-month lease with the Sahotas to begin managing the hotel. In April, Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira, described the condition of the hotel to the Courier as “abysmal.”
“I only agreed to do a six-month lease because I wasn’t sure what we were getting into,” Abbott said at the time.
The city noted Wednesday that general security and cleanliness of the Regent improved under Atira’s management. Atira has moved about 50 tenants in recent weeks to other Atira buildings, including Veteran's Lodge.
The city’s safety inspections of the Regent resulted in more than 1,000 outstanding bylaw violations, with 455 referred to prosecution. The city said work has started on structural and safety issues at the Regent but gave no indication if or when the building would re-open; the Balmoral is still closed.
Tenants at the Jubilee Rooms will have working washrooms, a meal program and around-the-clock support services related to health, counselling and other needs. Mayor Gregor Robertson and Housing Minister Selina Robinson were to meet with media Wednesday afternoon to provide more details.
The Courier left a message at the home of the Sahotas in Shaughnessy but did not receive a return call before this story was posted.