The City of Vancouver or BC Housing have released plans for promised low income housing in Balmoral, Regent

Two infamous downtown Eastside hotels that the city bought in November 2020 went empty a year later, costing about $ 1 million in security and other costs to get them ahead of another To protect against deterioration or fire.

The city bought the Balmoral and Regent hotels from the Sahota family last November for an undisclosed amount. The declared intention at the time was to turn the buildings with a total of 300 rooms into safe and low-income apartments.

Since purchasing the hotels, the city has paid $ 91,000 a month to protect the buildings and maintain a “fire station,” according to information the city transmitted to Glacier Media this week.

The monthly tab also includes maintenance and ancillary costs, with funds coming from tax revenue for vacant houses. A preliminary budget report for next year calls for an additional $ 500,000 to be spent in 2022 on security at hotel locations that face each other in East Hastings near Main Street.

“The city has a duty to ensure that these buildings are maintained in order to cope with existing risks and to create future living space in the Downtown Eastside,” it said in an email. “Advancing the work at these two locations with BC Housing is a high priority for the city.”

Balmoral is to be demolished

The city has not yet released any development plans or a timeline for the properties. The city’s partner, BC Housing, doesn’t either, though its CEO Shayne Ramsay Glacier Media told Glacier Media earlier this year that the Balmoral will likely be demolished and the Regent renovated.

“BC Housing is working closely with the City of Vancouver to develop a housing plan for both locations as it is clear that the buildings are in dire need of renovation to bring them into code and create safe and comfortable homes,” a representative from BC Housing said in an email statement.

“As we work with them, the city is leading the way in this work and is best placed to discuss the status and plans for a public consultation.”

Sandra Singh, the city’s director general of arts, culture and community services, told the city council last week that “active discussions” with BC Housing will continue and that politicians will be informed of the hotel’s plans early in the new year.

Councilors Pete Fry and Jean Swanson at the November 2nd meeting had questions about the running costs of the two hotels and missing details on future plans for the buildings a year after the city bought them.

In interviews this week, both Fry and Swanson said they were surprised at how expensive the monthly bill is for protecting and maintaining both hotels. Fry suggested that the council should have had a clearer understanding of the $ 91,000 monthly bill when the settlement was reached with the Sahota family.

“I understand that it is a complicated situation and that leaving it unsecured is not an option,” he said. “But I think we need to take a more confident approach here. And it’s probably something that should have been more evident in the expropriation talk, that we need to spend such dollars. “

Fire alarm systems are to be installed in December

Swanson suggested the city could find cheaper options, especially on security.

The city announced this week that sprinklers, a fire alarm center with electronic monitoring, train alarm stations, smoke detectors and emergency lighting are expected to be installed in both hotels in December.

This will bring the monthly cost down from $ 91,000 to $ 42,000 – and when multiplied over 12 months it adds up to about $ 500,000, which explains the city staff request in the 2020 preliminary budget report.

Housing activist Wendy Pedersen, who for years urged the city to buy the Balmoral and Regent from the Sahota family, said she was surprised at the cost of protecting and maintaining the hotels.

There is an urgent need to start building or demolishing the land in order to create the promised low-income housing needed in a city that is estimated to be home to an estimated 750 street homeless people last year.

“It has to go – we are desperate,” said Pedersen, who lived an estimated 1,000 people in Balmoral and Regent before they closed in 2017 and 2018. “I think that devastated the community and lost all of these houses. Some of the city’s hardest-to-accommodate people lived there. This is a travesty. “

The monthly costs borne by the city do not include the unknown but substantial costs that the city has spent over several decades in enforcing orders in the hotels. The city closed both buildings as they were deemed unsafe.

Back then, the city cited technical reports describing fire hazards, rotting wood, sagging floors, water damage and mold inside the Balmoral. Similar problems were raised by the city in its decision to close the Regent.

In November 2019, the city’s estimate to repair both hotels was $ 90 million.

Regent, Balmoral top 10 problem hotels

The Regent and Balmoral have been on the city’s top 10 problem hotels list for nearly 20 years and have been cited by police in numerous reports of drug activity, violence and other crimes.

Glacier Media reported in April 2018 that police responded to 845 calls inside and outside the Regent between January 1, 2017 and February 22, 2018; the Balmoral generated 248 calls over the same period despite being closed in June 2017.

Vancouver Police Statistics provided to Glacier Media this week for calls in both buildings since December 2020 totaled 14 disruptions and ongoing missions, mischief, suspicious circumstances, and fire and ambulance assistance were among the calls.

Though the city has yet to reveal how much it paid for the hotels, the Sahota family lawyer told the council in November 2019 that they are receiving several private offers of between $ 7 million and $ 12.5 million for each building have.