Derelict Vancouver hotels cost city $1 million a year in security

Empty hotels cost big bucks

Two notorious Downtown Eastside Vancouver hotels the city purchased in 2020 remain vacant one year later and have racked up roughly $1 million in costs related to security and other charges to protect them for further deteriorating or catching fire.

The city bought the Balmoral and Regent hotels last November from the Sahota family for an undisclosed sum. The stated intention at the time was to turn the buildings, which have a combined total of 300 rooms, into safe and secure low-income housing.

Since the purchase of the hotels, the city has paid $91,000 per month to protect the buildings and maintain a “fire watch,” according to information supplied to Glacier Media.

The monthly tab has also included costs for maintenance and utilities, with funds coming from empty homes tax revenue. A preliminary report on next year’s budget requests another $500,000 be spent in 2022 for security at the hotel sites, which face each other on East Hastings near Main Street.

“The city has an obligation to ensure these buildings are maintained to address existing risks and so that they can provide future housing in the Downtown Eastside,” the city said in an email. “Advancing work on these two sites with BC Housing is a high priority for the city.”

The city has yet to release any development plans or timeline for the properties. Neither has the city’s partner, BC Housing, although its CEO Shayne Ramsay 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 as they develop a housing plan for both sites as it’s clear the buildings are in desperate need of renovations to bring them up to code and create safe and comfortable homes,” a representative from BC Housing said in an emailed statement.

“While we are working with them, the city is leading in this work and is best placed to talk about the status of it, as well as plans for public consultation.”

Sandra Singh, the city’s general manager of arts, culture and community services, told city council last week that “active discussions” continue with BC Housing and that an update on plans for the hotels will be provided to politicians early in the new year.

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

That will reduce monthly costs from $91,000 to $42,000 — and when multiplied over 12 months equals roughly $500,000, which explains the request from city staff in the 2020 preliminary budget report.

Housing activist Wendy Pedersen, who urged the city for years 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 urgency, she added, to begin construction or demolition on the properties to create the promised low-income housing, which is needed in a city that had an estimated street homeless population last year of 750.

“It has to get going — we are desperate,” said Pedersen, who estimated 1,000 people lived in the Balmoral and Regent before they were closed in 2017 and 2018. “So I think that’s caused havoc in the community, losing all those homes. Some of the hardest-to-house people in the city were living there. That’s a travesty.”

The monthly costs borne by the city do not include the unknown but significant costs the city has spent over several decades on enforcing orders at the hotels. The city closed both buildings because they were deemed unsafe to occupy.

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