The City of Vancouver has spent at least $1.5 million so far on security, maintenance and other costs associated to two vacant single-room occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside that it purchased for a reported $11.5 million in November 2020.
The city bought the Balmoral and Regent hotels from the Sahota family with the intention to turn the buildings into safe and secure low-income housing. The century-old highrises, which have a combined 300 rooms, have been vacant since 2017 and 2018.
The city has since decided to demolish the Balmoral and lease the Regent to BC Housing, which has plans to redevelop the building but has yet to provide details. The city announced Tuesday, October 25, that demolition of the Balmoral at 159 E Hastings Street won’t be completed until late 2023.
Glacier Media reported in November 2021 that the city had racked up roughly $1 million in costs related to security and other charges to protect the hotels from further deteriorating or catching fire.
The buildings are located across the street from each other.
Since that article was posted, the city has spent an additional $536,000 to date, according to information the city’s communications department released this week to Vancouver Is Awesome.
Such costs will continue and increase until both properties are redeveloped, which could take several years.
“Beyond measures necessary to ensure the security of the buildings, including measures such as fire watch, boarding up broken windows, etc., the only additional costs are related to the planning of the demolition by the project team,” the city said in an email.
The city said people living in tents and makeshift shelters on the sidewalks outside the Balmoral and up and down East Hastings are not connected to the reason why the hotel hasn’t already been knocked down.
“The Balmoral is a very complex building and staff are working as expeditiously as possible and are prioritizing the work as per [chief building official] orders,” the city said.
Meanwhile, two adjacent two-storey buildings to the Balmoral damaged by fires this year will be demolished within the next two weeks. The city said it will bill the owners for the cost of demolition.
The slow process to turn the Balmoral and Regent properties into social housing comes as homelessness persists in the Downtown Eastside and across the city.
City officials and social service agencies have suggested homelessness has increased since the city’s last homeless count in March 2020 recorded 2,095 people without a home.
“Neither building is habitable in its current form,” the city said when asked about the urgency to build more housing.
The city didn’t provide an estimate of the cost to demolish the nine-storey Balmoral, saying “the demolition of this building is a very complex process.”
“The city will continuously assess the site and building conditions and will adjust the demolition process and timing to account for any unforeseen circumstances, changes or new developments,” the city said. “The actual costs will be impacted by these still-to-be-confirmed circumstances. We can share the costs as we near completion.”
The costs to maintain the Balmoral and Regent do not include the unknown but significant costs the city has spent over several decades on enforcing orders at the hotels. Annual costs related to police and firefighters responding to calls at both buildings are also unknown but are considered substantial.
Capt. Matthew Trudeau, public information officer for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, said in an email this week that firefighters responded 31 times to the Balmoral since January 2020 and answered 23 calls at the Regent.
Trudeau said these calls don’t include medical calls outside the buildings.
Glacier Media reported in April 2018 that police responded to 845 calls in and outside the Regent between Jan. 1, 2017 and Feb. 22, 2018; the Balmoral generated 248 calls for the same period, although it was closed in June 2017.