Tenants of rundown SRO protest outside Vancouver mayor's office
A group of tenants from a rundown single-room occupancy hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside stormed City Hall Thursday to demand officials do something about their increasingly intolerable living conditions.
The fed-up residents of the Balmoral Hotel gathered outside the door to Mayor Gregor Robertson's office to demand assurances the city will fund emergency repairs at their building.
The property has rats and garbage on the floors, unusable bathrooms, doors that won't lock, as well as potential structural issues, according to people who live there.
"If we stay at the Balmoral without repairs being done, we are at risk because the floors or ceiling might collapse in our bathrooms or rooms. If we leave, we could lose our lives on the streets," they said in a joint statement released by the Carnegie Community Action Project.
The residents describe themselves mostly as indigenous, and include elders, women, and people with disabilities and other health challenges.
The property is owned by the Sahota family, who are well-known in Metro Vancouver for past issues at some of their rental buildings. The roof collapsed at one property in East Vancouver, The Pandora, back in 2007, and the building was ultimately condemned eight years later.
Balmoral residents said they've given up hope that their concerns will be addressed by the owners or property managers, and they want to see the municipal or provincial government step up and help rather than wait for them to be pushed out when the building becomes uninhabitable.
"The Balmoral will eventually be sold and upscaled for higher income renters. This future is inevitable unless the city pays for repairs now," they said.
"We are not going to shelters. Many of us are in very fragile health. Many of us will not survive living in other places and shelters are not homes. Some of us have very low rents here. Some of us have lived here for decades. Many of us are not wanted in other buildings. This is our home."
The Carnegie Community Action Project said the province could buy the Balmoral, as it did in 2007 with another 22 hotels, 14 of which were renovated.
Vancouver hasn't responded to the occupation outside Robertson's office, but earlier in the day the mayor issued a statement describing the conditions at the Balmoral as "disgusting."
"No resident of Vancouver should have to live in housing like that," it read. "Our staff are looking at every possible legal and regulatory tool we have available to force the Sahota family to improve the Balmoral and hold them accountable."
Robertson said the city has referred more than 150 issues at the property to prosecution since November, but noted those measures "don't always get landlords to change their behaviour."