British Columbia

Balmoral Hotel residents fear being turfed if building is condemned

A looming City of Vancouver decision on the fate of an East Hastings SRO means about 150 people could soon lose their homes, community activists say.

About 150 people living in the SRO worry they could be out on the street if city condemns notorious building

The Balmoral Hotel is a single room occupancy hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (CBC News)

A looming City of Vancouver decision on the fate of an East Hastings single room occupancy hotel means about 150 people could soon lose their homes, community activists say.

The city says a review completed this month revealed internal structural issues related to water damage at the Balmoral.

It also says there are dozens of outstanding repairs to the hotel owned by the Sahota family, who are well known throughout Metro Vancouver for owning problem properties.

City engineers and inspectors have already sealed off bathtubs in the building, so the weight of the water won't compromise safety, according to the Carnegie Community Action Project.

The group held a rally on Tuesday with residents of the Balmoral to draw attention to their concerns.

Coordinator Lenee Son said they are hoping the city will fix the building but acknowledges it's in very rough shape.

"Right now, it's literally rotting and the foundation is at risk of collapsing," said Son.

Son says it would be devastating if the Balmoral were to be condemned and 150 people displaced.

"There are only about 950 shelter spaces in Vancouver, whereas there's 2,138 counted homeless people ... there's absolutely nowhere for people to go."

A leak in the ceiling of a room at the Balmoral hotel on East Hastings Street in Vancouver. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

The city says further assessment of the building is necessary, and it is in the process of hiring external professionals to provide an independent review of its structural status and code compliance.

It notes all related expenses will be the responsibility of the building's owner.

Roxanne Lee Haskall has been living in the building since August 2015 and says she knows it's not safe, but, if she didn't live there, she would be homeless.

"We don't know what to do, like, if we get moved today. I don't know. I'm worried," said Haskall.

She says she would probably have to rent a storage room for her personal belongings.

"I was homeless before for years, and I was so happy to be off the streets here and I thought I was doing well here."

Roberta Westenberg also lives in the Balmoral Hotel and says she doesn't think she would survive on the streets.

"If I'm out on the street ... I'm turning 57. I'm not a young chicken ... you going to find me dead."

Westenberg says she just got out of the hospital with pneumonia. She believes it was caused by black mould in her apartment in the Balmoral.

Roberta Westenberg, left, and Roxanne Haskall are concerned about the dilapidated state of the Balmoral hotel but also afraid what will happen if the city condemns it. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

"It's been leaking and coming down, all of it. None of this was here when I moved in," she said.

"Our sink doesn't even work. We have no running water in our bedroom. We're supposed to have a closet. We don't even have a closet for our clothes."

Both Westenberg and Haskall took part in the emergency rally with other residents and the Carnegie Community Action Project

Haskall says they are hoping for a solution that won't leave them out on the streets.

"I want the manager to fix it up or put us in a hotel where he will pay for it until the building is liveable."

The city says repairs will be ordered once a complete assessment of the fire and structural systems in the building has been completed. It says this may require partial or full relocation of the tenants

To that end, city staff are planning to meet with the Sahota family to discuss next steps in meeting their responsibilities under the Residential Tenancy Act.

This includes providing alternate accommodation to residents of the Balmoral Hotel, should it become necessary

The Sahota family did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News.

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