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The Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Vancouver City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to expropriate two derelict buildings on the Downtown Eastside for $1 each, heeding a city staff report that concluded it would cost millions to renovate the properties and pleas from community advocates and former residents to bring the buildings under city control.

The vote followed a city report released last week that recommended the city expropriate for $1 each the Regent and Balmoral hotels, single-room occupancy hotels that for decades have provided housing to low-income residents. The hotels are owned by the Sahota family.

SAHOTA FAMILY’S

PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

Astoria Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

MAIN ST

TERMINAL AVE

0

550

m

E 1ST AVE

W 12TH AVE

1

MAIN ST

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH:

STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

SAHOTA FAMILY’S PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

Astoria Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

MAIN ST

TERMINAL AVE

0

550

m

E 1ST AVE

W 12TH AVE

MAIN ST

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH:

STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

SAHOTA FAMILY’S PROPERTIES IN VANCOUVER

Regal Hotel

Balmoral Hotel

Regent Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

Astoria Hotel

GRANVILLE ST

Balmoral Hotel

Astoria Hotel

E HASTINGS ST

ROBSON ST

Regent Hotel

PRIOR ST

Regal Hotel

Cobalt Hotel

TERMINAL AVE

MAIN ST

0

550

m

E 1ST AVE

W 12TH AVE

MAIN ST

Vancouver

W 49TH AVE

MAP: MURAT YÜKSELIR, RESEARCH: STEPHANIE CHAMBERS / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE STREET VIEW

The staff report said that the low valuation reflected the cost of renovating or demolishing the buildings, each of which were ordered closed by the city over health and safety concerns. The city ordered the Balmoral closed in 2017 and the Regent in 2018.

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Jean Swanson, a long-time community activist in her first term as councillor, shed tears as she brought the motion to expropriate the buildings.

“We desperately need housing … we desperately need to stop the loss of SROs,” she said.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart called the vote “historic,” and said it would set the stage to seek support from other levels of government to renovate the buildings and provide much-needed housing in the neighbourhood.

“We can use the powers of the [Vancouver] Charter and use it to make life better for residents that need it most,” Mr. Stewart said.

Council also directed staff to compensate the owner of the Regent Pub $1,000 for the pub lease, and approved $350,000 for each building for security systems.

Earlier in the day, Evan Cooke, a lawyer representing the Sahotas, said the city’s appraisals were unrealistic and that it should abandon expropriation so that the owners could negotiate with prospective buyers.

Mr. Cooke said the owners had received multiple offers, with some in the $10-million range for each building, but that the owners could not pursue those negotiations because of the city’s expropriation process.

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“The owners have communicated over and over again for more than six months that they are willing to convey title of these properties to the City of Vancouver,” he said. “They have only asked that they be treated fairly in the process and paid market value.”

Mr. Cooke has previously said the Sahotas would challenge the expropriation in court if the city approved the motion.

The city first announced its intention to expropriate the two buildings in 2018.

Councillor Colleen Hardwick said she had concerns about expropriation and worried about government interference in private business, but that those concerns were outweighed by the conviction that the city had a role to play in addressing harms resulting from private ownership of the buildings.

“We can’t continue to let it stay where it is at,” Ms. Hardwick said.

Speakers described dire conditions in the buildings, including mould, pests and elevators that were out of service for weeks or months.

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One of the speakers was Jack Gates, a former tenant of the Regent who spearheaded an attempted class action against the city and the buildings’ owners over health and safety concerns.

The B.C. Court of Appeal in October, 2018, ruled the class action could not proceed as proposed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gates urged council to act, saying he used to wake up wondering if the roof had collapsed on him overnight. “The things I saw happen in there were terrible … we really need to expropriate these buildings,” he said.

City staff said the renovation costs would be around $46-million for the Balmoral and $40-million for the Regent. The current assessed value of both buildings is about $3-million.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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