DTES Dirty Sanchez

Making Money from SROs

The Downtown East Side is about to lose another low-income apartment from a developer that is receiving money from the provincial government to run social housing with one hand while it gives tenants a Dirty Sanchez with the other.

Last month, Georgia Laine Developments told the tenants at 334 Carrall Street they would have to move out by the end of August for renovations. But since the developer didn’t actually have any renovation permits from the city, Pivot Legal Society fought the evictions on behalf of five tenants and won its cases at the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO) two weeks ago.

However, the victory is far from final because Georgia Laine will apply for the needed permits when the city strike is over and, if granted, resubmit the evictions. Since 334 Carrall is not a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel, it is not protected by the city’s bylaws. With rents at 334 Carrall ranging from $440 to $600, the 12 remaining tenants in the 30-unit building are now worried about their future.

“I don’t know where I’m going to live,” says a tenant named Ozzie, who has lived in the building for the past two years. “I won’t be able to find a place in Vancouver this cheap that’s decent and quiet. The Downtown East Side does need to be cleaned up, but throwing us out is not the answer.”

“I’ll probably end up on the street,” says another tenant who did not want his name published. “I have so many debts and so many bills that I can’t afford to move and it will be impossible to find a cheap place like this.”

Owned by Robert Wilson, Georgia Laine Developments became one of the biggest landlords in the Downtown East Side last year after buying 334 Carrall and six SRO hotels. One of the buildings it bought was the Pender Hotel, which was forced to shut down in 2006 after the fire department raided the building for a non-existent meth-lab and tore the place to pieces. The still-closed hotel happens to be directly beside a Georgia Laine condominium development called “33”, (www.33living.ca) which is all glitz and glam.

While Georgia Laine Project manger Guillermo Osornio originally said they planned to turn the Pender into a “boutique hotel,” they now intend to keep all of the SROs as cheap housing. But Osornio also originally said Georgia Laine would rescind the eviction notices for 334 Carrall after Pivot challenged them, but took the cases to the RTO anyway. After Pivot won the first two of five cases, Georgia Laine pulled back. Osornio refused any additional comment for the story.

But as Georgia Laine works on gentrifying the Downtown East Side, its sister company, Archer Realty (which is co-owned by Wilson), is making taxpayers money by operating the nine SRO hotels recently purchased by the province in the Downtown East Side. Wilson has already made a pretty penny by selling two of these nine hotels to the province – the Walton Hotel for $2.3 million and the Orange Hall for $4.1 million.

Osornio (who is also a management consultant for Archer) says the company has an interim contract with the province, but would not say how much it is worth. A BC Housing spokesperson says the province is still working out an arrangement with Archer and therefore could not yet say how much money will be paid to them. Although both Georgia Laine and Archer share an owner and have Osornio as a press contact, Osornio stresses the two companies are separate entities. Not everyone is convinced.

“Our main concern is if [Wilson is] supposed to running the SROs for the province and he’s giving out illegal eviction notices at [334 Carrall], what’s he doing at the other buildings?” asks David Eby, a lawyer for Pivot Legal Society who is representing the tenants of 334 Carrall.

Affordable housing along Carrall Street has been disappearing fast as the neighbourhood becomes increasingly developed and the city moves ahead with its $5 million Carrall Street Greenway – which will connect the seawall with the Downtown East Side. Several SRO buildings such as the Pender Hotel and the Burns Block were closed last year. The 22-unit Boulder Hotel at Carrall and Cordova will soon be condominiums. Because the building has been empty for 20 years, the city appears willing to wave the SRO bylaw that would require the developers, King Tiger Investments, to pay $15,000 per converted room and do a one-for-one replacement for each unit of low-income lost.

“If this development goes through, it will open the door to other condo developments,” says Wendy Pederson, a community organizer for the Carnegie Community Action Project that is opposing the Boulder conversion. “We can’t keep building million dollar condos when we can’t even afford to build enough social housing in the Downtown East Side.”

While the City of Vancouver recently extended a virtual moratorium on rental conversions across the city, the Downtown East Side was excluded because no one knew there was anything but SROs in the neighbourhood. However, the evictions at 334 Carrall have been a dirty reminder that regular life does exist in the area.

  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
---