VANCOUVER - Single room occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside are getting pricier and are now unaffordable for many low-income residents, according to a new report from the Carnegie Community Action Project.
“We’re standing in front of the hotel that most Downtown Eastside residents consider a symbol of despair,” said report co-author Wendy Pedersen, speaking outside the Balmoral Hotel near Vancouver’s Main and Hastings intersection.
“Not only is it falling apart, but the rents are beyond what people can afford. So, if you’re a new renter going into the Balmoral Hotel you have to pay $425 a month, and that’s $50 higher than your welfare cheque allows,” she said.
The second annual SRO hotel survey was conducted by volunteers posing as prospective tenants. They visited 88 hotels in the Downtown Eastside, receiving data on 91 per cent of the 3605 rooms in the area.
Welfare cheques allot $375 a month on housing and Pedersen said this year alone, 694 rooms had their rents raised above that allotment. Last year, 889 hotel rooms began charging over $425 per month.
“Basically half are lost and we lost a quarter of them just in the last year to rent increases,” she said.
Balmoral resident Theresa Pratt said she is appalled with the housing situation, and was in tears when she spoke to the media.
“What is the city trying to do to disabled people in their 50s? It’s gross, it stinks in there. It’s full of rats. I shouldn’t pay $550 for it,” she said.
Pratt invited members of the media to come see her room, but the group was stopped in the lobby by the attendant. He came out from behind barred plexiglass and said the media could not go up without calling the manager.
When the manager could not be reached, the attendant refused to allow even one person in as a guest.
The Carnegie report raises further concerns that next year’s Olympics will cause more evictions, since SRO hotels are allowed to rent out 10 per cent of their rooms to tourists.
The study also revealed that some hotels illegally charge a “guest fee” when a resident wants to bring someone to their room overnight and that the number of hotels permitting double bunking has quadrupled.
Pedersen criticized the city of Vancouver for being too slow in its response to the housing crisis.
It may be creating some affordable housing, she said, but at the current rate it would take 53 years to replace the lost rooms.
And if rents continue to rise, Pedersen said, Vancouver will see more people on the street.
“The media and government say that homelessness is caused by addiction and mental illness. But they’re ignoring this other major factor, which is the shortage of housing supply available to people at $375,” she said.
“When I walk around the neighbourhood I look at people and I don’t think about their illness, I think about them not being able to access housing.”
Melanie Kuxdorf reports for The Tyee.