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Council Approves Grant for Notorious SRO

Vancouver councillors say they’re satisfied a renovation and new operations plan will make the London Hotel safer.

Jen St. Denis 25 Jan 2023TheTyee.ca

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Vancouver city council has approved a $720,000 grant for the renovation of a notorious SRO building in Chinatown.

Councillors voted in July to delay the grant because of concerns about how the building was being operated. The London Hotel, located at 208 E. Georgia St., is owned by Porte Communities, a real estate development company, and operated by Atira Property Management Inc. APMI receives funding from BC Housing to operate the building as supportive housing.

In 2021 and 2022, The Tyee reported on tenants’ complaints about bathrooms and showers not working and on an external support worker’s concern that several tenants had been bullied out of their rooms and ended up homeless while still paying rent.

The Tyee also reported that one tenant with severe mental illness had lived at the London with no door on her room for months, a fire hazard that other supportive housing operators said would not have been allowed to continue in buildings they operate.

The London was closed in the fall of 2022 so the building could be renovated. Several months before it closed, one tenant told The Tyee that only four toilets and one shower worked in a building that housed 53 residents at the time.

During a meeting on Jan. 18, Vancouver councillors said they were satisfied that city staff and APMI have worked to address their concerns about the safety of the London Hotel, which has been renamed Aay̓in. The $720,000 grant will go to Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit that owns APMI as a for-profit property management company.

The building has been renovated and the front entrance has been changed to make sure unauthorized people cannot enter the building. A kitchen and a lounge has also been added. To make sure the building is more secure, APMI does not plan to allow visitors.

Previously, the London was in such bad repair that “only those who could not get housing elsewhere would accept a room at [the London], which created a tenant population that was difficult to manage and adequately support,” according to city staff’s report recommending council approve the grant.

Atira now plans to rent the 72 rooms at the London Hotel to First Nations, Inuit or Métis people who want to reduce or stop substance use. The housing provider will provide right of first refusal to 37 tenants who were moved out of the building so renovations could be completed.

Programs to help with recovery from substance use, take medication regularly and get connected with Indigenous culture and healing will be provided, according to a plan APMI provided to city council.

The building will now be overseen by a community advisory committee that includes staff from the city, Atira, Vancouver Coastal Health, Kílala Lelum health centre, Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society, BC Housing, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and local community residents and business owners.

ABC Coun. Rebecca Bligh told council she had recently toured the building with Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira.

“I didn’t see the building before, but I’m assured this is a world apart of where this was nine months ago,” Bligh said.

Green Coun. Pete Fry had previously spoken about tenant Patti Belliveau, the woman who lived without a door on her room for months. Fry knew Belliveau and previously said he felt “terribly guilty” about not acting on concerns he heard from her about the London. Belliveau died of a suspected overdose at the building in January 2022.

“Obviously there’s been a lot of scrutiny on this and the operator, and I want to reflect that this is a pretty comprehensive management plan,” he told city staff last week.

“I was quite critical of this particular [building], I know it well — but I’m taking a leap of faith with you.”

The total renovation budget for the London Hotel is $2.8 million, with funding coming from BC Housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and Porte Communities. The $720,000 grant from the City of Vancouver comes out of an existing budget for refurbishing SRO buildings.

SROs, or single-room occupancy hotels, are century-old hotels that feature small rooms with no kitchens and shared bathrooms. The buildings are common in West Coast cities like Vancouver and San Francisco and often house people struggling with poverty, mental illness and addictions.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Housing

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