Opinion Column

Owners responsible for poor state of Balmoral Hotel

By Steve Burgess

Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver. (Google Street View/Screenshot)

Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver. (Google Street View/Screenshot)

The fire at London's Grenfell Tower apartment block has drawn a stark line through that city.

As the death toll climbs toward three figures, the fire has been the grimmest of reminders that a major city such as London is really many cities, with different communities widely separated by income and circumstances.

In Vancouver, meanwhile, the unfortunate tower currently in the news is the Balmoral Hotel.

The SRO residence -- a hellhole so appalling it was in danger of falling down -- on the downtown east side has now been evacuated so that it can undergo a structural review.

In light of the Grenfell tragedy, the Balmoral evacuation can almost be viewed as a positive story. At least the city shut it down before calamity struck.

But it is hard to look at the ramshackle Balmoral and think, “Success!”

Responsibility for the state of the Balmoral must fall primarily on the owners.

It appears the Sahota family has consistently failed in their obligation to maintain their buildings they own, with the Balmoral serving as their perverse showplace.

But attempts to hold their feet to the fire have been weak. The city is now reportedly considering up to 64 bylaw charges, but fines paid by the Sahotas in recent years have been relatively paltry.

The fact that landlords like the Sahotas are so prominent in Vancouver SRO accommodations highlights the fact that good options are hard to come by.

Business interests are not exactly lining up to step into the Sahotas' shoes.

Like London, Vancouver is suffering the effects of fantastically expensive real estate.

The effects are everywhere, from small businesses disappearing to renters squeezed out of the city to the fact that Vancouver motorists can hardly find a gas pump anymore.

The search for a fill-up may not be a major life problem when compared to the issues facing SRO residents, but it's still part of the same story.

If it's no longer considered financially worthwhile to run a gas station in Vancouver, imagine how little incentive property owners have to operate social housing units.

Recent figures show the Vancouver housing market heating up again as the effect of the foreign buyer's tax appears to be wearing off.

Whether it's London or Vancouver, the stark reality is that the financial imperatives of a hot real estate market can corrode the very fabric of the city.

This is the part of the column where I come up with the simple solution but I appear to be out of space.