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Following city inspection of Balmoral, council hopeful calls for independent inspection

Dan Fumano

Vancouver police and city officials outside the Balmoral Hotel as residents leave the hotel for the last time pending renovations, in Vancouver, BC., June 12, 2017. (NICK PROCAYLO/Postmedia)

Vancouver police and city officials outside the Balmoral Hotel as residents leave the hotel for the last time pending renovations, in Vancouver, BC., June 12, 2017. (NICK PROCAYLO/Postmedia)

After City of Vancouver inspectors visited the empty Balmoral Hotel on Friday, a prominent advocate-turned-city council hopeful called for another independent inspection of the notorious Downtown Eastside rooming house.

More than 150 Balmoral residents were ordered to vacate the single-room occupancy hotel last month after city engineers deemed the century-old building dangerous and structurally unsound. The Sahota family, who own the Balmoral and other SROs among their multi-million dollar real estate empire, were ordered to complete repairs by Friday, July 14 to stabilize the building.

City staff completed an inspection Friday "to confirm the status of the shoring and confirm next steps," said City of Vancouver communications director Rena Kendall-Craden in an email Saturday.

"However until we complete the inspection, we cannot comment on the specifics of the work. Once the team has completed their inspection report and it has been reviewed by relevant staff, the City will be in a position to provide an update next week," she said.

"The Sahotas are responsible for shoring the building and they have a professional contractor on board doing the work, however the City has been in regular contact with the contractor over the past few weeks and they are progressing as expected on the shoring."

Meanwhile, Judy Graves, the city's former advocate for the homeless who last week announced she would run for city council, said she would like to see a second, independent inspection by an engineering company "because I think people are not feeling particularly trusting right now of the existing process."

"The existing process people have a reason not to trust," she said.

Graves worked for the city in various capacities over the past three decades, most recently as Vancouver's advocate for the homeless until her retirement in 2013. She announced last week she wants to run for Vancouver council in the by-election expected this fall triggered by three-term Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs resigning from his seat July 4 after being hired as NDP premier-designate John Horgan’s chief of staff. Graves is seeking the nomination of the OneCity party.

Though the Balmoral is dilapidated from decades of neglectful mismanagement, Graves said, the city cannot afford to lose 150 rooms of low-income housing. If lost, those rooms would cost millions of dollars to replace, she said, "and that's coming out of your pocket and mine."

Graves said Vancouver's housing crisis is one of the main reasons decided to come out of retirement and seek a council seat.

Most of the former Balmoral residents have moved to other rooming houses within the neighbourhood. Many of them are far happier in their new homes than they were in the run-down Balmoral, said Wendy Pedersen, a tenant organizer with the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative.

Pedersen, a longtime housing Vancouver advocate, wants to see governments take stronger action on the Sahotas and other managers of problem SROs, she said, adding: "The city and the province have let this go on for so long, they're responsible."

dfumano@postmedia.com

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