Published 18 April 2014 in The Globe and Mail
The owner of the Chelsea Hotel in the Downtown Eastside says he has no plans on selling the building, as activists and residents call on the city to buy single-room-occupancy hotels so that private companies won’t swoop in and raise rent.
Long-time Downtown Eastside activist Wendy Pedersen said representatives of Living Balance owner Steven Lippman have recently visited and toured the Chelsea Hotel.
But Yahya Nickpour, the building’s current owner, denies the property could soon be sold. “It is not true that I am selling the building to Mr. Lippman. It was for sale previously, but not any more,” he said.
Questions over the fate of the building come as Downtown Eastside activists and residents of the Chelsea rooms call on the city of Vancouver to purchase single-room-occupancy hotels like the Chelsea to keep rents affordable.
“We are at a very serious tipping point on the Downtown Eastside,” Ms. Pedersen said. “Homelessness is going up, and one of the biggest causes is the loss of these single-room occupancy hotels like the Chelsea.”
A report presented to council on Wednesday showed the city could experience a 25 per cent increase in homelessness. City manager Penny Ballem told city council that Vancouver is going “backwards” in its fight against homelessness.
The “worst-case scenario” data presented to council predicted that up to 1,044 people could be sleeping on Vancouver’s streets in 2014 – up from 273 in 2013
Among the factors blamed for the surge in homelessness was the trend of single-room occupancy units going vacant because of rent increases that have soared above provincial shelter rates.
Seven years ago, 60 per cent of the rooms in these hotels rented at the shelter rate of $375 a month. In 2014, only 24 per cent are at those rates.
Steven Jensen, a resident of the Chelsea Hotel, said he’s hoping the city will “back us up and take the buildings.
“I couldn’t afford more than $500 a month, and if Lippman takes it over, it will be $800 a month.”
Mr. Jensen currently spends $475 a month on rent at the Chelsea Hotel. The average monthly rent in single-room occupancy hotels owned by Lippman is between $600 and $650, Living Balance spokeswoman Anah Teele said.
No one is ever forcibly evicted from hotels owned by Living Balance and 40 per cent of residents stay on once the properties are purchased, Ms. Teele said.
The company currently has no interest in buying the Chelsea Hotel, she said. In any case, she said, drug addiction and mental illness are to blame for homelessness – not the rising rents of single-room occupancy hotels like those owned by her company.
“The issue is more complex than being able to draw a straight line to one company,” Ms. Teele said. “We have private ownership and we purchase these buildings and rent at the cost that it takes to run and maintain them.”
The report presented to city council recorded that on top of the single-room-occupancy hotel crisis, Vancouver has lost more than 200 interim housing spaces and 55 winter shelter beds.