Battle for the Balmoral: 2017
The Balmoral Hotel is located on East Hastings near Main Street. It is owned by the same people who owns the Regent and Cobalt Hotels, the Sahotas.
(Click bolded text for hyperlinked newspaper articles).
On May 27 2017, city plumbers disables the bathtubs at the Balmoral, saying the weight of water could collapse the floors. Later that week, engineers assessed how extensive the rot in the building was. The Balmoral had been on fire watch by Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services since May 12. On May 30, an emergency rally was held in front of the Balmoral to bring attention to the ongoing issues at the Balmoral.
Tenants and community organizers feared the building would be condemned, but were having difficulties receiving information from the City. Balmoral tenants held a meeting to collectively write a statement on what they would demand from the city. On May 31, a group of Balmoral tenants and supporters occupied Vancouver City Hall and demanded that the City provide them with copies of all engineer reports, guarantee that the city pay for emergency repairs, and not displace tenants during the repair process.
On June 2 2017, the City of Vancouver issued an eviction notice to the ~150 tenants of the Balmoral. Up to 40 tenants began meeting nightly in the Balmoral, with SRO Collaborative Society community organizer Wendy Pedersen, and Audrey Siegl and Bernie Williams offered their support and presence at the meetings as well. A lawyer for tenants of the Balmoral, Jason Gratl, set to challenge the City’s eviction notice.
The City of Vancouver was critiqued by many organizations, including Carnegie Community Action Project, Chinatown Concern Group, and Alliance Against Displacement, for their ongoing inaction around SROs. The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre released a statement emphasizing the importance of prioritizing women’s safety in any relocation plan of tenants. Former UN Housing Rapporteur Miloon Kathari was also critical, calling the Balmoral, “a gross violation of human rights.” Kathari also said that the housing crisis in Vancouver has “become worse on virtually every level.” An article in the Vancouver Sun served as a reminder that the Balmoral was far from the only problematic SRO in the city.
This video from Carnegie Community Action Project shows Miloon Kathari’s speech from the Battle for the Balmoral block party and speak out:
On June 11, the Battle for the Balmoral Block Party and Speak Out took over the 100 block of Hastings St. More the 150 people showed up in solidarity with tenants of the Balmoral. There was food, music, and speeches by tenants and housing advocates.
On the morning of June 12, eviction day, the Collaborative did a survey and found that at least 16 people still did not have housing to go to. A media release from the Collaborative said that supporters would be on hand all day to ensure that tenants received their settlement cheques from the Sahotas. The release said, “Tenants are eligible for approximately 2 months of rent returned to them, plus their damage deposit. If tenants take these settlement cheques, they will have to sign a release form that prevents them for suing the landlords for aggravated damages related to the emergency evacuation in the future. Settlement cheques are expected to arrive at 11am. We expect there to be a lot of trouble there if the cheques are not available.” The Collaborative also sent out a call to women volunteers to escort women to the bank to cash their settlement cheques, as at least two women were mugged.
An article in the Globe and Mail said that “The [Balmoral] situation has also raised questions about the city’s effectiveness in dealing with problem landlords.”
In June 2017, a fire spread through Grenfell Tower in London, UK. There are horrible similarities between what happened in London and what is happening in SRO hotels in Vancouver. Here are two links about individuals’ reactions to Grenfell:
Grenfell Tower, June, 2017: a poem by Ben Okri
‘Heartbroken’ MP David Lammy becomes tearful remembering friend who died in Grenfell Tower Fire
Below are updates posted by Wendy Pedersen, Community Organizer with the DTES SRO Collaborative Society, who worked with Balmoral tenants non-stop throughout the whole series of events.
June 13: Tuesday morning: Some tenants, probably mostly cash-rent payers, missed the lifeboats are still in the Balmoral packing…or trying to get in to get their stuff or to get their settlement or adjust their settlement to the proper amount. I’m hearing some are going to shelters or crummy hotels like Arco.
June 12: Final update for now from me on Balmoral – looks like pretty much everyone is getting permanent housing with the 3Ps accommodated (pets, partners and possessions). The Sahotas paid out $220,000 in settlements to the tenants today as tenants were leaving thanks to community organizing. Although $$ is good news, women and other vulnerable tenants could be at risk tonight as they were forced to line up outside the hotel to receive the $$ and no privacy with media present. Women’s groups rose up immediately and are coordinating peer safety patrols in and around the buildings where women moved to. Praying for everyone’s safety. Many pledges from tenants to help out when they are called upon for the next battle….expect more soon…off to rest for a few days.
June 11: Quick Balmoral update: tonight we counted 18 unconfirmed with no housing. Outreach workers there for 12 hours or more to get people out tomorrow. And we need to make sure that tenants get their housing and settlement cheques from sahotas before leaving. Come on down to Bal outside, check in there.
June 11 (morning):
Sunday morning update – the last day before the final clearance of the Balmoral Hotel – Shazia and I made a sweep through the hotel from 10-11 p.m. and we found 28 tenants who have not yet been housed. there may be more. I’m there so much that sometimes its hard to see the place for what it is because of the emotional armour one has to put on in order to be there – but is truly a HUMAN RIGHTS CRIME SCENE.
BC housing and city will be there tomorrow and Monday working with tenants and these tenants are desperate to work with BC Housing so we will not be interfering in their organizing efforts with the tenants and confine our activities to the street at 1pm for the block party/protest and leave the sidewalk to the movers and outreach workers so they can continue to do their jobs.
City and BC Housing are asking us to close down the block party at 3pm, something about shift change with police that may prevent them from working with tenants to relocate them in the evening, but from what I’m hearing, that may not be possible on our end….especially if 100s of people are coming to support tenants citywide. They say it will interfere with their ability to have nighttime resources on site for tenants.
The vast majority of Balmoral Tenants are generally very, very happy with their new housing. Nobody is being separated from pets, partners and it looks like everyone will be leaving with their possessions (the new P3’s) Lots of hugs and happy people. Tenants are going to be working in the coming days, with organizers to ensure that everyone is housed and that all tenants get their compensation settlements before leaving the hotel by Monday night.
The public outrage about the lack of oversight over slumlords is clear. The public is clearly fed up about landlords getting rich taking advantage of vulnerable people and the abuse of women, elderly, disabled and racist discrimination that our governments with their lack of action condone.
The Collaborative calls on the City and Province to make funds available so that they can go into the Balmoral and make it beautiful, make it safe and run with ethical management. Send the bill to the Sahotas. Seize their property(s)! We are not losing another 175 rooms because of the City’s negligence. The Balmoral will not be operated by corrupt slumlords every again. Nor will it sit empty for 10 years as a reminder of our neglected community. Nor will it be turned into micro lofts at $1000/month per room like many other poor people’s homes in our community.
We call on the City to seize the Balmoral and the other 4 SROs they own. Plus to seize all other slumlord properties in our community and MAKE THEM SAFE. Tenants are not pleased with the city’s VPD and inspection and legal departments who do not use the power they have to make their homes and community safe. And angry at the elected people who have sat by and let this happen.
More SROs must be shut down, but with a housing and safety plan in place for tenants and they must be renovated for the community and with the community. And all homeless people must be housed, not just those who have an easy way to make the mayor look bad.
Up to 40 tenants met every night on the 8th floor of the Balmoral Hotel at 8pm. These meetings (8 on the 8th) have been inspiring (and sometimes frustrating) as tenants grappled with every step and stage of this mass eviction, their last 10 days together, sharing updates, strategizing and making decisions, with the best information, for themselves and as a group.
Tenants were honoured to have the support and presence of Bernie Williams, Audrey Siegl at our meetings, plus our MLA Melanie Mark for actively supporting the Balmoral tenants over the last few days. Melanie stressed the urgency and her commitment when she said “I don’t have 40 more years to solve problems with the Sahotas.” We’ll be working hard to make it easy for Melanie to do what she needs to do to help us. We are also very honoured to have the support of faith community leaders and look forward to leaning in with them on this issue over the coming months. Also, a deep bow to the amazing work of the DTES Women’s Centre who were there in force for the women of the Balmoral making sure their needs were front and centre during this very difficult time. And to Atira’s Linda and Janice who rallied for tenants this week pulled a big rabbit out of a hat by opening up the Winters and Travellers Hotels that for years has been empty and also have been rallying for women who were unregistered homeless at stuck at the Balmoral. I also want to thank Jean Swanson, Harley Augustino and Richard Marquez for their mentorship. And thank you mostly to those of you who joined with me to do the emotional labour, physical and mental labour to support tenants over the last 2 years and those of you who have been going around the clock for the last 9 days, you have my love and friends-forever support: Sam, Marina, Dani, Eliot, Magnus, Shazia, Beverly, Mohammad, David, Jay, Jack, Kell, Sho, Julia, Joyce, Jeff, Kathy, Justin, Arden, Samantha, Darlene, Liam, Neil, Molly, Tom…your labour is and can move mountains. And to my family at home who are the rock and put up with me doing this every day.
Tenants were inspired by the public support. That positive public support is precious and sometimes in short supply for our community and it really buoyed up spirits and gave the momentum that tenants needed to get their immediate demands for decent housing to move to, with the 3Ps, met.
Tonight, on the 8th floor, the mood was more relaxed because nearly all tenants at the meeting had housing arranged that they like. I asked tenants to give a show of hands for those who were a little sad to be leaving the Balmoral. Everyone looked around and then slowly raised their hands. This was the first time we had talked about anything good at the Balmoral. They said:
“Its been my home for 20 years. My nest, my comfort. I’m leaving my friends.”
“The people on the 6th floor are like family”
“It’s hard to be believe I am leaving. I will miss being close to my job.”
“Nobody would take me in other places. I lost my home before the Olympics. They gave me a place to live. I got to know people and their personalities. I got to know people who passed away. Their souls are here. I want to be here to protect them until the end.”
“This is where I met Sam and he has been good to me.”
“The 6th floor is like family and we’ve grown over the years. We have good nights, quiet nights and fights. We are all going our ways now. The staff, not the owners, have been good to me. They brought me my pills when they got dropped off. People on the 6th floor checked in on me. I’ts a good feeling to know when people know you. I’m a little scared to go to the new place.”
“I came in here in a bad pace at the time and its bitter sweet to leave. I’ll be going to a sterile and empty place and I’m not looking forward to the years its going to take to turn it into a home.”
“This has been my home for 22 years. Most of the people here are really good.”
“I’m sad to know people here for 14 years. I’m going to miss them.”
“I’m going to miss the big window that I have. I’m going to miss the view of the lake” (speaking of the inlet)
As an organizer, it’s been my privilege to get to know these wonderful souls over the last 2 years and intensely on the 8th floor at 8pm in the last 10 days. I’m honoured to have had their trust, and despite being angry, feel hopeful, when I see the strength of their spirits and sense of community, in the future.
We’ve all pledged to continue to fight, to meet and make sure that the Balmoral is opened up again, in better circumstances, for the community. To challenge governments to work with tenants to hold slumlords to account. Tenants deserve and will have a voice.
Love, solidarity and Tenant Power!
June 10: Quick update on Balmoral: governments came up with 131 rooms in SROs for tenants, including leasing a new empty hotel. Although this is a victory, we are worried some tenants who still do not have a place to move to and might end up in a shelter/on the street. The city will not delay eviction day (Monday June 12).
We are strongly encouraging the city and province to not stop at 131 units and to pay more money to OPEN UP MORE HOMES. Please bring your friends, food and support to the Balmoral today for tenants — and also to the block party Sunday at 1pm. City Hall has known about the conditions in the Balmoral for many years and did nothing to stop this earlier from happening. Its a crime scene in the making. These 175 units need to be repaired, the bathrooms and floors rebuilt and once safe, the building must be opened and operated for low-income people by ethical management. Make the Balmoral Safe! Save the Balmoral!
June 6: Quick update on Balmoral mass eviction. We hear that there are rooms or permanent housing coming but likely 60 people or so will end up in a shelter. And tenants are being coerced to sign a contract to waive their legal rights to pursue future claims in order to get compensation. Check out the event page for Sunday the 11th — we’re having a block party/speak out/protest, not to save the building but to get everyone permanently housed! And to protect those who’s lives will be endangered by homelessness and may not want to leave! And to stop this from happening again, again and again as the city kills our neighbourhood. We need to help with the organizing of this event. Let us know if you can help out and how.
In October 2015, tenants took action on the loss of elevator service. Read about Rosemary’s experience on the CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/broken-elevator-balmoral-hotel-1.3273758
Tenants are gearing up to file a joint compensation claim for damages for no elevator service. Tenants are also working on collecting evidence of rats and plan to work on complaining and getting compensation around this.