Two years ago, Megaphone published a story on the destitute conditions residents of the Sahota-owned Balmoral Hotel were living in. Now, one the hotel’s longtime residents provides an update on what’s changed, and what hasn’t, inside one of Vancouver’s most notorious SROs.
I have lived in the Downtown Eastside for 13 years now.
I don’t want to put my name here, but I am a long-term Balmoral Hotel resident. I don’t want to give my name because I don’t want any harassment from the owners, the Sahotas.
In the past, the owners of the Balmoral have threatened to kick me out if I tried to get the health board in. The roof and ceilings were mouldy. The lobby looked like a parking lot for wheelchairs and bikes. The elevator didn’t work. The rooms had rats, mice and roaches.
In general, the Balmoral is looking a lot better than two years ago, though. The owners are paying a little more attention to the tenants and some little things are getting done. But it’s not perfect.
The lobby is fixed now. We’ve got the elevator fixed finally— that took about a year. The owners seem to want to give the hotel a facelift. They tore up carpets; after they did that they sanded the floors, staining and varnishing them. But now they are taking forever to repair the rooms. There are six vacancies and none of them are getting fixed. They are taking their sweet time. There is a maintenance man who comes in at night, but he makes a lot of noise with his sander. It disturbs our sleep.
We have a video camera now on all the floors and in the hallways. It’s is making a difference. But sometimes there is nobody in the office downstairs, so people can still sneak in. By the time the manager comes back, the incident is done and over with and everyone’s gone.
There is a camera at the exit door and an alarm which makes things a little better in terms of less rowdy people, and there is a gate that keeps people out unless someone comes down. This means less people are sneaking in. Now I feel safe because of that door.
Despite the cameras, people are shooting up in places where the cameras can’t see. I know they don’t live in our building; I think the tenants upstairs let them in when the desk clerk is not at the desk.
It’s hard for us to sleep because of the noise from rolling garbage cans, the banging of lids up and down and this happens around two or three o’clock in the morning. One day, when they dumped the garbage, there was a whole bunch of rigs all over the floor.
The building started to get infested with rats and mice more than two years ago. They run right past my TV now. We don’t have bedbugs, luckily.
They fixed up the mould in my bathroom, but in the living room behind my bedroom door the mould is coming in there. I think that’s why my lungs are not good right now. The heat is not turned on unless it is convenient for the managers. My husband had double pneumonia last year and he’s sick again this year. He’s up half the night coughing. I’m really worried about him.
We definitely need new housing, even though there were some little improvements at the Balmoral Hotel. My health is bad. My husband has been in and out of the hospital for the last few months. I’d like to live somewhere out of the DTES, like around Broadway and Commercial in a one bedroom apartment. My kids are getting frustrated visiting me here.
I think if I get better housing, my health will improve.
Photo by David Denofreo