Ada Slivinski: Instead of being shrouded in mystery, buying two run-down hotels should have been an opportunity to talk about why people felt safer on the street.
In my days as a daily news reporter, I spent a fair bit of time on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, telling the stories of the people who lived, or often barely survived, there. One of the things that kept coming up in my conversations was how many people said they felt safer living on the streets or in various makeshift tent cities than the single room occupancy units, or SROS.
I heard countless stories of rats and bed bug infestations, broken glass and syringes littering hallways and bathrooms. Perhaps most importantly, doors that didn’t lock against those they were most afraid of.
I couldn’t shake that message: they felt safer on the streets.
This past week, it was made public that the City of Vancouver had purchased two of the most notoriously run down hotels: The Regent and The Balmoral, from the Sahota family. The price they paid – or rather that taxpayers paid – was not disclosed. It was only after Globe and Mail reporters dug that they discovered the total cost was more than $7.5 million. How much more? We still don’t know.
The City missed a crucial opportunity to communicate the huge positive potential of this deal. The collaboration with BC Housing should have been the highlight. The story should have been the provincial government has agreed to fund the demolition/renovation as well as planned consultation with Downtown Eastside residents to come up with housing that works for them, and where they feel safe.
Instead, questions about the cost and concerns about the secrecy of the deal dominate headlines. Whether the City paid $10 million or $20 million, they should have disclosed the amount, and the reasons why the move made sense for residents and the city as a whole.
There will always be a certain level of sticker shock, but the fact is, land in that area is valuable. Just two minutes away, you’ll find Koret Lofts, a trendy warehouse conversion where one bedroom condos sell for over a million and celebrities and film crews reportedly rent Airbnbs when in town to shoot movies.
As the City consults with residents, there is an opportunity to tell their stories – and understand their needs. Because in my limited experience, the Downtown Eastside population is one of the province’s most misunderstood.
The City hiding the amount they paid for The Regent and The Balmoral smacks of shame and backroom deals – seeming as if this is a problem that just needs to be swept under the rug quickly and quietly.
Yes, the Sahotas reportedly insisted on secrecy, and so perhaps the City’s hands were tied. But had City Hall insisted on transparency with the costs, we could instead be talking about why this vulnerable population is one worth listening to and worth investing in.
Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at email@example.com
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