Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Non-profit group to take over management of slum hotels

Going into this press conference, Doug King was saying this one would be easy. People don’t need convincing that the conditions of the Palace and Wonder hotels, run by slumlord George Wolsey, are unacceptable. The press arrived at Pathways Information Centre in the Downtown Eastside eager to hear the updates on a case that could really set the stage for some important improvements to low-income housing in BC.

As the hearing for the first of eleven complaints in a group Residential Tenancy Act action started Thursday, this press conference was pulled together in just a few hours by Ivan Drury of the DTES Neighbourhood Council to announce some important developments.

The work here comes in two pieces. Firstly, Pivot is representing several of the tenants who have launched a legal action with the Residential Tenancy Branch. The second piece is that the City unanimously voted on July 1st in favour of commencing proceedings to seek injunctive relief against Wolsey, giving the City the power to seek a court order that these buildings be brought up to the minimum standards of maintenance. Since taking part in that RTA action and supporting the injunction effort, former Palace and Wonder hotel residents have reported to us that they have faced threats and assaults for speaking out.

One former resident of the Palace came home last month to find his place broken into, and all his possessions taken. The front desk explained that he, “no longer lived there” because of his participation in this case. At the press conference Doug King commented, “The reality is that tenants are facing threats and eviction for standing up for their rights. There needs to be government support so that they don’t land on the streets.”

Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, has already issued a statement in support of these tenants and is calling the government to “ensure that tenants are able to safely access their rights under the RTA without fear of intimidation, harassment or the threat of becoming homeless.”  It is clear that the Residential Tenancy Act, though created to protect tenants’ rights, poorly serves to protect tenants living on the margins with few resources and fewer options. 

The press conference culminated with the announcement of an important change. Ivan received an email early Thursday morning from the City announcing that the management and renovations of the Palace and Wonder hotels are to be taken over by the Community Builders Association. Forcefully relieving George Wolsey of his stewardship of these building means that we are seeing some initial and concrete steps being taken toward protecting residents of those SROs.

Reports of past “improvements” made under Wolsey’s watch describe unqualified workers, and unsafe demolition of rat, mice and mold infested spaces, posing dangers to the health of those workers, and that of the residents’. For tenants in this building, under new management, we hope they can now have some confidence that they will be seeing real improvements to their living conditions, and can look forward to feeling safer in their own homes.

The updates and announcements were well received by a good group of keen reporters. While this is a solid start, it was made clear that is just that, only a beginning to what needs to get done. Pivot will be keeping you in the loop with blogged updates these following weeks as we proceed with the group RTA action.