Living in a Slum: City Hall Hears Stories from the Tenants of the Wonder Rooms and the Palace Hotels
Before the meeting got rolling the Chair made an announcement that, as she acknowledged, was out of the ordinary. Special arrangements were made to protect the anonymity of tenants of the Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotels who told their stories at a City Council meeting on Friday. Many have been threatened by the landlord, particularly about the council meeting.
The statistics are bad: between the two hotels there are 265 violations, 20 rooms are uninhabitable, the City building inspectors are often refused access and on their last visit were not allowed to document what they saw.
"The mice aren’t so bad, at least they eat the cockroaches" one resident said, laughing a little. His neighbor went on to describe a mold problem so severe that he is physically sick most mornings. The infestations are extensive and include rats, mice, cockroaches, and bedbugs
Structurally, the building is falling apart, the fire seals are breached, the fire escapes are blocked, the toilets don’t work, there is a single shower for three floors of people. The "improvements" are being completed by unqualified workers, who complete the demolition of rat, mice and mold infested spaces without masks.
If the conditions weren’t enough, there is an incredible amount of power concentrated in the landlord because he controls their homes, theirs jobs and their health. The tenants of the Wonder Rooms and Palace hotels are charged anywhere from $375 - $600 for a bed, a sink and four walls. Many of them work for the land lord for rates of $3 an hour to $50 for 12 hours. They are expected to tend the front desk which often includes intimidating inspectors and tenants with a baseball bat or scissors taped to the end of a stick.
The allegations of pharmaceutical fraud were of particular concern in Council on Friday. "If George is mad at you, your methadone is weak." One tenant recounted being asked to work dispensing medication, while another described being given a bottle with someone else’s name on it.
A number of tenants have come to Vancouver from outlying areas to seek treatment for addiction and Hepatitis C. They find themselves trying to get healthy in deplorable conditions because it’s all their funds will allow. Why don’t they leave? Very few of the SRO’s are in better condition.
Ivan Drury of the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council, called for the creation of a Tenants Rights Task Force that brings together residents and members of the City to address issues and ensure compliance with the Standards of Maintenance By-Law. In a unanimous vote on Friday night, the City decided to commence proceedings to seek injunctive relief against the evasive landlord. This relief will give the City the power to seek a court order that the slum be brought up to the minimum standards of maintenance. The tenants are calling for a space where they can live with a degree of dignity.