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Dirty Dealings

 Megaphone (Canada) 28 May 2019

(Originally published: 09/2009) Many of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents fear a rise in Olympic evictions as the city prepares to show the world an ‘acceptable’ face. Many now find themselves fighting to hold onto low quality housing and insect-infested hotel rooms. (866 words) - Sean Condon

Megaphone

The bedbugs in Mary Mallet's Downtown Eastside apartment have gotten so bad that she's given up using the bed and now sleeps on a chair at her desk. Her roommate, Don Stjean, takes the floor.

The two friends, forced to share a tiny bachelor apartment in the Golden Crown Hotel on West Hastings because of a tight budget, pay an astonishing $750 a month for a room infested with bedbugs, cockroaches and rats, along with a broken window and toilet and ripped up baseboards. Most of the time there is no hot water. Drug dealers roam the halls at night.

And though the two have complained to the hotel's management over the past year, they say their concerns are ignored. Now they have learned that the owner, Daniel Jun, is planning on evicting the tenants to make repairs-just two years after he unsuccessfully tried to replace the low-income residents with Olympic construction workers.

"It's depressing enough as it is," says Stjean, who, with Mallet, was homeless before they moved into the Golden Crown. "It takes a lot to try and move forward and now we're going to lose everything. What kind of Mickey Mouse game are they playing with our lives?"

On August 24, Jun handed out a notice to just a few of the residents in the 28-unit Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel that said the building was going to be shut down and renovated because of the cockroaches, bedbugs, rats and "filthy, stinky carpets".

"All rooms to be emptied for couple [sic] of months during the work period," the note said. "We have no choice but close [sic] the doors in order to improve the hotel."

While Mallet and Stjean believe Jun is trying to empty the building and then sell it to new owners, Downtown Eastside community activists believe Jun is planning on renting out the rooms to tourists at inflated rates during the Winter Olympics.

"As far as we're concerned, this is an Olympic eviction," says Kim Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA), which is representing some of the tenants. "This is particularly concerning because it is the first one of its kind; now that we understand that he intends to empty the entire building and, from what we understand, plans to turn this place into housing for visitors and/or workers for the Olympics."

In February 2007, Jun told community activists he was evicting the tenants so he could rent out the building to Olympic construction workers. Golden Crown is located directly across from the new Woodward's development and Jun had hoped to clean up the building and charge higher rents.

"We want to rent out for workers because the hotel needs the working people..." hotel manager Ted Oh told Street Corner (now known as Megaphone) at the time. "Gradually, as the city clean[s] up the area, when Woodward's [is complete], it will be a beautiful city centre and we have to match [that appearance]."

But because Jun did not have the proper permits, the evictions were deemed illegal and were overturned. The city's chief licence inspector, Barb Windsor, says Jun does not have the proper permits this time either. In a letter she sent to him on September 3 she wrote, "The District Inspector advises that the eviction notices have not been issued in accordance with the Residential Tenancy Act."

Windsor also notes that the city doesn't believe the rodent and bug problem in the hotel is bad enough to justify a mass eviction.

"Could it use some cleaning up? Probably. But not to the point that required him to evict," she told Megaphone. However, Jun and hotel management claim the renovations this time have nothing to do with the Olympics or Woodward's.  In the note, Jun said tenants would be given "first priority...at the same rate" when the hotel's doors reopened in a few months. Rents range from $550 to $750.

But hotel residents say Jun has only given the eviction note to a few people and refuses to create a contract that would make that promise official.

"They just told us to get the hell out," says Mallet. "But where the hell are we supposed to go? They won't give us back our [September] rent or our security deposit. I'm just supposed to believe them that they'll give me my money and take me back after I leave?"

The eviction threat is causing a lot of stress amongst the tenants, many of whom have mental health or addiction issues. A few say they signed a paper that accepting Jun's offer to move out by the end of September because they didn't understand that the eviction might be illegal. Others have already left the hotel or are scrambling to find other accommodations.

Pauline Walton, who pays $750 a month for an insect-infested bachelor apartment she shares with her husband, says there are few options available for the couple and that many of the apartments she has applied for are only renting out rooms for the Olympics.

"We don't know where we're going to go," she says. "We all think we're going to end up back on the streets." Jun could not be reached for comment.

 

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