When the B.C. government bought Victoria’s Comfort Inn in May to house people camped out along Pandora Avenue and in a city-authorized tent camp at Topaz Park, a Victoria hair salon operator leasing in the building found out from media reports.
B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal told the B.C. legislature July 13 that the salon operator’s first contact from B.C. Housing about the switch from hotel to shelter was via a construction worker who showed up to board up the windows of her shop, All About Hue Hair Designs.
Most of the customers cancelled their appointments after a fire in early June left 20 suites and the salon with water damage, Johal said, as he and other opposition MLAs called for compensation to people caught up in the rush to dismantle tent camps in the COVID-19 pandemic.
B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone described the fate of Paul’s Diner after another Victoria hotel, Paul’s Motor Inn, was taken over for transition housing.
Crime and disorder have made he property unviable for tenant businesses, Stone said, quoting the Paul’s Diner operator: “So far, the only solution that’s been offered for us is writing off $150,000 in renovations, killing 20 good local jobs and giving up on our dream that we we all worked so hard to achieve. If the government doesn’t fix this, it will ruin us.”
Housing Minister Selina Robinson was combative in her responses, accusing the B.C. Liberals of allowing the homeless issue to grow unattended. “We’re cleaning up their mess,” she said, adding that crime declines in the area after an initial period of disorder.
In fact the previous government began the acquisition of hotels and motels more than a decade ago, spending hundreds of millions to buy and renovate single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s downtown east side, a long-time magnet for drugs, prostitution and social problems. The program has expanded to motels in other communities.
“We reached out to all of the tenants in all of our purchases and encouraged them to continue operating their businesses,” Robinson said. “We will certainly maintain their leases, and we certainly engaged with them around next steps.”
B.C. Liberal housing critic Joan Isaacs has been pressing Robinson on the effects of emptying Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, one of a long series of protest camps that have been staged around the Lower Mainland in recent years.
Isaacs described a 400 per cent increase in crime reports in the downtown Vancouver neighbourhood of Yaletown after people camping in Oppenheimer Park were moved into hotel spaces.