On Sept. 16 City Council gave unanimous permission to the owner of the Burns Block at 18 W. Hastings to
redevelop the former SRO hotel into 30 self contained 275 ft. sq. units. The City also gave the owner $3.3 million (or $3.7 million if you count the fact that he didn’t have to pay the $15,000 per unit SRA conversion fee) in incentives to do the heritage renovation. What follows is what CCAP’s Jean Swanson said at the public hearing before the vote:
What I want to say tonight is in the context of having attended the news conference on the final homeless count stats this morning, going past 2 hotels in the 1100 block of E. Hastings that are for sale, and listening to my colleague, Wendy Pedersen, who just took a bike tour of the West side of the Downtown Eastside checking out hotels for sale signs and empty rooms. At the news conference we all learned that homelessness is still growing-hundreds of folks still have to sleep on our streets. Wendy found that there appears to be another slew of SRO’s for sale and some of them are emptying out-probably so the owners can sell the buildings vacant like the Burns Block owner did. We’re not against having rental housing at $600-800 a month, if that’s what this is going to be. But you guys still don’t seem to see what’s happening with soft conversions. Presumably the SRA bylaw was passed because you wanted to keep from making more low income people homeless by letting the owners destroy their rooms. Our main fear here is that if you approve the Burns Block you will send a message to owners and developers that all they have to do is evict their tenants or let conditions run down and let the city evict them, and then they can merrily flip the building to the next person who comes along with enough money. Wendy found 15 buildings with empty rooms in her little survey -over 400 rooms were empty and closed. She also found 4 of these buildings with for sale signs on them. She found one that’s advertising on Craig’s list for international students at $500 a month, which people on welfare can’t afford.
We know you think there is going to be lots of housing soon. But you have 4000 SRO units to replace with housing that people on welfare can afford. And you have at least 1500 homeless people to house. This is not the time to be allowing low rental housing to go upscale. People on welfare won’t be able to afford the renovated Burns Block.
You’re supposed to consider some factors like:
- Will the new accommodation be available to the tenants affected? The answer is clearly no.
- Is there a big enough supply of low income housing? Surely you’re not going to answer yes to this one.
- What is the recent history of the building? The landlord didn’t maintain it and the city evicted the residents with one hour notice and some become homeless.
Some other points: It’s nice that the new Burns Block tenants will have earthquake protection. Too bad there’s a double standard and low income tenants don’t have it; the city is still far short of getting the 800 units per year of new housing that the Homeless Action Plan says it needs; you guys really need a decent definition of affordable. $600-800 a month, a probable Burns Block rent, is only affordable if you make $2000- $2600 a month. People on welfare have $375 for rent.
The best thing that could come out of this is if the city would work with the owner and a non profit group to save these units for low income dtes residents. It wouldn’t have to be supportive housing-just affordable.
Meanwhile, it is September. How about working out some deals to temporarily (until all these units that you say are coming open up) open the closed rooms, slap a coat of paint on them, unplug the plumbing, and get some homeless people off the street? ~JS