A group of Downtown Eastside activists picketed outside the British Properties home of West Vancouver developer Steven Lippman Monday night, urging him not to buy two single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels in their neighbourhood.
Carrying signs reading Our Community Is not Your Profit and Lippman: Using the Poor for Profit, more than 20 residents led by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council protested outside Lippman's Eastcot Road home Monday evening, then set up a camp in a nearby green space.
The residents urged Lippman to withdraw his bids on the Wonder and Palace hotels in the Downtown Eastside, which are in receivership and could be sold in a courtordered sale this week.
The residents want the City of Vancouver or the province to buy the hotels instead, which have a total of 72 rooms, and keep the rents to levels that people on welfare can afford - about $375 a month.
Wendy Pedersen, a board member of the neighbourhood council, said Downtown Eastside residents are concerned that Lippman has been buying up SRO hotels in the area, gentrifying them, then renting them out for higher rates.
Lippman's company already owns more than 300 rooms in several other hotels, said Pedersen. "As people leave, he re-rents the rooms for a much higher rate."
The effect is to push the bottom tier of renters who can't afford those rates into homelessness, she said.
But Geoffrey Howes, a spokesman for Lippman's Living Balance company, said the company shouldn't be faulted for fixing up the hotels to "basic living standards."
Currently the two hotels are in "the most ridiculous state of ill repair" riddled with bedbugs, rats and mold, and lacking an adequate number of toilets, he said. "We create safe, comfortable buildings. We don't see ourselves as the bad guy."
Howes said none of the current residents will be evicted or pay more. When they decide to leave, however, future renters will have to pay a small increase, he said.
He said most rents in the company's SROs are in the low $400 range, although some are more than that.
Pedersen said according to a survey of rents done by the neighbourhood council, that's not true. Pedersen said before the sale this week, her group went to both the City of Vancouver and province and "we begged them to buy these places. They said they couldn't."
A small number of protesters planned to camp out near Lippman's home until the sale of the hotels this week. Howes described the protest outside Lippman's home as "truly inappropriate and disrespectful in the worst possible way."
Pedersen said since Lippman is bringing his business to the Downtown Eastside, it's only fair. "We don't like it that he's invading our neighbourhood," she said. "We want him to not come to our neighbourhood and cause stress and undue hardship on those who are the poorest."