B.C. Liberals say small businesses have been suffering ever since the province became their landlord when it purchased hotels to house homeless campers.
Todd Stone, Liberal Municipal Affairs and Housing critic, raised the issue in the legislature on Monday, saying business tenants in the properties were not consulted and now their livelihoods are at risk.
The B.C. government feared that COVID-19 would spread among the street community, many of whom have health issues that make them especially vulnerable.
As a result, the province shut down several homeless camps in Victoria and Vancouver and relocated campers into hotels, including the Comfort Inn on Blanshard Street and Paul’s Motor Inn on Douglas Street.
Cliff Leir, owner of Paul’s Diner by For Epi, said debt of $85,000 is remaining out of $150,000 invested in renovating the rented location. That debt is “now weighing on the rest of the business.”
Leir, who owns other food outlets, does not know what the future holds. “We are not sure how feasible it is moving forward — right now everything is up in the air.”
After closing because of COVID-19, the plan was to open in July or August. But at the beginning of June, he learned that the province had purchased Paul’s Motor Inn.
It’s a tough time to reopen in any case, and given some of the problems associated with the area, it’s not clear if Paul’s Diner could attract enough customers to make it feasible to resume business, Leir said.
Lindsay Price, owner of All About Hue Hair Design in the Comfort Inn, said in a statement that the province has not offered any compensation for losses. After B.C. bought the hotel, the province sent in construction workers to board up the salon, appearing not to realize she was a tenant, she said.
A fire in one of the rooms resulted in water leaking into the salon. Clients cancelled appointments, Price said in the statement, released by the Liberals.
“The fire forced most of our remaining clients to cancel their appointments. A table was even set up at the entrance to the salon with condoms and needles,” said Price, who called the province unprofessional.
Stone said that while supportive or transitional housing with supports is needed, B.C. Housing has put businesses at risk of bankruptcy.
Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, told the house that the province moved quickly to find safe places for vulnerable people and to get them supports to assist them.
B.C. bought the hotel with plans to do more with the property, Robinson said.
She said that a local physician specializing in addictions, has advised that “people are stabilizing, how it is making a difference for those who absolutely, desperately need these homes and these supports.”
The purchases were done confidentially because they are land purchases, Robinson said.
“We reached out to all of the tenants in all of our purchases and encouraged them to continue operating their businesses,” she told the house. “We will certainly maintain their leases, and we certainly engaged with them around next steps.”
Robinson said that the Liberals, when they were in power, ignored the growing homeless problem and now the NDP government has moved hundreds of people into stable housing.