When Sam Deeby sold his hotel four years ago, he didn’t expect he would one day look for new homes for the tenants.
But the remaining tenants in the condemned Clifton Hotel just received eviction notices demanding they vacate the building by Jan 1.
This is the latest move in an ongoing dispute over owner Abolghasem Abdollahi‘s plan to evict long-time tenants in order to renovate his hotel, which is no surprise for former owner, current hotel manager Deeby.
“I’m sad the tenants have to move out, but they have to. It’s not safe to live here anymore,” said Deeby. In the past year, the City of Vancouver has described 59 violations in regards to the building
The challenge is finding a suitable place for the long-term tenants.
Deeby, 75, who owned the hotel for over 30 years and sold it after he was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, stayed as a manager without getting paid. Now he is determined to support his tenants and to try and provide the basic services they need.
Sam Deeby: They are my family (1’28”)
“I feel so attached to the environment and the tenants. They are like my family. I know their problems and they know my problems. So I stayed to help them,” Deeby said.
“I will stay until every tenant has got a place to go.”
The last 24
It’s not the first time Abdollahi has moved to evict tenants. In June, Abdollahi told tenants to leave within two months after the City of Vancouver took him to court for failing to maintain the hotel’s safety standards.
“Too much work needs to be done. I can’t repair it until everyone has moved out,” said Abdollahi.
Fifty tenants have moved into other housing. However, 24 determined tenants remain.
“The problem is, the existing tenants now have been here the longest. A lot of them need to be here because they need to be in the same vicinity to the medical center. They are used to the area and they feel safer here,” Deeby said.
However, Deeby knows it is time for the tenants to go. He sits shivering as he speaks to tenants, patiently answering their questions. The hotel’s heating system is broken. Deeby bought heaters for each room, but the electrical system is compromised and fuses often blow.
“The landlord wants to save money for the renovation, but tenants who are still living here still expect basic service and clean rooms. Unfortunately it’s not provided,” Deeby said.
Tenants rely on Deeby for guidance and basic necessities. For years, he stocked rooms with fresh towels, toilet paper and even salt and pepper. When the new owners took over, those things went and the tenants knew that soon they would have to go too.
Lack of vacancies
Deeby is determined to find tenants homes like the old Clifton Hotel he used to run: clean, safe, and affordable. But given the tight housing market that is unlikely.
Deeby makes calls to, and fills out applications for, every hotel and social-housing project around downtown Vancouver.
“It is very difficult to find rooms now in winter, and in such a short period of time. Most of the hotels told me they don’t have vacancies until March,” Deeby said.
The mayor’s plan to end homelessness by 2015 has seen many homeless people wind up in temporary rooms in hotels, which makes it even harder for tenants at the Clifton Hotel to find vacant rooms in another hotel.
“We’ll prioritize people who don’t have a place to live. The ones who are already living in the hotel will be put lower on the waiting list,” said Laura Gallant, a communications specialist at BC Housing.
Tenant Don Szaniszlo: Disappointed and upset (40″)
Some tenants have applied for 127 Society for Housing but long wait lists require time the tenants do not have.
Tenant Don Szaniszlo is frustrated: “We were told we would be at front-line on the new quality in the hotel, but apparently we’ve been dropped.”
Rental costs are also a hindrance. Many tenants in the Clifton Hotel rely on pensions or $375 welfare cheques. When Deeby owned the hotel, the rent remained at $300 for 15 years before new landlord raised it to $500. For tenants, any rents above $500 would be unaffordable.
“There are some nice single-room occupancy hotels but the rents are over $600, and tenants don’t want to move to Eastside because they don’t feel safe there,” Deeby said.
Deeby tried to secure more time for tenants at the eviction hearing on Dec 12, to look for rooms.
“Tenants told me Deeby is very trustworthy. He always tries his best for the tenants,” said Didi Dufresne, a legal advocate, from First United Church Community Ministry Society.
However, as a cancer patient, Deeby has three stents in his artery and takes 10 pills every day. “Every night when I go to sleep, I don’t know if I can make it to the next day,” Deeby said.
But it’s the people, his former residents, who keep him going.
“It’s a special duty. In this business, you have to have compassion. Because of the kind of people you deal with — many come from broken homes. For me, helping them is a therapy.”