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Port Alberni to ask province to buy derelict hotel for housing

The building is considered so unsafe that the fire department ordered 25 tenants to vacate in late May
The Port Hotel in Port Alberni. Municipal staff are recommending that the city impose a remedial work order that could lead to demolition if the owner doesn’t repair the building. GOOGLE STREET VIEW

The City of Port Alberni is calling on B.C. Housing to buy the boarded-up Port Hotel and renovate it for housing.

“I know it is a big ask to ask B.C. Housing to purchase the building and remediate it,” Mayor Sharie Minions said at this week’s council meeting. “We have an obligation to explore all possibilities before we demolish private property.”

If upgraded, the building could provide 24 homes for people, she said.

Council members supported Minions’ motion to defer a decision about the city’s next steps for two weeks while the city approaches B.C. Housing.

Council has little expectation the property at 5170 Argyle St. will be improved by the owners, a Richmond-based numbered company, because that has not yet happened, Minions said.

An earlier report to the city listed defects including exposed wires, a rat infestation, leaking ceilings and black mould.

Municipal staff are ­recommending that the city impose a remedial work order that could lead to demolition if the owner doesn’t repair the building, which has been found to contain asbestos in drywall samples.

The building is considered so unsafe that the fire department ordered the 25 tenants to vacate in late May.

Social agencies stepped in to help relocate the tenants. Some have found housing, some went to a shelter, while others, including people with pets, have not found a home.

Mike Fox, city chief administrative officer for the city, said if the building is demolished it might be possible to reuse some of the materials, such as beams, but that would depend on the status of hazardous materials.

Demolition would cost about $200,000, said Fox — the same amount the city has spent on the property so far, mainly on security patrols for fire.

If the owners did not cover municipal costs, then the property could be sold in a tax sale. Fox noted a neighbouring property sold for about $400,000.

Coun. Debbie Haggard criticized the province saying any building where provincially subsidized tenants are living should meet minimum living standards.

Coun. Cindy Solda agreed, saying she is angry that people were living in the building. “No human being should be sleeping in those kind of conditions.”

B.C. Housing said in a statement Tuesday that it has not yet received a request from Port Alberni to buy the hotel.

Noting there is a growing need for affordable homes throughout B.C., including in Port Alberni, the agency said it will “continue to work with community partners to identify housing opportunities that will provide more housing for people.”

Demand exceeds supply for subsidized housing in Port Alberni, the agency said.

B.C. Housing is among organizations working with the city to find housing for the 25 displaced residents, it said.

It has arranged for community service agencies to hold shelter spaces for displaced residents, it said, and rent supplements have been given to residents seeking accommodation in the private market.

Port Alberni-based McGill and Associates Engineering Ltd. examined the building and concluded that upgrading it to make it safe would cost about $937,000, not including dealing with hazardous materials.

Major costs include $110,500 to replace the roof and install new sheathing, $100,000 for fire-rated suite doors, $96,000 for wall and ceiling fire separation, $75,000 for a fire escape and $50,000 for exit signs and emergency lighting.

A May report for the city highlighting extensive shortcomings in the building noted that additional safety assessments need to be done on systems such as plumbing, electrical, hazardous materials, and the kitchen.

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