The rents for newly renovated and furnished studio units at the Lotus Hotel had been publicly listed for $1,995 a month for some time.
But it took a viral TikTok video by a company that does “PR and media for real estate and corporate projects” to spark a larger conversation about the property at 445 Abbott — and the state of renting in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“It’s disheartening to see this happening to some of the most affordable housing stock in the city,” said Vancouver councillor Pete Fry.
“These are housing units that were typically affordable to folks on pension, folks on on social assistance, and obviously at $2,000 a month, it’s bringing in a whole different kind of demographic.”
Reactions to the video on the 200-square-foot micro-unit — which made light of its size and was set to jaunty music — included confusion over whether it was sincere or an attempt at satire.
The company behind the video deleted it from its social media channels after it went viral, and declined to speak on the record when asked by CBC News.
‘If I’m honest, the building is not good’
The Lotus is a private SRO (single room occupancy) hotel, which has historically housed thousands of the poorest people in Vancouver, usually around shelter rates.
But over the years, private operators have raised the rents at many of the properties they own, which often include renovations.
In the case of the Lotus, Toronto-based company Forum Asset Management purchased the building less than two years ago, and has offered tenants in unrenovated units $15,000 to leave.
“We talked with a lot of people from the building, and they said, ‘Yeah, that happens all the time’, so pay attention, and so that’s what we do,” said Juanita Estrada, who described the building as a mix of long-time residents and short-term student renters like herself.
“If I’m honest, the building is not good. The elevator doesn’t work anymore … nobody answers if something goes wrong in your apartment. So you have to fix it by yourself,” she said.
“I’d prefer to go farther from downtown and leave than staying here, if I’m honest.”
Greg Spafford, forum managing director of real estate management, defended their plan when it was first reported by Vancouver Is Awesome, saying no tenants were forced to leave and that some have welcomed their approach.
“They’re affordable rents,” he said.
“This is the cheapest option for people in downtown Vancouver.”
Vacancy control the solution?
While one can find some rentals for less than $2,000 a month in downtown Vancouver, they’ve become exceedingly rare over the past year.
According to Rentals.ca, the average asking price for vacant one-bedroom apartments in Vancouver has increased from $2,004 in August 2020 to $3,013 in August 2023.
At the same time, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down an attempt by the city to institute vacancy control on SRO properties, which would mandate that rents for incoming tenants would stay at the same rate as the previous one.
“I do believe that we’re appealing that decision with the courts, but for the time being our hands are pretty much tied,” said Fry.
“There’s really nothing we can do about it. It’s totally legal.”
Wendy Pedersen, executive director of the SRO Collaborative, said an appeal should be an urgent priority.
“SRO gentrification is causing homelessness unfortunately. And we can’t build fast enough to stop the flood of people into shelters and the B.C. Housing, tent cities, and emergency services on the street, which are all very expensive,” she said.
“It’s like musical chairs, and the chairs keep getting pulled away. People are wondering why homelessness is so visible, well this is a huge cause.”
As for the $2,000 apartment in the Lotus?
A day after the promotional video was deleted, the posting was also removed from Craigslist.
The property management company didn’t respond to a message for comment — leaving it unknown whether it was pulled for bad publicity, or because someone decided to rent the unit.