Lippman’s out… but Wonder Rooms & Palace Hotel residents are still in danger

The Wonder Rooms and Palace hotels had their day in court again on Wednesday June 13th. A court-ordered sale was supposed to approve or refuse a bid to buy the buildings by notorious gentrifier Stephen Lippman. But on Tuesday, less than 24 hour before the court date, Lippman’s offer stalled, and then failed. The Wonder and Palace hotels have been saved from the clutches of an investor who has a record of raising rents and bringing in a higher income group of renters… but the 72 rooms are not safe, healthy, or secure yet.

On Monday they held a picket line in front of Lippman’s privateWest Vancouvermansion and set up a protest camp down the street. Lippman’s business partner Jeffrey Howes complained that protesting in front of his “private home is inappropriate.” One of his neighbours even swore at one of the children colouring Lippman’s driveway with chalk. Tami Starlight, DNC president, responded, “They’re confused. Lippman is the one displacing people from their homes. We are just visiting West Vancouverto let his community know what he has been doing in the DTES.”  This past Friday CCAP discovered that notorious SRO hotel investor Stephen Lippman had made the leading bid in the court ordered sale of the Wonder and Palace hotels. The DTES Neighbourhood Council, VANDU and allies flew into emergency action when they discovered that the sale would be confirmed before a supreme-court judge on Wednesday June 13.

The protester set up a camp, strung up information signs, distributed pamphlets and held discussions with Lippman’s neighbours. Greg Williams, one of the campers in the green space steps from Lippman’s place, said, “No matter what happens we feel like we have won something important if Lippman doesn’t take over these two hotels. I met a lot of his neighbours and most of them don’t know him at all. Maybe his lack of relationships with his neighbours explains why he’s such a bad neighbour in the DTES.”

On Tuesday more than 50 residents marched to BC Housing to stop the gentrification of 72 low-income housing units in the targeted hotels. As the crowd rallied and chanted for social housing outside three Palace hotel residents met with Dale McMann, a member of the BC Housing executive board. Lorne, who has lived in the Palace for 5 years said, “My room is lousy but if I lose it I’ll be on the street.” And Linda, a recent resident who doesn’t want to lose the room she settled into after being homeless, said, “We get treated like dirt by these big landlords, that’s why we need BC Housing to help. Please save our homes.” McMann promised to look into acquiring the buildings and the residents left, pledging to return if BC Housing continues to do nothing.

Finally, on Wednesday morning a group of DTES residents gathered at Supreme Court for a confusing verdict. Lippman’s offer to buy the buildings is off. But someone else, a mysterious company, bought the mortgage. It means that George Wolsey is still the owner. It means the future of the 72 low-income affordable hotel rooms and the people who live in them hinge on a secret arrangement between Wolsey – the subject of tens of RTB complaints and hundreds of city bylaw violation notices – and a company willing to break bread with him: “Laurelwood and Southwood Ventures.”

Wonder and Palace residents deserve healthy, safe and secure housing, not tenancy on a Monopoly board. To get it, BC Housing should buy the buildings and the city should finally enforce their laws and collect the bylaw violation fines Wolsey owes them.