The P.E.I. government made an offer to purchase the Causeway Bay Hotel in Summerside, but only after the hotel had already been sold once over the summer — and by then the asking price from the new owners was too high.
That's according to P.E.I's Minister of Housing and Social Development Matthew MacKay, who said his department is still in discussions with the new owners while trying to find alternate housing for long-term tenants of the hotel facing eviction on Nov. 13.
When the issue of the hotel was raised during Question Period Thursday, MacKay said government had initially missed out on the opportunity to purchase the 106-room hotel when it was listed over the summer.
"Nobody came to us to buy this building and by the time we found out it was even possibly for sale, it had already sold and closed," MacKay said, in response to a question from Summerside-South Drive MLA Stephen Howard.
Later on, MacKay told reporters that after the sale, the province tried to buy the hotel from the new owners.
"Literally they bought the building and we were prepared to buy it within days of them buying it."
MacKay said the province put in an offer — he wouldn't say how much — and the counter-offer that came back was too high.
"We know the building is in extensive need of work … we thought if we were going to spend that much money we might as well just build new. But from my understanding the discussions are still happening."
Two sets of eviction notices
Eviction notices were issued to about 60 tenants of the hotel in late August giving them 30 days to move, but then withdrawn. Under P.E.I.'s Residential Tenancy Act, tenants have to be given 60 days notice of eviction in most cases.
Then in October new notices were sent to 20 remaining tenants. This time the notices cited damage they had allegedly caused to their apartments, which under the Act would allow them to be evicted in 30 days.
They were told to leave by Nov. 13. However, some are appealing, and Howard said Thursday he'd been informed at least some of those appeals have been successful.
MacKay said some residents have found other accommodations, "but there's still a large number that haven't. So my department is lining up what this could look like if they have to move and the units that are available."
Give government first dibs on housing, say Greens
"Islanders don't have to accept that private investors will just scoop up all our housing stock, whether it's to evict Islanders or to jack up their rents," Howard said during Question Period.
He's asking the province to bring in legislation to give itself a first right of refusal so it has the option to buy up residential properties before they're sold.
The same idea was included in the housing platform of David Eby, who was declared leader of the NDP in British Columbia last month, and will be sworn in as the province's next premier on Nov. 18.
Regarding the province's ongoing efforts to buy the Causeway Bay Hotel, Howard said "they're looking at buying it now for an inflated cost, whereas if they had something like right of first refusal they could have bought it in the first place and saved taxpayers millions."