'We're human beings': Broken elevator in Downtown Eastside SRO takes toll on residents

'We're human beings': Broken elevator in Downtown Eastside SRO takes toll on residents

By the time Gery Ratzinger makes it halfway up the stairs to his unit inside the Hildon hotel, he finds himself out of breath — and losing patience.

The 65-year-old lives on the sixth storey of the Downtown Eastside SRO. The elevator in the building is broken — an issue he says has been ongoing since the start of summer.

Ratzinger, who has mobility issues, says the daily climb makes simple tasks, like bringing home groceries, almost unbearable.

"I end up having to stop sometimes on each floor to catch my breath," he told CBC News. "My back has had three problems already and I don't know how much damage I've already done, and how much further I can go."

The Hildon hotel has more than 130 units across seven storeys. The non-market rental building is more than 100 years old, and like many of the single-room-occupancy buildings in the city, it's falling apart.

But most residents can't afford to go anywhere else.

Ben Nelms/CBC

No easy fix

The building is owned by prominent Vancouver businesswoman, Jacqui Cohen. She owns Army and Navy, and founded Face the World Foundation — a registered charity that raises money for programs in the Downtown Eastside.

Cohen declined an interview but, in an emailed statement to CBC News, she said she is aware of the problem. She said she'd assumed that the building operator and lease holder, Gus Greer, was dealing with the elevator.   

"That appears not to be the case and for that I am sorry," Cohen wrote. "I will be dealing with the elevator repair. This needs to be made right."

Greer confirmed the elevator is broken, claiming it worked intermittently for several months before completely breaking down 10 days ago.

"It's antiquated technology, it's old, it breaks down," he said, noting a resident vandalized the elevator.

Greer says repairs will be underway in the coming days, but he admits the building is difficult to maintain.

The City of Vancouver says the building is up for its annual inspection this month. And the building operator has informed the city an elevator repair has now been ordered.

Ben Nelms/CBC

Degrading conditions

On the fifth floor, Walter Monkman exited his unit frustrated with how the building has been managed, saying that many of the washrooms have been left dilapidated.

"There's two bathrooms on this floor for 26 people," he said. "[There should be] four or five on each floor."

He says he's taken it upon himself to help people down the stairs as the elevator saga drags on.

"I'm literally carrying some of the elderly residents down stairs that need to get out, and carrying them back up. That's like six flights of stairs," he said. "It's turning into a typical downtown SRO."

Cockroaches could be seen in the hallways. Residents said bedbugs have also become a major issue. Graffiti, cursing out the building staff, is spray painted on the walls of the fifth floor.

Ben Nelms/CBC

Economics

Rents in the building are capped below $600 per month. Greer, who also runs the Bourbon Pub beneath the hotel, says the economics of the neighbourhood have made it difficult to maintain buildings like the Hildon.

"The bar business is certainly on the decline," said Greer. "These property values are going up, and the cost of doing business is going up, and the margins aren't there to invest in these types of properties."

"We're at the end of our rope, the margins just aren't there," he added. "I'm just a tenant, I'm a [lease holder] ... at the end of the day, it's not my building. If I can't make it work, something is going to have to be done, and it won't be by me."

Greer says he's trying to sell the lease. In the meantime, residents hope someone will take charge and improve conditions.

"Spend a little cash [and] come over more often," pleaded Ratzinger. "We're human beings."