Today, residents of the Portland Hotel in Vancouver are marching to Deloitte offices to speak to Varun Banthia, Policy Specialist at Deloitte Future of Canada Centre. The issue? Their nine-story dwelling does not have a working elevator and Banthia sits on the board of directors of the PHS Community Services Society, a charitable non-profit that provides housing, healthcare, harm reduction and health promotion for some of the most vulnerable and under-served people in Vancouver and Victoria (description snagged from the PHS Community Services Society website).
The tenant group — dubbed the Portland Tenants Union — also want residents who were removed from the hotel because the elevator wasn’t working to be allowed to return, now that it has been operational for a month.
The protest is part of a continuing dispute between tenants and the PHS. The Portland Hotel is the centrepiece of PHS’s 30 supportive-housing projects, with 87 self-contained units in a relatively modern building at 20 West Hastings St. It was built wheelchair accessible and around half of the residents have mobility issues.
On Feb. 7 the elevator was repaired, two days after past and present hotel residents and their advocates visited PHS headquarters at Carrall and Hastings demanding elevator service be restored.
According to a memo sent to Vancouver council in May 2022, the city does not have legal power to order building owners to help residents when elevators are out of service.
Some of the residents were unable to leave their dwellings for as long as five months, still others were injured when they tried to utilize the building stairs.
Banthia is PHS Community Services Society treasurer. Reads his bio:
Varun is a public servant and auditor with experience at the local, federal and international levels.
He holds a Bachelor of Commerce with a specialization in accounting from UBC, and a Master of Public Administration from New York University. He was also designated a Certified Internal Auditor in 2019. Varun has worked as an auditor with Vancouver Coastal Health and the United Nations, as a risk consultant with KPMG Ottawa, and in anti-corruption policy with the OECD. He is currently employed as a senior consultant at Deloitte, specializing in public sector risk and audit quality.
Varun is passionate about issues affecting vulnerable populations in Vancouver. He has served as a City Council advisor on disability access, on the board of the Dugout Drop-In Centre, and as a first responder at the Overdose Prevention Society. For his efforts in the DTES, Varun was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, issued by Governor General of Canada in June 2021.
We’ll keep you updated on the situation should we hear more.