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BC Housing Steps in to Prevent Eviction of Chinatown Seniors

Government will buy Grace Seniors Home and keep existing services for residents.

Jen St. Denis 23 Apr 2021TheTyee.ca

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

After an outcry from family members, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing has announced residents will not have to move from an assisted-living facility that caters to Chinese-speaking residents and services will remain mostly the same.

BC Housing will buy Grace Seniors Home at 333 Pender St. in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood, and social service agency SUCCESS will run the assisted-living facility with Chinese-language services, meals and cultural activities.

Residents, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, were distraught after they were told by the private owner of the building that they had just two months to find a new place to live.

Families discovered the building was in the process of being sold to Lu’ma Native Housing Society, using money from a federal program designed to quickly house people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“This eviction triggered an enormous amount of anxiety for my grandpa,” Jennifer Lam wrote in a letter to BC Housing. “He could not sleep all night and, the next day, had a fall and hit his head and scraped his knees. In panic, he called my mom and his niece because he was so worried about where he would stay and that he would be homeless.”

After families of residents spoke to the media about the uncertainty and the impact on frail seniors, BC Housing said residents would be able to stay at the building when ownership transferred to Lu’ma. But there was no intention of running the building as a seniors’ home and residents were still being told by building staff that they needed to leave.

“This has been a really difficult time for the seniors at Grace Seniors Home,” said David Eby, B.C.’s attorney general and the minister responsible for housing, in a press conference today.

“Ultimately, BC Housing was not given the list of residents’ contact information to contact them directly, and that created unnecessary stress for them and their families.”

BC Housing will now spend $17 million to buy the property and $3.6 million to renovate it. If seniors have to be relocated so renovations can be completed, that relocation will be temporary, Eby said. Lu’ma will look for another property to buy with the federal money.

SUCCESS is a social service agency that started out serving Chinese immigrants but has since expanded to offer help to newcomers of all backgrounds. The organization operates several residential buildings, including some buildings in Chinatown.

Tim Lam, whose grandfather lives at Grace Seniors Home, said he and other families are happy and grateful for the outcome. SUCCESS is an agency many of the families are already familiar with, and they’re the “ideal operator” for the building, he said.

Lam said he wanted to thank BC Housing, Eby and Melanie Mark, the MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, for their roles, as well as Lu’ma Native Housing Society for allowing the transfer to proceed.

But Lam noted it took many hours of advocacy work from residents and their families to retain the housing and Cantonese services.

“As much as I am relieved, part of me is a little bit frustrated that we have to do all this work to protect what we already know is lacking, which is culturally inclusive housing for seniors in Chinatown,” Lam said.

The decision to sell the building and change its purpose had baffled Chinatown advocates, because housing that caters to Chinese-speaking seniors is scarce and neighbourhood activists have lobbied for more housing for seniors in the neighbourhood.

Losing Grace Seniors Home would have meant losing 20 per cent of the existing culturally supportive housing in the neighbourhood, according to Michael Tam, co-chair of the Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group.

Lam said the families of Grace Seniors Home residents are supportive of Lu’ma’s mission, but it didn’t make sense to displace one vulnerable community for another.

“We hope that this can be a lesson that the government has learned of the importance of our elders in Chinatown,” he said. “Our elders in Chinatown are very much the foundation of this community.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Housing

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