Pending building sale leaves desperate Chinatown seniors looking for new homes

Elderly seniors in Chinatown and their families scramble to find new accommodation

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Almost 70 seniors who live at an assisted living home near Chinatown, and the staff who care for them, have been told the home will close at the end of May.

Families have been scrambling to find new accommodation for the seniors, some who are in their 90s and older. About two-thirds of them require health care visits from Vancouver Coastal Health.

The property — Vancouver Grace Seniors Home at 333 East Pender St. — has been sold to a non-profit partner working with B.C. Housing.

The government’s housing agency said in a statement that the purchase has not closed yet. It told Postmedia it has “built-in measures as a condition of the purchase negotiation to ensure all existing residents will have a relocation plan.”

But the families of the residents said they have heard nothing of efforts that would allow the seniors to stay in the neighbourhood. 

Instead, they saw an ad placed in a Chinese-language newspaper by the co-owner of the building, seeking to quickly rent another building or a “large warehouse space” for 40 seniors while he begins the process of building a new seniors home on Renfrew Street at 1st Avenue.

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“We don’t know what’s happened,” said Christina Lam, whose father, Cheang Che Fu, 90, has been living at Grace since 2017. “All we can do is be inquisitive and really get to the bottom of what’s going on. We get this letter from the place and in my dad’s words, ‘the place has been sold. We’re getting kicked out.’”

Community groups have long said there is a need for more “culturally responsive seniors housing” in Chinatown. Losing Grace will worsen the situation at a time when Chinatown has been hard hit by the pandemic, especially for seniors facing challenges getting vaccinated and worrying about the spike in racist attacks against Asian people.

Lam said her dad appreciates the three Chinese meals a day, the Cantonese-speaking staff and programming, and being close to the shops and services of Chinatown where he has long lived.

He isn’t a “social animal,” but Lam said her heart broke thinking about some of the other seniors, “especially the women,” who depend on living at Grace for community and to thrive.

“The groups of ladies who watch Cantonese shows on TV and have afternoon tea. I seriously was just tearing up knowing they’re having to leave.”

Fu has a pension from working for decades as a general labourer for B.C. Ferries, but many of the other residents use subsidies such as B.C. Housing’s Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters for low to moderate income seniors to help pay the market rent at Grace.

The property at 333 East Pender is listed on land title as being owned by Parkco Enterprises Ltd. of which there are two directors, including Stephen Lee, a Burnaby-based pastor, who placed the ad.

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Lee confirmed the property is under contract to be sold. He said he is looking forward to building a new “seniors complex for the next generation” at 1742-1762 Renfrew, a property he has purchased that is also under contract.

He said 18 of the seniors can move to another seniors home that he runs in Richmond. He is also planning to lease three detached houses, one in south Vancouver and two in Richmond, next week and “show them to the residents and their families and let them choose.”

“Some of the others can also take their parents and go home,” said Lee, adding that Grace is a privately owned business.

Relying on family members in a pinch may be possible for some residents, but some don’t have that option.

“It’s a very panicked situation for most of us,” said Helen Kwan. Her mother-in-law and father-in- law, who are both 90, have lived at Grace since 2014. She’s reached out for help from social workers who have said it could be very hard to find supportive housing for them to stay together.

B.C. Housing said it “negotiated a lengthy 90-day housing closing date so the current owner has time to become familiar with appropriate relocation requirements outlined by the City of Vancouver and the Residential Tenancy Branch, and update their relocation plan for existing tenants. And as the owner was looking to sell for some time, a tenant relocation strategy was already in process.”

Families are also asking if Grace is being closed and sold as part of providing housing for homeless campers at Strathcona Park. It is a block away from the Patricia Hotel, which was recently purchased by B.C. Housing for that purpose.

B.C. Housing said in a statement the building “will not be used to house people currently staying in Strathcona Park.”

jlee-young@postmedia.com

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