Frustration grows as Chinatown seniors face possible eviction
VANCOUVER -- Bill Fu was having a great 90th birthday two weeks ago, but the celebration turned to anxiety when he was given an eviction notice.
Fu is one of dozens of Cantonese-speaking seniors living at Grace Seniors Home in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
The privately owned, 70-unit building is being sold to Lu’ma Native Housing Society, which will offer social housing to Indigenous people, in partnership with the B.C. government.
Residents of Grace Seniors Home say staff is telling them they need to move out of the building by May 31.
“It’s creating very real suffering on the ground,” says Tim Lam, Fu’s grandson.
Lam says his elderly grandfather’s anxiety level is through the roof, as he consider moving during a pandemic and leaving Chinatown. Fu, who only speaks Cantonese, has lived in the community for decades.
“It’s everything from knowing the restaurants, knowing the shops, being able to actually speak to people,” says Lam. “If he was to ever move to an English-speaking community, he just wouldn’t be able to talk to a lot of them.”
The care home’s owner is said to be securing spots that residents can transfer to at a care home outside of Chinatown, but families haven’t been provided details. There’s also concern some of the residents who require round-the-clock care would not qualify for a spot at another home.
Supportive housing in Chinatown is dwindling. There’s only about 400 units left that offer culturally specific services. Grace Seniors Home offers services and programs in Cantonese, and is situated in a pocket of Chinatown that primarily speaks Cantonese. Community advocates in Chinatown say the community can’t afford to lose the home’s 70 units.
“When things like this happen, it’s like getting a shot to the knee,” says Michael Tan, co-chair of the Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group, a city-appointed committee advising city staff on ways to improve Chinatown.
“I’m glad it’s going to continue to be supportive housing in general, but we need BC Housing to commit to replacing and adding culturally supportive housing.”
Lam says he hasn’t seen any action from BC Housing so far, leaving residents’ families with many unanswered questions.
“Lu’ma Native Housing Society and BC Housing have received several questions from tenants and their families. We are responding to those questions with assurances that everyone living in the building will be able to remain for as long as required, or until an appropriate alternate option is identified,” BC Housing told CTV News Vancouver in a written statement.
“If the purchase closes, Lu’ma will be meeting with residents who do not choose the relocation options presented by their current landlord to understand their needs and connect them with housing opportunities,” the statement reads.
Lam feels there’s a disconnect between BC Housing and care home staff, who allegedly continue to tell residents they must be out May 31.
“What they’re saying in public is not what’s happening on the ground,” says Lam. “Seniors continue to be evicted.”
Lu’ma is purchasing the building with federal funding through CMHC’s Rapid Housing Initiative. The B.C. government will fund its operation, and put up cash for building repairs.
The Lam family wonders how the province could provide money for a new supportive housing program, while the existing one gets shut down.
The sale doesn’t close until June 15. Christina Lam, Fu’s daughter, wants the deal thrown out.
She said she want to see a public inquiry launched “on how the institutions that protect our elders can let something like this happen, and throw them out on the street.”