Dozens of seniors and community activists from Vancouver's Chinatown poured into city hall on Monday afternoon to speak out against a proposed 12-storey mixed-use development in the centre of the historic neighbourhood.

The protesters gathered at 2:30 p.m. PT, prior to a development permit board meeting about Wall Financial's project at 288 East Hastings St., which would comprise 172 housing units — 104 of them social housing. 

But those opposed say only 35 of the social housing units will be offered at $400 or less, the only rates truly affordable to the area's residents — many of them low-income Chinese seniors.

"People often forget that Chinese seniors are a big part of the Downtown Eastside community," said Chanel Ly, an outreach worker and member of the Youth for Chinese Seniors project.

Ly said new developments like the one being proposed displace the neighbourhood's longtime shops and services, which serve older Chinese clientele. She said many of the seniors in Chinatown are lacking socially appropriate services. 

Revitalization plan in place

The city does have a revitalization plan in place for Chinatown, which it says includes fostering economic growth while preserving the historic neighbourhood's cultural significance.

The plan includes funding to preserve some of the historic buildings in the area.

But Carnegie Community Action Plan activist King-mong Chan said preservation needs more than money for buildings.

"The mayor cannot with one hand establish a fund to rehabilitate these buildings, while with the other create and approve policies and development applications that approve the market housing that breaks apart the community," he said.

Chan said there hasn't been any additional consultation with the community since the plan was put in place half a year ago.

"Without such an assessment, the city should not be approving any further projects that affect Chinatown," he said.

Harold Lavender, also with the Carnegie Community Action Plan, said Chinatown is one of the few remaining affordable neighbourhoods in the city. He said many of the area's residents rely on the low prices there, especially with food costs increasing weekly.

"I feel a great loss when those shops disappear. The pace of change just seems to be getting faster and faster," he said. 

"This project will raise the rents, it will lead to more stores disappearing, it will change the character of the neighbourhood forever."