British Columbia

Pending sale for Vancouver's May Wah Hotel jeopardizes residents' future

A historic building in Vancouver's Chinatown is up for sale, putting into question the fate of the dozens of low-income, mostly female seniors that live there.

Chinatown Concern Group says building's heritage designation is no guarantee for tenants

The May Wah Hotel is a City of Vancouver-designated heritage building that houses more than 100 low-income tenants. (CBC)

The potential sale of a historic building in Vancouver's Chinatown has the dozens of low-income residents who live there concerned for the future of their homes.

The May Wah Hotel building on Vancouver's East Pender Street is owned by the Shon Yee Benevolent Association and is listed for $10 million. It includes a rooming house on the top three floors with 120 single room occupancy units. The majority of residents are senior-aged women.

"One of our primary concerns is we're seeing 120 tenants possibly being displaced from this hotel — low-income tenants," said King-Mong Chan with the Chinatown Concern Group

"We're also going to see 120 units of low-income housing being lost in Chinatown and the city."

The association's past president, Mike Jang, said there's been some disagreement among the owners about the sale, but many of them are seniors themselves and they're looking to get out of the market. 

CBC reporter Belle Puri speaks with King-mong Chan inside the May Wah Hotel. (CBC)

The building is listed on Vancouver's Heritage Building Register as having significant historical or cultural significance, as well as a legal heritage designation from the City of Vancouver.

But Chan said the designation is no guarantee for the building's vulnerable residents. 

"What does it actually mean on the ground? I mean, we're seeing historic sites going up for sale. We're seeing all this change happening in Chinatown," Chan said. 

"Does designation actually protect the needs of the local community? Does it actually protect the low-income residents?  Right now all this is up in the air, and it doesn't seem like the designations are going to do that."

The real estate agent in charge of the sale, Erik Kwok, agreed historic designations aren't in stone. He said there's often room to negotiate. For example, he said the facade of the building could be saved but the rest of it replaced with something new.

The building also includes a handful of businesses on the ground floor. Kwok said their fate will be decided by the new owners as well.