British Columbia

'Seniors can stay': Historic May Wah Hotel sold to Chinatown Foundation

The 120 low income tenants, mostly seniors, can count on staying after a non-profit group purchased the SRO.

Future of low income tenants, mostly seniors, was in jeopardy when building was put up for sale

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

New owners of Chinatown's historic May Wah Hotel say its senior residents will be able to remain in their homes after it was sold to the Chinatown Foundation for $9.8 million. 

"We just want everyone to feel comfortable that not much is going to change," said Henry Fung, a board director.

Last June, the Shon Yee Benevolent Association rattled nerves when it put the century-old building up for sale.

More than 100 low-income seniors, mostly women, as well as a few businesses call the the single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel home.

Fung said the province, through B.C. Housing, made a significant financial contribution to help make the sale possible.

Hotel upgrades

Over the next few years, he says the building will be renovated including seismic upgrades as well as cleared fire exits, and repaired roofs and walls.

Beyond that, Fung says the long-term vision is to make the building "much, much, nicer" for those living there. 

It could include turning it from an SRO into a subsidized seniors' home

News of the sale was welcomed by Beverly Ho, an outreach worker with the Chinatown Concern Group.

"I think that's great," she said.

"I really hope they follow through with that plan to support these vulnerable seniors who can't afford to live anywhere else and need the culturally appropriate services in Chinatown."

CBC reporter Belle Puri (right) spoke with King-Moon Chan of the Chinatown Concern Group in June 2016 about the May Wah Hotel sale. (CBC)

Fung says he believed their intentions helped secure the sale.

"As it turned out, we were one of the few people buying it not for commercial purposes."

The future of Chinatown has been hotly debated over the last several years as real estate developers have butted heads with those looking to maintain the heritage of the historic neighbourhood.

Carol Lee, the chair of the foundation, called the sale a "win" in light of the recent changes to the area.

"A little one but this is a win, and it's an indication that maybe there is a different way," she remarked.

"We don't have to gentrify everything and maybe we can preserve some things and build some new things."

Over the next several months, the foundation says it will be sharing more of its future vision for the hotel.