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Confusion, anxiety after sale of seniors home in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Tim Lam’s elderly grandfather is living in a state of constant anxiety.

Bill Fu, 90, is one of dozens of dozens of residents of the Grace Seniors Home at 333 East Pender who received letters earlier this month telling them the residence had been sold, and that they’d be required to move out before May.

The province now says those residents will be able to stay, but Lam told Global News Friday none of them have seen anything in writing, and staff at the facility are still telling seniors they’ll likely need to move.

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Lam said for his grandfather, who does not speak English and who has lived in the Chinatown area for decades, the prospect of moving out of the only cultural environment he knows is terrifying.

“He’s been able to stay in the neighbourhood, he knows a lot of the local restaurants, he can talk to a lot of local waiters, he can join in a lot of the local programming,” Lam said.

“He also has neighbours he’s friends with and he talks to.”

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The facility is operated by a non-profit society, but the property itself was privately owned. Recently, with the help of provincial and federal funding, the proprety was acquired by the Lu’Ma Native Housing Society, which provides services for Indigenous people in B.C.

Lam said the lack of communication about what’s going on has left residents, many of them non-English speakers and in the later years of their lives, confused and frightened.

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“The only thing we have on paper that we’ve received from anyone … was the eviction letter,” Lam said.

“We’re able to communicate this to my grandpa because we’ve been engaged in the whole situation. But there are seniors here who don’t have family in the country, who maybe don’t have family that can speak english or are connected to the media, but who are completely in dark about the whole situation.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Attorney General said the sale was about preserving affordable housing in the area.

“The 333 Pender St. property was put up for sale by the owner and the owner has been wanting to sell for a while now. It was a very real possibility that it would have been sold to a private developer, who could have taken affordable housing off the market entirely,” it said.

“Lu’ma Native Housing Society, with federal funding from CMHC, stepped in to purchase this building, returning much-needed housing stock to community ownership, and ensuring that affordable housing will be secured for the long term.”

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The ministry said the society was “working to notify residents” about the purchase, and that it has been informed they’ll be “welcome to stay for as long as required.”

Sources at BC Housing told Global News those residents should be receiving a letter to that effect “within a matter of days.”

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Lam said even if his grandfather is allowed to stay, it’s still unclear if the Cantonese-language programming he relies on will be maintained.

Beyond the short-term suffering Lam said the situation has put seniors and families through, he said the sale has highlighted the growing loss of seniors homes for the Chinese community.

“It’s permanently removing spaces that will be gone forever that future Cantonese-speaking seniors who grew up in Chinatown for many decades will never be able to access,” he said.

Lam said he wants to see the sale stopped and the facility preserved as housing for Cantonese-speaking seniors, along with a probe into how the sale happened.

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