B.C. buys affordable seniors housing facility in Vancouver's Chinatown


The 33-unit Harmony House, which occupies four floors of a condo building at 588 Shanghai Alley, was at risk of a private sale

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Dozens of Vancouver seniors living in the only dedicated assisted-living facility for Chinese seniors in Chinatown are breathing a sigh of relief after the provincial government purchased their homes, preserving the units as affordable rental housing.

The 33-unit Harmony House, which occupies four floors of a condo building at 588 Shanghai Alley, was at risk of a private sale, said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

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On Wednesday, he announced the provincial government has purchased Harmony House for $16.4 million through B.C. Housing. It will be owned by non-profit group S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which will continue operating the facility since it launched in 2006.

The news was welcomed by residents and their families.

Yvonne Leung is a multigenerational caregiver who helps care for her 92-year-old mother Ada Cheng and her grandchildren.

“Having her safe and happy here can release my caregiver burden,” she said.

Her mother has been living happily at Harmony House since 2010. The government purchase ensures “continuing care and peace of mind” for her and other residents, said Leung. “They don’t have to worry (about being) bumped to distant places.”

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Kahlon said losing Harmony House to the private market during a housing crisis would have been a “serious blow.”

“We are grateful we were able to protect this building today, that it doesn’t go into the private market… but we have a lot more work to do across the province and in every community,” he said.

“With interest rates and global inflation, we know seniors are facing real pressures.”

A report released earlier this year has found an inadequate supply of affordable housing in Chinatown for seniors. And what units there are for them are not co-ordinated with elder care and lacked culturally-appropriate services.

According to the report by urban planner and University of B.C. PhD candidate Louisa-May Khoo, there are 7,200 seniors in Chinatown, Strathcona, and the Downtown Eastside, and only 2,905 affordable housing designated for seniors.

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This is not the first time the B.C. government has purchased a seniors home in Chinatown.

In 2021, the provincial government bought Vancouver Grace Seniors Home at 333 East Pender for $17 million, which includes $3 million for renovations, to prevent residents from being evicted. That facility is also being operated by S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Harmony House was the first assisted living suites in Chinatown under the province’s Independent Living B.C. program. It offers studios and one-bedroom units as well as a multi-purpose dining area and shared patio space.

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. CEO Queen Choo said most residents of Harmony House are seniors and people with disabilities. The purchase means they can continue to live in their subsidized units with the peace of mind the units won’t be sold into the private market. 

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Residents will also continue to receive rent supplements from B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health to enable them to live at Harmony House and access assisted-living support services, said the government in a statement.

Harmony House resident Linda Cheung said she’s delighted to be able to continue living in the building with her husband Charlie, who has dementia.

“We are so happy here,” said Cheung, describing the facility’s caring nurses and activities offered to residents including exercise, games, and field trips. “We are just like a family.”

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