The historic May Wah Hotel was listed as for sale yesterday (June 15).
One of the larger and older buildings in Chinatown, the property at 262 East Pender Street includes four ground-level retail outlets that maintain a Chinese character plus three storeys containing some 120 rooms of low-income housing.
The building was originally a lodging house, constructed in 1913, that catered to single men working in positions of transitory labour, according to Historic Places, a government-funded website.
“First time offered for sale in decades,” boasts a Century 21 posting. “Don't miss this opportunity to own this historic building.”
The May Wah, just east of Main Street, is listed at $10 million.
In a telephone interview, King-mong Chan, a community organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project’s Chinatown Concern Group, said the community is concerned about what a sale could mean both for the building’s residents and Chinatown as a whole.
“It’s not clear what this means,” he told the Straight. “The worst-case scenario would be for this building to be sold to a private investor that triggers the possible displacement of the residents.”
Chan explained that this concern is based on a trend in recent years where single-room-occupancy hotels (SROs) that have historically served as a home for low-income earners are sold to private developers and then renovated with an eye on higher rents.
“This building, if it’s up for sale and if it follows trends seen in other private SROs in the Downtown Eastside, we could see a lot of Chinese residents displaced,” he warned.
Chan noted the hotel’s population is a demographic mix but that there are many Chinese seniors in the building as well as people with mental-health challenges.
“This neighbourhood has become unstable because of development pressure, and I think there needs to be actions from levels of government to stabilize this historic neighbourhood,” he said. “Otherwise, we could lose it.”
In 2014, the Shon Yee Benevolent Association applied to the City of Vancouver for a $100,000 grant to repair the building. A council report states that the application was later withdrawn due to a “lack of consensus”.
The Shon Yee Benevolent Association said it could not immediately provide an interview.
The May Wah Hotel is listed in the city’s heritage register under a B(M) designation. That means it is recognized for cultural and historical significance and protected by municipal heritage bylaws.
Last January, the city approved 288 East Hastings Street for the development of a 12-storey mixed-use tower. The construction project that followed resulted in the closure of a number of street-level Chinese businesses that previously occupied that site.