City takes further steps at 439 Powell Street, potential demolition still looming

Ming Sun

Today, City inspectors arrived unannounced to the Ming Sun Benevolent Association building and performed an inspection. The building, containing affordable housing, the artist collective Instant Coffee, and artist studio spaces for low-income Chinese seniors at 439 Powell has been under ongoing threat of demolition. The threat continues despite the fact that “several independent structural reports stated that the Ming Sun Building is structurally sound,” according to activists who have been fighting to save the site.

Several people who have been working to save the building had arrived early to perform repairs on the building, but were surprised by the arrival of City staff, sparking concerns that the building would be demolished immediately.

The concerns were amplified when at least a dozen vehicles from Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services arrived on the scene with lights flashing.

A coalition of citizens, called “Friends of 439,” has formed to preserve the building. This morning about a dozen concerned supporters of the building converged at 439 Powell to keep watch over the property.

City assistant building inspector Carly Edwards said that staff and engineers were meeting in the afternoon and that they “may have to do work on the building.” When asked about the fire department, Edwards said “they were worried about our safety.”

When asked about the potential demolition, Edwards said: “No, we’re not tearing down the building today.”

Early last week, Chanel Ly wrote an article for The Mainlander entitled “The Displacement of Chinese Seniors at 439 Powell Street.” She detailed its unfolding story, reporting the city’s claim that the building is unstable and in need of demolition. On December 10th, the City of Vancouver issued a release saying they would be boarding up the building due to “water flowing from the sprinkler pipes and six to eight inches of water on the main and second floors.” Many, however, criticized the fact that the city did not consult the owners of the building about its plans, and pointed out that the city seems overly eager to displace low-income seniors in light of similar developments in the area.

‘’This month 80 Chinatown seniors are fighting a massive rent increase at the Chau Luen towers, just down the street from 439 Powell,’’ writes Ly. “Like 439 Powell, the Chau Luen towers are also surrounded by new market condo projects approved in the past year by city council, along Main and Keefer streets.”

“The eviction at Ming Sun is part of larger issues of displacement and systemic racism inherent to the gentrification process in the Downtown Eastside. The continued displacement of indigenous people, Chinese seniors, minority groups and low-income people shows that the initial displacement violence that shaped the Downtown Eastside is today ongoing.’’ Some are therefore questioning the credibility that the building is facing “imminent collapse.”