Nascent History of 221A at 222
222 is a storefront space and two-storey annex building used as a non-profit art gallery and artist studios. The unit is part of a larger mixed-use building at 224 E Georgia Street, owned by the longstanding non-profit Chinese Benevolent Association, Yee Fung Toy Society of Canada. The Yee's operate their Vancouver chapter and Canadian headquarters out of the building in the adjacent storefront unit at 226 E Georgia Street, where one can also hear the sounds of mahjong tiles clacking on a daily basis until late in the evening. The second and third floors are managed by the Yee's as 12 units of low-income housing. Some residential tenants have been in the building for over four decades.
Now used as a non-profit art gallery and artist studios, the space was formerly leased by a small appliances wholesaler specializing in rice cookers and kitchen supplies called Universe Houseware Appliances. 221A also learned that a very long period, the 222 E Georgia Street space was used by Starboard Pant Factory, a business that manufactured and sold french-cut jeans on site.
As part of 221A's initial occupancy of the facility in 2011, the organization was required to resolve a range of fire-safety concerns. Aside from microfiche dated to the 1940s, the City archives had very minimal in the way of regulatory drawings on file. Since 221A was (at that time) operated exclusively by volunteers, it took over 70 volunteers to complete the first phase of renovations — brought together through a spirit of trust and friendships.
Further into the leasehold tenure, 221A was able to receive more substantive financial capital grants from three levels of government to support further upgrades to the facility, including: an expanded and upgraded sprinkler system, fire-rated exit corridors, improved stairwells and structural laminations. The upgrades required 221A to navigate opaque zoning and building regulation while shouldering attendant financial risks.
The capital grants, brought about an opportunity to undertake a degree of costly fire-safety upgrades without impacting overall rental rates that would have made the space untenable. Typically, changes to older buildings would have been only afforded by business-savvy landlords looking to increase rental rates or by placing the onus on a paying businesses capable of charging higher rates for goods and services.
We learned that safety upgrades are often 'not on the table' for Chinatown Family Clan associations like the Yee's, as no capital reserve funds were in place, opting instead for lower overhead costs, creating savings that would be passed on to the tenants who were often facing economic hardship during immigration. However, the increasing deterioration of building conditions and the health of those who occupy them can make private development attractive, despite the well understood impacts of gentrification. Being able to make critical upgrades through capital funds, despite the treacherous path of building repairs, can be crucial to mitigating the pace of development and while allowing for a form of cultural renewal not premised on wholesale dispossession.
221A is inspired by the history of Chinatown and Chinese Benevolent Societies—one of a blossoming culture despite the presence of intensive racial discrimination—in thinking and planning the future of the neighbourhood. Despite the end of the 'hey day' of Chinatown, a long-standing principle of collective ownership is written into the fabric of many of the Chinese Benevolent Societies.
Intentions to provide lower rental rates for artists, by making upgrades to buildings through access to capital funding remains limited to temporary 10–15 year leasehold timeframes. The nature of leasehold tenure is such that it is exposed to larger neighbourhood development timelines at each renewal. Therefore, 221A continues to strategize a means to establish collective processes that would lead to the long term and sustainable decommodification of land needed to overcome a future in Chinatown that dispossesses all working class people.
Planned Upgrades in 2019
In 2019, 221A received further support from the DTES Capital Grants to conclude fire alarm upgrades to the full building that will increase the safety for the 12 units of housing and Yee Fung Toy Society of Canada Headquarters.
Contact us about 222 E Georgia St
Tenancy Inquiries – Sungpil Yoon, Tenancy Relations Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
General Facilities Inquiries – Stephan Wright, Head of Facilities & Production email@example.com