Cathay Manor

Cathay Manor residents wait for the one, manually operated elevator in the 16-story, 270-unit, low-income residential building for elderly people.

The city of LA temporarily fixed one of two inoperable elevators in a 16-story residential building where occupants were subjected to unsafe and hazardous building conditions with no option but to walk up and down flights of stairs.

Cathay Manor in Chinatown is a low-income, 270-unit residential high-rise for elderly people, or a household with at least one member being 62 or older. The building’s two elevators, which service all of the residents on the property, have had recurrent outages that began to draw wariness from the city in September, prompting inspections from Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS).

City Attorney Mike Feuer announced 16 misdemeanor charges against the owner and operator of Cathay Manor in a complaint filed on Oct. 27, expressing condemnation for the situation that left elderly residents without an operable elevator from mid-October to Nov. 5.

“It’s outrageous that vulnerable seniors living in a 16-story high-rise have endured multiple days without safe and working elevators. These are parents and grandparents having to forego daily activities like medical appointments, shopping for food or meeting with friends and family. Nobody — especially older adults — should be trapped,” Feuer said in a release, following the announcement of the charges.

The Chinese Community on Aging (CCOA) Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the residential building, and its president and CEO, Gong Donald Toy, are listed as the defendants in the city attorney’s case.

Toy has not been available for comment about the city’s misdemeanor charges or the current standing of the situation at Cathay Manor.

Councilmember Gil Cedillo, District 1, introduced a motion on Nov. 5 to contract with an elevator repair company to “immediately restore elevator service temporarily with the approval and cooperation of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS), and to the extent feasible repair the elevator(s) at Cathay Apartments in Chinatown.”

As of 6 p.m. Nov. 5, one elevator was temporarily fixed and is being manually operated.

Cedillo’s motion cites the Urgent Repair Program and says that due to a prolonged outage of the elevator, the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) “has the authority to designate a contractor preselected by LAHD to make the repairs” on an emergency basis.

Funds transferred and appropriated from the city’s Foreclosure Registry Fund and the Urgent Repair Program to contract an elevator repair company amounts to $1 million. The funds taken from the Foreclosure Registry Fund will be repaid by Toy for direct and related costs, fees, interest and 40% of the cost for the city’s work of “administering any contract and supervising the work required,” according to the motion.

Cedillo said, in mid-October, when both elevators were inoperable, that his staff requested that LADBS, LAHD and the city attorney’s office come together to “investigate, assess and find immediate solutions.”

“My paramount concern is for the safety, security, and accessibility of our seniors and tenants at Cathay Manor,” Cedillo said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable to have inoperable elevators. That is why I took action by introducing a motion to contract with a qualified elevator repair company to immediately restore elevator service on a temporary basis, and to the extent feasible, repair the elevators, which we were successful in getting one of the elevators operating manually.”

Issues with the building’s elevators are seemingly more complex and span beyond simply buying necessary parts and fixing the elevator, however. It has been mentioned by those associated with Cathay Manor and in Cedillo’s motion that, though basic repairs are needed, complete modernization of the elevators might be in question. Cedillo’s motion also calls attention to delays caused by the global supply chain issue disrupting imports and exports and accessibility to resources, effectively hurting economies and commerce worldwide and, in this case, elderly residents of Cathay Manor.

Coupled with the temporary elevator fix, Cedillo said his office has “secured the commitment of nonprofit organizations to provide staff and volunteers to serve as attendants to assist seniors who live in the building.”

Nonprofits helping Cathay Manor residents carry groceries, medication and other personal items to their apartments include Chinatown Service Center, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Department of Disability and Saint Barnabas Senior Center.

In Cedillo’s statement, he listed the following other resources that will be available to Cathay Manor residents: 

• Friday, Nov. 12 — Deliver free groceries to tenants.

• Saturday, Nov. 13 — Deliver free meals to low-income seniors provided by EveryTable as part of my Senior Meal Program.

• Thursday, Nov. 18 — Free laundry service provided by Laundry Truck LA.

• Friday, Nov. 19, on a weekly basis — Deliver free meals to low-income seniors provided by EveryTable as part of the Senior Meal Program.

• Saturday, Nov. 20, on a weekly basis — Deliver free groceries to tenants.

Lu Tsoi, an elderly tenant, was helped with moving a wooden cabinet to Cathay Manor’s lobby with the one operable elevator. Tsoi lives on the third floor of the building, and moving the cabinet to her apartment might not have been possible for Tsoi without the elevator. 

Like most of the tenants in Cathay Manor, Tsoi is reserved and does not speak much English. From what she was comfortable saying, Tsoi mentioned that she needs the elevators fixed because “I pay rent, so I need it.”

David Amaya is one of the elevator mechanics with Specialized Elevator, an independent California elevator company that operates the elevator manually until the elevator can function safely and properly on its own.

A chair sits in the corner of the elevator, where the elevator’s operating button panel is located, and the chair not only seats Amaya and other elevator operators for their entire shift but gives them a place to keep their snacks and water.

“Right now, we’re running it on inspection speed. That’s why it’s running so slow,” Amaya said as the elevator moved up the 16-story building. “That’s the only way to get (the elevator) working. There’s controller parts burnt out upstairs, so this is the best that they can do (to get the elevator working) for now.”

Amaya and other elevator operators working in the Cathay Manor elevator will be working in shifts manually operating the functioning elevator for 24 hours a day.

“We’re trying to do the best we can. Like today, I’m working until midnight, but I started work at 7 a.m., so I’m working a double shift right now,” he said.

As far as how long Amaya and elevator operators will need to work shifts to maintain 24-hour elevator service for Cathay Manor residents, Amaya said, “From what I’m hearing it might be a while.” But ultimately, he wasn’t sure how long the elevator mechanics would be needed to service residents or when either elevator might be completely fixed.

Due to the 24-hour service required to manually operate Cathay Manor’s elevator, Amaya said, “When it’s slow I can take a little break. … It’s just busy, you know? It gets busy in the morning and dinnertime, then it gets quiet, which is good, because then we can take a little break.”

The manually operated elevator system is not necessarily common knowledge for most, including elderly Cathay Manor residents. On each floor, a yellow box hangs on the wall next to the elevator where a resident should press the call button if they would like to use the elevator. The button allows them to tell the elevator mechanic which floor they are on.

Due to many of the residents not understanding how the system works and most being limited in English, Amaya said he had to come up with a system to work around the situation.

“It’s pretty hard (to track them down). … They just push the (talk button) and that’s it, so I just go down every floor and knock (on each floor’s elevator door), and they’re pretty good about knocking back (to let me know where they are),” he said with a laugh.